PYNK
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Meet the team

PYNK team group photo

Ellen WarnerI’m Ellen Warner, a medical oncologist, founder and director of PYNK. For my first 20 years in practice I was totally oblivious to the unique medical and emotional issues young breast cancer patients face. In fact I thought they were lucky to be getting breast cancer when they were still healthy enough to get through the tough treatments! After my eyes were finally opened at a conference I attended, I was determined to gather together a team of passionate experts from all the relevant health disciplines to create a special program at Sunnybrook for young women with breast cancer - PYNK. Our major goal was to ensure that these young women would get the best possible medical care and maximum emotional support. We also hoped to enlighten oncology health care providers outside Sunnybrook with lectures and articles about how to better treat their young breast cancer patients. And, finally, we wanted to facilitate research specially focusing on young patients, so that (until we learn how to prevent breast cancer completely!), young women diagnosed with breast cancer in the future will have a better chance of cure, and fewer long-term treatment-related side effects. I'm thrilled that PYNK has made great strides in achieving all these goals!

Christel HelwigI am Christel Helwig. I have been the nursing coordinator of PYNK for eight years now and have seen the impact breast cancer has on many young women. They are devastated, terrified and lost. My role is to provide support and guidance through the confusion and fear that the diagnosis of breast cancer brings. Now, with close to 300 women who have been followed by the PYNK team, PYNK is dedicated to developing innovative and meaningful ways to provide our services. For example, I organize the monthly support group “In the PYNK” to offer young women the opportunity to come together and share their breast cancer experience. Similarly, a support group called “Out of the Blue” was created for the male partners. We also address body image and sexuality issues in “Intimacy After Breast Cancer for the Young Women” program held every four months. As breast cancer unfortunately affects the whole family we provide age-appropriate books to allow our PYNK women’s young children to understand what is happening to their moms; and we are also hoping to launch sessions for the mothers of these young women. The work that I do on behalf of PYNK has afforded me the opportunity to witness the strength and courage of the young women I follow. I receive great personal gratification in knowing that I am a part of a program that provides such an essential and unique service. My hope for PYNK is that it ultimately becomes a model of care for all young women affected by breast cancer.

Alexandra LandsbergI am Alexandra Landsberg. I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, in 1996, over 21 years ago. I met Dr. Warner four years after my diagnosis, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and wanted a second opinion. We could see that Dr. Warner cared about her patient's well being and that meant both quality of life and quantity of life. We knew she was the right person to help us both. I switched hospitals and oncologists and she has been our oncologist since that first meeting. A few years later, Dr. Warner asked for my thoughts on a program like PYNK. I remember crying and wishing so much that something like that had been available to me. I was not fortunate enough to have a program like PYNK and that was so difficult as I was so young. I immediately jumped at the chance to help her make PYNK a reality as I wanted to help other young women and try and avoid what I had gone through. Having a program like PYNK gives women with breast cancer the message that there are many others like them and that the PYNK team is aware that these women have special needs based on their stage in life. I have been part of the PYNK executive since 2005 when we started our monthly meetings and one of my missions is to fundraise so that we can continue to help young women cope with the devastating diagnosis. I am currently working on my third fundraiser for PYNK, a second major joint fundraiser with Na’amat Canada Toronto, and am privileged to be part of the PYNK team.

Katie RiceI am Katie Rice, a registered University of Toronto trained social worker. I joined the PYNK program in 2015 as part of the role of social worker in the Louise Temerty Breast Centre, and as part of the Odette Cancer Centre’s Patient and Family Support Program. I am available to our PYNK patients for assistance with resources, care planning, financial and income support programs. I also maintain a clinical counseling role for patients and families. I work closely with the physicians and nursing staff, in particular the PYNK nurse Christel, in order to help address our patients’ needs.

Karen FergusMy name is Karen Fergus and I am a clinical psychologist with the Patient and Family Support team at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre and a professor of clinical psychology at York University. My research focuses on helping individuals improve their ability to cope with cancer in general and breast cancer in particular. My clinical practice and research with young women with breast cancer has helped me understand the unique psychosocial challenges they face as well as the very limited support services available to them. To address this gap, I founded the Young Women with Breast Cancer Peer Navigation and Support Program (2006-2010), a collaboration between the Odette Cancer Centre, Rethink Breast Cancer, Wellspring and Willow Breast Cancer Support. The program helped match newly diagnosed young women with trained volunteers with similar experience. Since becoming an executive member of PYNK, I have been involved in developing a number of online support programs for people affected by cancer and their families.

Kasia JerzakI’m Kasia Jerzak, a medical oncologist at Sunnybrook. I was introduced to the breast cancer program for young women during my medical oncology fellowship training. I had the opportunity to work in the PYNK clinic and learn about the unique aspects of care for young women with breast cancer first-hand from Dr. Warner. Having an interest in translational cancer research, I decided to study the unique biological features of breast cancer in young women, particularly those who are diagnosed during pregnancy or within 24 months post-partum. With the mentorship of Dr. Warner and collaboration of Dr. Nofech-Mozes (staff pathologist and Director of Research in the Department of Anatomic Pathology at Sunnybrook), I helped to launch a research study that aims to measure hormonal and immune markers in the breast cancer tissue of women aged 40 and under. With further funding, we hope to perform state-of-the-art genetic analyses, and ultimately help identify innovative new treatments for young women battling breast cancer. Hence, I hope to contribute to PYNK not only as a medical oncologist, but also as a researcher to help improve the long-term outcomes of young women with breast cancer.

Siqi ZhuI am Siqi Zhu. I joined PYNK in 2016 as a research coordinator to support various clinical studies at the Breast Centre that specially focus on young women. In addition to PYNK, I am also the Sunnybrook coordinator for RUBY, a new pan-Canadian program that is recruiting more than 1,200 young breast cancer patients over a four-year period during which clinical and psychological data will be collected. As a young woman myself and having been through the cancer journey with my family, I can imagine what these women and their families are going through. I am hoping to facilitate the growth of our research program by encouraging all our PYNK partners to participate in research studies, supporting them throughout their involvement, and providing accurate and complete clinical data.