Bladder Cancer Canada’s annual walk goes virtual to raise awareness, bolster research

Fundraisers and charity events alike have been forced to readjust under the umbrella of the coronavirus pandemic, and the annual Bladder Cancer Canada walk is no different.

Typically, Canadians across the country would lace up their shoes and walk together to raise money and awareness for the disease.

This year, it’s going virtual. Participants can walk where and when they want all through September, Bladder Canada Canada (BCC) said.

“They can run on their treadmill, hike their favourite ravine, or stroll through their neighbourhood, all while helping to raise money to support BCC’s patient programs, awareness campaigns and research grants,” the charity organization said.

This year alone, 12,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with bladder cancer, according to the organization. There are 80,000 others already facing the disease.

It’s something Troy Reeb, Corus’s executive vice-president broadcast networks, knows all too well.

Reeb said he was caught off guard by the diagnosis when he was in his early 40s — amid a time of “peak busyness” in his life.

“They told me they found a tumour. It was very shocking news to hear. I was fortunate they caught it really early. I managed to have one round of surgery and, knock on wood, it has not come back,” he told Global News’ The Morning Show on Wednesday.

“But unfortunately, this is not the case for so many bladder cancer patients. This is the highest recurring cancer in Canada. If you get it once, it is likely you will get it again.”

Bladder cancer has a 60 to 70 per cent recurrence rate, making it the most expensive cancer to treat on a per-patient basis, according to BCC.

Like any disease, the earlier you pick it up, the earlier you diagnose, the better the outcome, Dr. Alexandre Zlotta, a professor specializing in urology in the department of surgery at the University of Toronto, told Global News previously.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, he said.

Blood in the urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. That sign shouldn’t be ignored, BCC said, not even once.

While bladder cancer has traditionally impacted more men than women, in recent years doctors have seen an uptick in women over 80 with the disease, though it is not thoroughly understood why.

It is the fifth most common cancer in Canada overall, according to BCC — the fourth most common among men and 11th most common among women.

Experts say it may be even more crucial for women to be seen by a doctor, as many may connect blood in their urine to a urinary tract infection (UTI), which are more common for them.

“We are hearing more and more about women being diagnosed,” the organization said. “Many of them younger than would expect.”

But it’s important to note bladder cancer can impact any age group, including young people, the BCC said, further emphasizing the need for awareness.

That’s why fundraisers and walks — like the 2020 event — are so important, said Reeb.

“This has been a tough financial year for so many, we’re all navigating the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We understand a lot of donors are being very careful with their wallets and, as a charity, Bladder Cancer Canada hasn’t been able to do its event walks where people come together and raise awareness and they march together to fight against this disease while raising money.”

Zlotta said research on bladder cancer has recently opened up “new and exciting avenues” on treatment and drugs — but that these developments come at a cost.

“Researchers are using cutting-edge technology and using what’s called mass spectrometry to find tiny, tiny, tiny particles that, in the past, were unable to be traced. This will help physicians and researchers sort out whether people will respond to kinds of therapy,” he told Global News on Tuesday.

“The technology has opened new, unprecedented avenues that, in the past, could not have been achieved without these very, unfortunately, expensive machines.”

Researchers have also honed in on new medications that show promise in the treatment of “high-risk, non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer,” which previously would have failed chemotherapy, Zlotta said.

While there have been improvements, there’s always a need for more research, he added.

“Research is a very important part of finding a cure and improving the management of bladder cancer patients.”

By the end of the year, the BCC expects to have funded nearly $1.9 million in bladder cancer research.

While participating in the walk might be “tougher” this year now that it’s virtual, the event is a key part of the efforts to raise awareness and money for this cause, said Reeb.

“I’ll be doing my virtual walk this weekend,” he said.

“We’re asking people who are interested or have been impacted by this disease to go to bccwalk.ca and sign up as a virtual walker.”

For more information or to sign up, you can click here.

— with files from Global News’ Olivia Bowden 

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