2023-24 Annual Report

You’ve helped shape a generation of young leaders

A Note from our Leader

Thank you for making 2023-24 so memorable.

As we enter our 30th anniversary year, I am inspired by your continuing generosity and commitment to the children and families we serve.

Over the past 30 years, your generosity has created a veritable hub of healing and hope for more than 30,000 children and families during their cancer crisis.

With your support, we have invested $18.2 million in children’s cancer research and hospital support while dedicating $35 million to our programs and services designed to address the complex needs of young people affected by cancer.

Thanks to your outstanding support in 2023-24 and earlier, we were able to move forward confidently in our plans to expand and enhance accessibility at Camp Kindle!

The Camp Kindle Expansion and Accessibility project is part of our vision to deliver the best care and support for kids affected by cancer by reconnecting them with their childhoods. We will share updates on our progress in the months ahead, but if you’re keen to learn more or support the capital project, please click here.

Thank you for playing a vital role in the care and support of kids affected by cancer. You are at the heart of everything we do and our 2023-24 annual report demonstrates the many ways your generosity has shaped a generation of young leaders.

We can all be proud.

I am inspired by how often childhood cancer survivors report that Kids Cancer Care was a defining experience in their cancer journey. These young leaders are living the values they learned as children through our programs and services. Today, they are giving back to their communities through their chosen professions and as donors and volunteers. They are community builders, and thanks to you, they will leave the world a better place.

As I move into retirement this year and welcome Tracey Martin as Kids Cancer Care’s new CEO, I know I am leaving Kids Cancer Care in good hands because Kids Cancer Care has YOU and a whole new generation of young change-makers.


Christine McIver, M.S.M., LLD (Hon), CFRE
Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Your impact: 30 years of hope and healing

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Exploring the Big Questions of Science

“The time I spent working as a Kids Cancer Care summer research student in Dr. Narendran’s lab deeply influenced my decision to pursue a research career. He introduced me to the world of molecular and cellular biology, and I was hooked.” — Colette, 23

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“The time I spent working as a Kids Cancer Care summer research student in Dr. Narendran’s lab deeply influenced my decision to pursue a research career. He introduced me to the world of molecular and cellular biology, and I was hooked.” — Colette, 23

Colette was never your average teenager. She’d always been exceptionally bright, naturally curious, and deeply passionate about science. When cancer upended her life at age 13, a chance meeting with a gifted researcher would take her on a path of self-discovery that would forever change the trajectory of her life.

In July 2014, at the age of 13, Colette was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. She endured multiple surgeries followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation. During the first surgery, the surgeons discovered that the tumour was wrapped around a femoral nerve, which required cutting some of the nerve to get the tumour. This left a gap in the electrical system of her nervous system.

“My brain sends messages to my leg to move, but it no longer receives them,” she explains. Sometimes Colette spontaneously falls, and it can be a challenge to walk on uneven surfaces.

During her cancer treatment, Colette met Dr. Aru Narendran, a Kids Cancer Care-funded researcher at the University of Calgary and a pediatric oncologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The two began discussing her interest in science and it wasn’t long before Dr. Narendran had agreed to mentor Colette for her grade 9 science fair project.

“Dr. Narendran was an outstanding mentor,” says Colette. “I was only a high school student, and he encouraged me to test my own ideas. He talked me through my questions, and he allowed me independence under his guidance.”

Colette recalls his kind and patient nature. “He was very approachable, always just an email away and I could stop by his office anytime to discuss my ideas.”

Most notable among Colette’s many science fair wins was her research into a drug for neuroblastoma in Dr. Narendran’s lab. Colette’s findings suggested that the drug may not only be inhibiting cancer growth, but it may also be inducing differentiation, a process where the immature cancer cells "grow up" and become less like cancer. What’s more, the drug didn’t seem to attack regular cells, which could mean fewer side effects for patients. Not surprisingly, the project won top prize in the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

“It was amazing to be recognized nationally for that research, but more important, was knowing that the research could actually have potential in the real world one day,” Colette says.

Colette went on to represent Canada at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, and earn a Bachelor of Medical Sciences from the University of Western Ontario.

When it came time for graduate school, Colette decided to continue her studies at the Stanford School of Medicine and is currently completing the second year of her Ph.D. in the Department of Developmental Biology.

Somewhere along the undergraduate journey, Colette decided to shift her focus away from cancer research. “I found it too difficult to constantly focus on and read about cancer research,” says Colette. “It was just too close to home, and I started taking it way too personally.”   

Instead, Colette channelled her passion into volunteer work. She tutored young people online through Kids Cancer Care’s Education Support Program and provided peer support for pediatric cancer patients at the Children's Hospital at London Health Science Center.

Shifting her focus away from cancer research was a key decision in Colette’s long journey of healing and recovery. Her first step toward healing came a few years earlier when serving as a Kids Cancer Care spokeskid.

“Being part of the spokeskid program probably had the greatest impact on me,” says Colette. “It enabled me to become more comfortable sharing my story. Being a spokeskid gave me a safe space to tell my story and begin unpacking the part of me I tried so hard to hide. This was crucial in my healing and in becoming the advocate and storyteller I am today.”

Colette continues to draw on the skills she honed as a spokeskid. Currently finishing training to become a volunteer docent at Año Nuevo State Park in California, Colette gives public tours about northern elephant seals when they come ashore: “Undoubtedly my time as a spokeskid made me much more comfortable leading the tours and interacting with the public.”

As Colette expands her research interests to land that fundamental question for her Ph.D., she is aware that the basic science she pursues may one day lead to a better understanding of the biology of disease and other breakthroughs.

For now, Colette is interested in the fundamental questions of science and excited to explore her budding interest in evolutionary development while enjoying the California landscape and wildlife.

Living in the Blue Zone of Life

“Camp fully shaped who I am today. My love of the outdoors and my decision to become an occupational therapist really began at camp.” — Danielle, 34

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“Camp fully shaped who I am today. My love of the outdoors and my decision to become an occupational therapist really began at camp.” — Danielle, 34

As a child, Danielle Rettie went to camp every summer with a knapsack on her back. It was always filled with Band-Aids. “My mother never let me go to camp without tons of Band-Aids because I was always falling.”

Falling was part of Danielle’s daily routine. It wasn’t because she was inherently klutzy. It was a remnant of cancer.

At 15 months, Danielle was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a central nervous system tumour that appeared in her spinal cord. She underwent two spinal surgeries before they were able to get all the cancer. While the cancer is now long gone, Danielle lives with its fallout every day.

“Between surgeries, I relearned to walk, but really I’m thankful to walk at all since there was a high chance my lower body would be permanently paralyzed, and I would be in a wheelchair today.”

As she relearned to walk, Danielle developed a different gait pattern and a permanent limp. Doctors tried to improve her gait with countless surgeries, corrective casts, and leg braces. Even today, Danielle must do regular physiotherapy or live with pain.

“Every time I got the news that they wanted to make more improvements on me, I would have an emotional breakdown,” recalls Danielle. “It felt like all my hard work with physio went to waste. It was like pedaling full speed uphill but never reaching the top.”

Today, Danielle is channeling those early life experiences into helping others with mobility and other health challenges. She works as a public health community-based occupational therapist in Smithers, B.C.

Danielle works with clients in their homes to assess their needs, and if needed, she advocates for them: “I spend a lot of my days advocating. I write a lot of request-for-funding letters for clients who can’t afford the medical equipment they need.”

Danielle also volunteers with Grendel Group, a charity that helps adults with cognitive and physical disabilities build purpose, meaningful work, and community into their lives.

She loves her work and her life in the mountain town where she recently bought her first home. Danielle credits her experiences with cancer and Kids Cancer Care with leading her to this happy place in life.

“Camp fully influenced my personal interests and career choices,” says Danielle. “I developed my love of the outdoors through camp. And I learned what is possible for people with disabilities at camp.”

After a lifetime of disability, decades of camp experiences, a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Queens and five years as an OT, Danielle is bringing her whole self—body, mind, and spirit—to help others facing disabilities.

“I’ve learned that people don’t know how to accommodate disability. They don’t know what to do. At camp, people knew what to do. They knew how to adapt programs and make accommodations. And they didn’t just accommodate us; they rolled out the red carpet and celebrated us!”

“I never thought of myself as disabled,” says Danielle. “Camp made me feel like a normal kid. I didn’t just feel like a normal kid. I was a normal kid. I rock climbed, hiked, camped, and did anything my little heart desired.”

An avid outdoor enthusiast to this day, Danielle still spends as much time outdoors as she can. When she’s not working or volunteering, she’s riding her mountain bike, hiking or snowboarding in the mountains.

“I’m really thankful for Kids Cancer Care,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been exposed to the outdoors if not for camp and I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today, if not for Kids Cancer Care.”

Understanding the Growth Mindset of Surviving Childhood Cancer

“I’ve been part of Kids Cancer Care for 20 years. My mindset was shaped by camp — the empowering language and positive perspective. It gave me a new outlook on life and trajectory.” — Rachelle, 24

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“I’ve been part of Kids Cancer Care for 20 years. My mindset was shaped by camp — the empowering language and positive perspective. It gave me a new outlook on life and trajectory.” — Rachelle, 24

Rachelle Drummond may have started life behind the eight ball, but she has more than made up for those early misses.

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age five, Rachelle missed years of school. “I didn’t return to full-time school until grade 4. I missed half of elementary,” she says. Because the cancer was in her bone marrow, it left Rachelle extremely weak. She spent most of her treatment years in a wheelchair.

With one master's degree, a second one almost finished, and plans to begin a combined MSc/PhD this fall, at 24, Rachelle has already made up for lost time. Her ultimate goal is to become a clinical psychologist in the field of psychosocial oncology, and to establish her own practice, helping patients and survivors of childhood cancer.

Rachelle is defending her second master’s degree this August. Under the supervision of Dr. Fiona Schulte, a clinical psychologist and researcher, Rachelle’s research aims to understand how a survivor’s knowledge of their cancer history and long-term health risks (or their perceived vulnerability to such risks) may be influencing their adherence to recommended long-term follow-up care.

“Recent research has shown that 100% of childhood cancer survivors develop one or more chronic health conditions related to their cancer diagnosis in their lifetime,” says Rachelle. “And yet, less than 50% of survivors adhere to the recommended long-term follow-up care. This is particularly concerning as research shows that late effects from treatment typically have a delayed onset, so ongoing monitoring and prevention of late effects is crucial for the long-term well-being of survivors.”

The reasons for non-adherence are complex and may depend on several patient- and system-level factors, such as the survivor’s knowledge, geographic location of a survivor (i.e., rural vs urban), a survivor’s stage of life, and even the health care system they fall under.

To address some of the issues, Rachelle and a team of researchers at the Care4Kids lab are piloting the use of a mobile-health intervention (mHealth) in the form of an app. Community members and patient partners involved in the development of the app noted several helpful features, such as access to their cancer medical history and customized resources based on that history. They also noted that connecting with others who share similar journeys through an app would be helpful, as would long-term follow-up appointment reminders.

At the same time, the Care4Kids team recognizes that the resources required to compile decades of health data and then develop, test, pilot, and continually update the app, may be cost-prohibitive. It would also require extensive security measures to protect patients’ privacy.

While Rachelle is pumped about her thesis, the research that really ignites her passion is the qualitative research she plans to do in the future.

For starters, Rachelle would like to study the effect of outdoor activity on the mental health of pediatric cancer survivors.

“Camp inspired my love of the outdoors, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” she says. “My happy place is anywhere outdoors, and I think it can have healing properties. Alongside medical treatments, I am curious to see if it can act as a positive behavioural intervention to improve the long-term mental well-being of survivors.”

In 2015 and 2016, Rachelle participated in Camp SunSeeker, an adventure camp for teens offered by Kids Cancer Care. The experience was pivotal in shaping her growth mindset.

“We hiked Mount Yamnuska in 2016,” recalls Rachelle. “We were at the bottom of the trail and none of us had ever done an actual hike before. We’d only done trails. As patients and survivors, we are always told how careful we need to be, whether it was because we were weak, immunodeficient or had IVADS *. I had all this stuff in my head about my physical limits because of my diagnosis, but that day, I learned what I was capable of.”

Travelling to the Dominican Republic with the Teen Leadership Program was another eye-opening experience for Rachelle. The teens worked together to raise funds for their flights and accommodations. While there, they painted homes for low-income families.

“It really flipped the narrative of giving for me,” says Rachelle. “It felt so empowering to use my challenging lived experiences to be able to improve the lives of others.”

Rachelle’s experiences with Kids Cancer Care have shown her that how we speak to children about their diagnosis and their limits is important. “When we are undergoing treatment, we are constantly reminded of our limits,” she says. “Kids Cancer Care does such a great job of empowering kids and taking a positive turn on things. The messages I received at camp were so positive and life-affirming: ‘You can do this. You can make new friends. It’s okay to be afraid. We’re here to support you. You are not alone.’

Positive affirmation and the practice of gently coaxing kids outside their comfort zone through a challenge-by-choice philosophy may be the key to helping childhood cancer survivors thrive. And Rachelle plans to study it. One day, she plans to study post-traumatic growth versus post-traumatic stress in pediatric cancer survivors.

“I am largely grateful for my cancer experience and able to see it as a positive experience because of Kids Cancer Care,” says Rachelle. “I met my best friend at camp and other friends I am still close with today. We went through our worst time in life together. Now we’re coming together as volunteer camp counsellors. My experience wouldn’t have been the same without Kids Cancer Care.”

IVAD - Implanted vascular access device that allows repeated and long-term access to the patient’s bloodstream for administering medication, IV fluids, etc.

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