As a cancer researcher, Lisa Porter knows how much progress has been made in treating the disease over the last several decades—which is why losing her own mother to the disease was so excruciating.
“She was always healthy,” the biology professor says of Betty Lynn Porter, who died in her home town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on May 10 at the age of 65 “She was always active. She went for a mammogram every year. She was always very careful.”
Dr. Porter is scientific director of the Windsor Cancer Research Group; most of her work is focused on understanding the function and regulation of a human cell cycle protein called Speedy (Spy1). An unusual protein, it can activate and promote cancer cell proliferation and maturation. It’s capable of overriding the DNA damage response, and researchers in her lab have demonstrated that inappropriate regulation of Spy1 can lead to the production of tumours.
“Research has made an impact on patient survival and we have some excellent detection and treatment tools now,” Porter said, but added that these tools were ineffective for her own mother.
“Where her cancer was coming from was never clear,” she said. “We have many tools in the lab that can very accurately tell us what type of cell we are looking at, yet these are not well validated yet in the clinic. This is one example of research that still needs to move forward to benefit patients like my mom.”
As a tribute to her mother, Porter is participating in the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life on June 20 at the Vollmer Culture and Recreation Complex in LaSalle. A 12-hour overnight event, Relay for Life brings individuals and teams together to celebrate life and raise funds for cancer research.
Knowing her mother will be front and centre in her thoughts at the event, Porter is already trying to prepare herself for some of the feelings she’ll be struggling with that day.
“It’s going to be a very emotional day,” she said. “But I want others to get the diagnosis and treatment that wasn’t there for my mom, and supporting research is the best way to do that.”