9 things that happened in 2020

2020 was a year like no other. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed our world, it didn’t stop Canadians across the country from helping us make an impact in the lives of those affected by cancer.

From reimagining events into exciting virtual experiences to investing in groundbreaking research initiatives to continuing to find ways to support Canadians affected by cancer at every step of the journey, take a look at some of the things that happened over the past year and what they mean for the future of cancer.

1. Funded a first-of-its-kind COVID 19 clinical trial

In July, we announced a new COVID-19 clinical trial  conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society-funded Canadian Cancer Trials Group. This trial is the first in the world to test whether an immune-stimulating treatment, called IMM-101, can reduce the incidence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms in people who are actively undergoing cancer treatment.

If successful, IMM-101 could also offer benefits to people with other chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems who are similarly at a heightened risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19. And, it could help protect people with cancer from other respiratory infections like the seasonal flu.

2. Joined forces with Prostate Cancer Canada

In February, the Canadian Cancer Society proudly announced the amalgamation of our organization with Prostate Cancer Canada. This transformational partnership brought together the strengths of two organizations that share many common goals – preventing cancer, increasing awareness of early detection, funding life-saving cancer research and ensuring no one faces cancer alone.

Together, we can accomplish even more for people affected by cancer – including the 1 in 9 Canadian men expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

3. Reimagined events into exciting virtual experiences

This year, because of the pandemic and to ensure the safety and well-being of our supporters, we made the difficult decision to cancel our in-person fundraising events. But this didn’t stop us from continuing to make an impact for Canadians affected by cancer. For the first time ever, we reimagined some of our signature fundraising events into exciting virtual experiences.

On June 13, Canadians came together for Relay At Home – a new way to participate in the Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life  online from the comfort of home. About 4,200 participants from across the country Relayed at home and raised $4.3 million – proving that YOU, our passionate community of people who care about cancer, is stronger than ever.

Every year, the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure brings together Canadians to raise funds for groundbreaking breast cancer research and a coast-to-coast support system that makes a real difference for people affected by breast cancer – and this year was no different. On October 4, 25,000 participants planned their own Run routes and walked or ran on their own or safely with their friends and family. Together, we raised $8.5 million for the breast cancer cause!

Whether together or apart, it’s inspiring to see thousands of our supporters rally behind the cancer cause in new ways to be a force-for-life in the face of cancer.

4. Made a commitment to better demonstrate our support for all Canadians and the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of colour

With nearly half of Canadians expected to face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, cancer affects us all. 

In June, we shared our public statement of solidarity with the Black community   – recognizing that we must do more to understand the needs of underserved communities (including Black, Indigenous and people of colour), remove barriers so that everyone can access the care, support and information they need, and question our approaches so that we can begin to address the deep disparities that exist in cancer risk, cancer care and cancer research.

We outlined a plan with some first steps including the formation of an internal Diversity and Inclusion Council, expanding and enhancing the Canadian Cancer Society Research Inclusive Excellence Action Plan to better integrate equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility across our research programs, and continuing the important work of our Prostate Cancer Advisory Council to raise awareness of cancer risk and prostate cancer testing among Black men.

This is the beginning of an important journey and something that we are committed to now and well into the future.

5. Invested in the largest cancer survivorship research initiative in Canada

In September, we announced the 6 recipients of the first-ever Canadian Cancer Society/Canadian Institutes of Health Research Cancer Survivorship Team Grants, in partnership with the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

With 4 in 5 cancer survivors faced with serious challenges after treatment ends, there’s an urgent need to better understand how to prevent, reduce and manage the physical and emotional effects of cancer to help survivors live longer, fuller and healthier lives. The $13.4 million joint investment will fund projects that bring together researchers, clinicians, survivors and caregivers to address key questions in cancer survivorship.

6. Launched the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit roundtable report

The Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefit currently provides 15 weeks of coverage, which is not enough to cover the length of treatment for many people with cancer. The average length of treatment and recovery is between 26 and 36 weeks for breast cancer and 37 weeks for colon cancer – two of the most common types of cancer in Canada.

As part of our advocacy efforts, we released a report in partnership with a number of other health organizations to outline 10 key recommendations to improve the EI Sickness Benefit – including an extension of the benefit from 15 to at least 26 weeks.

The report is a guide for government policymaking and provides a consensus of what experts feel is needed to improve the benefit for Canadians who rely on it when they become seriously ill or injured.

We believe Canadians faced with a cancer diagnosis should receive the time off they need to access care, heal and focus on recovery.

7. Released a special report on lung cancer

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada and the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. To better understand the impact of it in Canada, we released the Canadian Cancer Statistics: A 2020 special report on lung cancer  in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada.

A key takeaway from the report is the importance of early detection for lung cancer. The 3-year survival rate for lung cancer at stage 4 is only 5%, but increases to 71% for lung cancer cases diagnosed at stage 1.

Tobacco is still the leading risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for about 72% of all cases in 2020. Other risk factors like physical inactivity, exposure to residential radon gas, asbestos and air pollution put Canadians at increased risk for lung cancer too.

By sharing important facts and findings from this report, we highlighted the critical need for change so that fewer Canadians will face a lung cancer diagnosis and more will survive and thrive long after.

8. Made important advancements in tobacco control

For years, the Canadian Cancer Society has advocated for tobacco control and stronger e-cigarette advertising restrictions as a means to protect youth and benefit public health. In 2020, we saw advancements in tobacco control across the country – partly as a result of our extensive advocacy to all levels of government.

The federal government introduced new regulations that restrict the advertisement of e-cigarettes  anywhere young people can see or hear them. Since advertising is a tool used by vaping companies to attract young people, limiting exposure to these targeted ads is one way to reduce youth vaping.

In December, the federal government announced new regulations setting a maximum nicotine level for e-cigarettes. High nicotine e-cigarettes became a growing concern in Canada as the rates of youth vaping climb. A limit on the maximum nicotine concentration allowed in e-cigarettes is an essential measure to help protect a new generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Across the country, we continued to see provincial governments implement a number of tobacco control measures. Prince Edward Island became the first province in Canada to raise the minimum sales age for tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 – making it even more difficult for young people to become addicted to tobacco.

9. Transformed the way we support Canadians throughout the pandemic

Throughout a difficult year, we found new ways to connect with those who need us while continuing to offer support to Canadians affected by cancer and their loved ones. On our website, we provided much-needed information about cancer and COVID-19 and created a new webinar series about managing cancer during the pandemic. Thousands of Canadians across the country found comfort and support though our toll-free cancer information helpline and online community,

We know how valuable programs like our wig and breast accessories banks can be to those facing cancer, so we transformed this service into a new virtual distribution system. For people who need to travel away from home for cancer treatment, our lodges are a home away from home. We reopened our lodges with updates to protect the safety and well-being of our lodge communities, including people affected by cancer, caregivers, supporters, volunteers and staff.

This summer, we also launched Goodtimes at Home – a virtual version of Camp Goodtimes, our camp program for children faced with cancer. This program provided a safe, fun-filled camp experience for kids and their families from the comfort of home and allowed campers to connect to each other and the camp community.

Together, we’re funding groundbreaking research that helps us find new ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and live with and beyond cancer. We’re providing trusted information and compassionate support for Canadians with cancer and their loved ones. And, we’re shaping health policies to prevent cancer and support those living with the disease.

As we look to 2021 and beyond, we’re more determined than ever to continue making lasting change in the lives of people affected by cancer across the country. With your support, we can prove that we’re a force-for-life in the face of cancer.