The Diamond family: Fuelling hope for hereditary cancerVancouver Sun
Mar 28, 2023
More than 20 years ago, when BC Cancer approached Gordon Diamond about purchasing a $2 million parking garage he owned in Vancouver to home their new research centre he said, “No.”
“My wife and my mother had breast cancer. I thought, ‘This could help others from going through what we did.’ They came to buy the land, and I gave it to them,” he says.
This was the beginning of a long history of support from the Diamonds (Gordon and his wife Leslie, and their daughters Jill and Lauri) that is culminating today in a gift of almost $7.2 million — one of the largest donations ever to the BC Cancer Foundation — to improve care for thousands of women and their families at high risk for hereditary cancer.
Currently, only 5 per cent of the 50,000 British Columbians with an inherited gene (including BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that put them at a much higher risk of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer) have been identified. This must change, says BC Cancer Foundation President and CEO Sarah Roth.
“Prevention and early diagnosis are crucial in stopping inherited disease. The more awareness and resources we can provide — through increased genetic testing and access to preventative screening — the more families we can save from the vicious cycle of having generation after generation face devastating cancer diagnoses.”
Dr. Kasmintan Schrader and Dr. Sophie Sun, codirectors of BC Cancer’s Hereditary Cancer Program, say, “The Diamond Foundation’s generous donation is a giant step on the path towards transforming hereditary cancer care across B.C. It will support three important clinical initiatives to accelerate identification of patients and significantly enhance our ability to provide follow-up support and care.”
A MISSION TO HELP OTHERS
The Diamonds have been instrumental in establishing numerous programs, clinics and centres in B.C., many with a focus on women’s health. But this investment is even more personal.
“Hereditary cancer has impacted our family,” says Jill Diamond. “My grandmother unfortunately died of breast cancer. Had she known she had a BRCA gene mutation, and been screened properly, the cancer could have been caught earlier, and we would have enjoyed many more years with her.”
Women in B.C. have a 12 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. In those who carry a BRCA gene mutation, the risk of diagnosis drastically increases to 70 per cent by age 70. Similarly, ovarian cancer rates rise from under two per cent in the general population to almost 50 per cent. And men who carry a gene mutation are up to three times more at risk of developing prostate cancer.
The Diamond Foundation’s gift will fuel three life-saving clinical projects to meet this challenge. The first will focus on reaching people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who are 10 times more likely (1 in 40) to carry a BRCA gene mutation. “We’re really proud to partner with BRCA in BC and BC Cancer on this,” says Jill, “because it fulfills one of our most important Jewish values, Tikkun Olam, which is the obligation to repair the world and make it a better place.”
A second project will offer immediate genetic testing for breast cancer patients age 60 and under, upon biopsy, eliminating the need for a doctor’s referral — breaking down a key barrier to care.
The third — and a first in Canada — is an outreach program that will directly contact relatives of individuals identified as high risk, increasing genetic testing rates and taking the burden off overwhelmed patients.
EXPANDING PERSONALIZED SUPPORT AND CARE
Learning you have a higher risk of cancer, and a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to your children, comes with a lot of questions, worry and fear.
The Diamond Foundation gift will help here too with the creation of specialized positions including two nurse navigators, two nurse practitioners, three genetic counsellors and additional resources for the BC Cancer Hereditary Cancer Program High Risk Clinic and the Hereditary Gynecologic Cancer Prevention and Support Clinic.
The gift will also provide a new space in Vancouver to home all hereditary cancer clinical resources in one convenient location and fuel access to life-saving screening through three Breast Imaging Fellowships at BC Cancer – Vancouver which will increase capacity and expertise for specialized breast radiologists.
“This is for our daughters, for everyone’s daughters,” say Jill and Lauri. “It will allow women to continue to be the backbone of their family, their community and society, and — armed with knowledge about their increased cancer risk, and the preventative measures they can take — protect and care for future generations.”
Learn how you can help this gift go even further at www.bccancerfoundation.com/HCP.
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