To his patients, Dr. Joel Werier is a hero. He has been a surgical oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital for 12 years, specializing in malignancies that affect the musculoskeletal system. In lay terms that means dealing with cancerous tumours in the bone. Some of these spread from other areas – such as breast, prostate, thyroid and kidney cancers – into the patient’s bones and soft tissue.
But to Dr. Werier, his patients are the true heroes. “It’s an honour and a privilege to work with these patients, to use the skills that I have to help them deal with their cancer and maintain as much of their movement as possible.”
It’s for that reason that Dr. Werier will be a part of the 2015 return of Rattle Me Bones on October 25. The annual Halloween-themed fun run raises money for bone cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital, so Dr. Werier and his colleagues can better help these heroes.
“The idea of Rattle Me Bones is exciting to me because it’s designed to raise awareness as well as money for research,” he says. “These types of cancers can cause a burden to mobility and quality of life. Making advances in research ultimately means we can better help our patients.”
Bone cancer can affect anyone of any age. Pediatric bone cancers and those affecting young people into their 20’s are usually tumours that start in the bone. As people get older – those in their 30’s and up, tend to be metastatic cancers that spread to the bone.
“In my work – every day there are stories of real courage and survivors. Without maintaining mobility, it’s difficult to maintain health and quality of life in any aspect. It’s an incredible opportunity for me to be able to treat a young person who is overcoming bone tumours and help them become mobile again. These are usually big, reconstructive surgeries that require intensive rehabilitation.”
And while surgical techniques, rehab and research are making progress – there’s more to do. “There’s been a lot of work done on medications that strengthen the bone after a tumour has spread there, but we still don’t understand why one type of tumour will spread to the bone and another won’t,” Dr. Werier says. “We’re working on it. That’s why we need more funding for research. The Ottawa Hospital has a group of incredible researchers in its bone oncology program investigating these exact questions.”
He also credits The Ottawa Hospital for its forward-thinking attitude and focus on research as the way to improve patient care. “I think we’ve developed a world-class cancer centre and research institute. There’s great innovation happening in our own back yard. But we’ve got to keep it going.”
Dr. Werier says he’s moved by the tenacity of his patients who have malignancies and following surgery, chemo and radiation, have the ability to stay positive in light of these life-altering events and staying positive. “I can honestly say I am reaffirmed every day.”
Does the good doctor have any training tips to pass along in advance of the big day? He hesitates. “I’ll admit I’m not a runner. I tend to run more for the cause and pay my dues in the days after the event,” he laughs. “Rattle me Bones supports so many patients with so many types of cancers –by participating or supporting – we can all impact the lives of people in our own community dealing with cancer.”