Dr. Lucy Gilbert with her patient Marie-France Angers.

Marie-France Angers savours the small things that perhaps only those who have been really sick, and staring down death can truly appreciate. She enjoys spending time in nature, and walking through the woods at her condo north of the city in the Laurentians. She plans trips and travels abroad with her loved ones. She no longer sleeps with her cell phone by her bed, or works 70-hour weeks.

“We definitely live in a world that is way too stressful,” says Marie-France when we meet up at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation Glen Site office for an interview between her medical appointments. “Life is such a precious gift. We should just embrace every moment.”

Two years ago when she was only 57 years old Marie-France was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer that had metastasized.

At the time of her diagnosis she didn’t have clear symptoms, and being told she had cancer caught her by surprise. An x-ray showed fluid in her lungs, and by the time it was drained – more than three liters of it in all – the avid swimmer could barely walk or talk.

“You start living every moment, the day they tell you that perhaps it’s your last moment,” she says. “What I really took out of this experience is that there’s so much more to life than work and your career.”

Marie-France still recalls how hopeful she felt after being referred to Dr. Lucy Gilbert, the director of Gynecology-Oncology at the MUHC.  Dr. Gilbert performed surgery for six hours on her, and began twice-monthly intravenous chemotherapy treatments before starting her on a clinical trial in January of 2018. Now, with nearly 18 months and counting of cancer-free living Marie-France has only gratitude for the health care professionals who cared for her.

“All through this I must admit, if it wasn’t for Dr. Gilbert and her team I definitely wouldn’t be here. I would have died probably within a couple of months,” she says. “I don’t think I would have seen Christmas of 2017, so now I live on borrowed time and it is so precious.”

Like many of her fellow patients, Marie-France has become an ambassador for Dr. Gilbert and the work she is doing to save women’s lives. This appreciative patient wants to advocate for all women so that they can benefit from the DOvEE project, a test which helps diagnose ovarian and endometrial cancers early.

An estimated 7,300 Canadian women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer in Canada each year, and more than 1,200 will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer is less common but more lethal, affecting more than 2,800 women and killing about 1,800 in Canada annually.

“I’m still very sad inside that more is not being done,” says Marie-France. “We can’t expect Dr. Gilbert, her team to be alone in this fight. I understand there are a lot of cancers, but this one is really sad. Most of the time it’s too late, and it shouldn’t’ be too late. We have to find a way of making sure that we get the visibility that we should, enabling all women to have access to early detection.”

Dr. Gilbert and her colleagues were awarded Quebec Science magazine’s Discovery of the Year 2018 for their work in the early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

To find out how you can help, visit muhcfoundation.com/dovee.

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