Unapologetically Canadian Episode 11: Julie Quenneville
As Breast Cancer month began, I spoke with MUHC Foundation President Julie Quenneville for my podcast. Our discussion can be heard here.
Most of our conversation covers the needs met by the annual Enchantée fundraiser for the MUHC Breast Clinic wellness program. This year’s event takes place next Thursday, October 18th, 2018 at the Le Mount Stephen from 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Tickets cost $200 each and can be purchased online.
The event is important enough for Montreal that I also prepared a story for the Suburban.
Julie and I are friends and members of the same club, so you’ll probably notice that some of my questions reflect a deep admiration of her work. Yet I’ve never before heard her talk about her Canadian identity and her work with the Banff Forum trying to figure out why kind of country we want to live in. Just goes to show you that podcasts can reveal fascinating facets of people.
Here’s the transcript of our conversation.
How does Enchantée fit in with all of the rest of the fundraising you do at the MUHC?
Julie Quenneville: [00:01:09] So we do a lot of fundraising that is globally for the priority needs of the MUHC. And we also do some very targeted fundraising that is for certain diseases departments and linked to of course the priority needs of those areas. So this event is particular to support the breast center and its own priorities. It’s a great opportunity to engage not only the staff, the physicians but also the patients and their families in a fundraising initiative. So when you’re very targeted, it allows them to feel like they’re giving back and really working towards a common goal. It can be quite empowering for the patients.
How did it start?[00:02:01] Well it was the committee that the three co-chairs actually sitting down with physicians and it started off with very specific needs. So not people in general but a need that is not being met in the community and that’s lymphedema. Have you ever heard of that? [00:02:20] No.
Lymphedema[00:02:22] Lymphedema is an absolutely terrible swelling basically of the arms and the legs that happens after surgery when you remove lymph nodes. It affects about 25 percent of breast cancer survivors who post-surgery will have this swelling. There is absolutely no cure for it and the only thing that we can do is to manage the disease through obviously early diagnosis always essential but also through physiotherapy. So you manipulate the affected areas and there are also some bandages. So the government recently decided to cover the bandages, at least a portion of the bandages that the patients need. But it’s still unfortunately not covering the actual physiotherapy that relieves the pain. And you can take a look on the internet what Lymphedema looks like. But it is life changing for the patients. Many of them don’t want to leave home anymore.
And so we actually have the Canadian lead physician who has been really leading the battle to get lymphedema care covered across the country. Her name is Dr. Anna Tower. And so it was in meetings obviously with Doctor Tower throughout the last couple of years, our foundation has always covered those services. I would say probably for the last decade. And in the breast center, we cover the services for our patients as well. And so anyone who is afflicted with this is at least will have access to care.
Now that’s not good enough. I think everyone else in the province should have access, but at least we’re doing our part in making sure that our patients are taken care of.
So the conversation started with lymphedema and saying to ourselves well with the patients how do we make sure that these services continue because they’re not covered by government and what else can we do to not only improve the survival rate but also improve their quality of life post-surgery and treatment?[00:04:30] So I just looked at a picture of what lymphedema is. This is extreme. The picture I’m looking at looks extreme in various ways. One just makes it look kind of blotty and then right up to legs that are clearly five times bigger than what they were prior to the disease. [00:04:59] For breast cancer patients, it would be mostly the arms, because it’s in the areas that you remove the lymph nodes, and in breast cancer that would be the arms. But it’s a high number 25 percent. In all the cancers, ovarian cancer and breast cancer, patients are the most affected by this. [00:08:32] I can see why they don’t want to leave home. They’ve become a whole different person and they’ve already just gone through a very traumatic situation anyway because they’ve just survived breast cancer. [00:08:40] Their quality of life is affected.
So we have three co-chairs. So Cynthia Price and Jo Anne Rudy have been heavily involved in the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation throughout probably the last 20 years and Anna is a breast cancer survivor. So you know they were personally touched by these issues.
So, on top of the lymphedema services, the funds raised from this event—this is the second annual event—are going to the wellness program.
Wellness Program Services
So that includes lymphedema but it also goes above and beyond. It includes:
- Resource guides to help patient education. It’s you know a very very stressful time to be diagnosed to go through the treatments. So we want to be able to help our patients and their families through that process.
- Preoperative kinesiology support sessions. So this is again we have proven through our research projects that providing kinesiology before surgery actually helps them recover afterwards. And we have a research project right now at the breast center that is actually verifying if physiotherapy before the surgery will reduce the risk of lymphodema for example. So we’re looking at all the preop care, which is so key. But again this is not something that is covered by our regular health care.
- Post-operative support services. Again from looking through what does that mean for patients? Well you know that’s the nutritionist and the psychosocial so all of those areas that really help the entire patient.
Now I noticed last year you raised 120,000 dollars.
Exactly. That was our first event.
Yeah and how many patients would that cover
I don’t know off the top of my head but we can certainly pull that number and get back to you.
Okay perfect. And I noticed that this particular event is taking place at the Mount Stephen on October 18, which is a pretty good location. Was it there last year as well?[00:10:31]It was there last year as well. They’ve been a very good partner. It’s a very nice place and as you know it’s important in these fundraising events to find something that is central and is a bit different from other events. [00:10:39] So you had 200 guests last year. Do you know how many people are reserved so far this year? [00:10:43] We’re still in the middle of the sale. So we’re still confident to be able to surpass last year.
Fundraising Partners[00:10:50] I noticed that some of the other partners in this, in addition to the MUHC itself and McGill University, of course, include the Goodman Cancer Centre, the Genome Centre, and the Rossy Cancer Network. Can you tell me a little bit about what each of those groups does?
So this year we’ve added a partner foundation. We’re always striving to collaborate with others because that’s the best way to help our patients. So the Cedar’s Cancer Foundation, which is a foundation of the MUHC, has joined forces with us to make this event even more successful. The Cedar Cancer Foundation is heavily involved with the Rossy Cancer Network, which you know if you look back in past announcements, is funded obviously by the Rossy family and is a way to break down the silos between the MUHC, McGill, JJH and St. Mary’s for Cancer Care and all of the foundations related also contribute to the pot. Any time there is a funded project everyone is engaged and everyone contributes financially, including the Rossy Network.[00:11:35] OK. So then you have a network of people who are already behind your project when it gets launched.
In all of cancer, because the patients flow through these various areas, you know we have incredible complementarity where we don’t duplicate the services. There are certain cancers which we are specialized in. Certain cancers will go to the Jewish. And of course, there are some cancers that go to St. Mary’s. So this way we make sure that the patients are always in the best place and are being treated by the best team possible for their cancer.[00:11:59] Did you find last year that there were new partners this year because of the event last year? [00:12:06] Well it allowed us to start a conversation. And that’s that’s the key right? Even though we’re not raising millions through a fund-raising event, it allows us to meet patients who are interested in giving back and interested in getting involved. Absolutely there were many conversations that went in other directions and many many of the attendees became important donors as well to the program. [00:12:27] Well and then what happens in your job I think we have got a higher level in your job you actually handle a heck of a lot of events. How do you handle it? I mean just give me a sort of an overview of a day in your life it can’t be easy because everything is so emotional. I mean you’re dealing with life and death.
Julie’s Mission[00:12:40] It’s funny that you say that and you know everyone in the foundation all the staff are also patients. Our board of directors are also patients. Our physicians are so dedicated and so passionate about their work. So every meeting I go to everyone is striving to make things move and save more patients. So it is not a job, it’s more of a mission. And then when I come home and I wasn’t successful in bringing a gift, it is not… It really hits us emotionally because we want to be able to solve this problem. When you meet your first patient with lymphedema, for example, when you come home at night it’s hard to let that go. You just want to go back to work and try to find another solution try to find more money to be able to provide additional care.
So a day in my life is every day I meet physicians, nurses or patients who are looking to work together to find solutions. But it’s also empowering Tracey.
There’s always no one of the things I learned in being in health care for this long is that there’s always a way to make it work. If you get everybody around the table engaged in finding a solution, you do find a solution, and that’s empowering.[00:13:43] Can you give me an example of something like that? Perhaps something not connected to this event. But in terms of something that looks like a very difficult situation that you were able to find a solution?
Centre for Innovative Medicine[00:13:53] So we have a physician at the MUHC who is specialized in rare rare genetic diseases and because of his expertise, we get patients from all around the province. We’re also the only place one of the only places in the world to have a Centre for innovative medicine which is an area dedicated 100 percent to clinical trials.
So he had a patient at one point and there were quite a few publications around this case, who came from one of the regions of Quebec so out of the McGill Territory who was 32 years and who was in palliative care at the time and no physician he had seen was able to identify the source so they had to put him into palliative care. For a father, that’s difficult to swallow at 32 years old. It turns out what he had was basically thrush in his brain. It’s really hard to get rid of thrush. It turns out that through the work that our physician did, he mixed medication and eventually he found that a mixture of two medications for other diseases actually worked for this patient and he was sent home to be with his family. And this is a physician that we fund heavily because of course, this kind of research is so ultra=specialized that it takes a lot of tender loving care but it’s very encouraging because it reminds us that we are able to pull off miracles when we have dedicated people.
So is that patient is still alive. Has he become one of your donors?
I can’t tell you that, because obviously, that information is confidential.[00:15:23] But he is certainly unbelievably grateful and I’m sure every time he tells his story about what happened to him and his family it is important for the hospital and also important for Montreal.
It is a very very very powerful story and it shows that if you keep working hard, there are miracles. Not very many people think about a fundraiser as a miracle worker.
Making the Difference between Quality and Excellence
Well, we make the difference as a foundation we make the difference between quality and excellence. We fund innovation.[00:16:04] There is no government budget to fund innovation. That is really the drive that the community has. There’s also no budget in the government for development of new equipment. So when there’s a piece of equipment a new piece of technology on the market, the foundations support that. The existing budget is really just for the replacement of the existing platform. So what we do is we make the difference between quality care and excellent care which is what we all want and what we should all demand. [00:16:37] And well how much do you have specific about how much your foundation supports above and beyond the budget of the MUHC. [00:16:50It’s important to note that we don’t fund items that are covered in the operating budget. We always cover what’s above and beyond. So just to make sure that we don’t confuse that. We raised last year 24 billion in revenue plus our investments. So that was a record-breaking year for us. That’s a 25 percent increase in revenue. [00:17:17] Congratulations.
How long have you been there?[00:17:24] It’ll be three years in October.
So that result is really in part due to your leadership. You can take credit for a lot of that.
Engaged Board Members[00:17:34] Well, it is due to the team and the board. We have an absolutely exceptional board. You can take a look at the list online. In the last year alone, we have brought in a lot of really big important new names and a lot of Francophones as well, which is important to note. Many Francophone leaders are really supporting the MUHC and helping to raise funds and helping to engage the Francophone community. To give you an example, Michèle Boisvert, who is executive vice-president of the Caisse de Dépot has just joined. Marc Parent, who’s president of CAE also joined. So these are really important folks in the community.
It’s thanks to the entire team, the staff, the board and the physicians who are working with us that we were able to have that kind of success.[00:18:29] Now donors are all patients.
Do you have a relationship with any of the francophone funders or foundations? Do you do any joint projects?[00:18:50] So we’ve had a very long joint corporate campaign with the CHUM Foundation and this was to build the two new hospitals. It was a great success. We had a wonderful collaboration between the two foundations and the two institutions and we have you know we are preparing now for our next big fund-raising initiatives and some of them will be in collaboration not only with them but we hope with other hospitals across the province. The funding agents across the country for research are asking for it and the donors are asking for it as well that we work more and more together. So we plan to do that.
Fundraising Compared to Journalism[00:19:32] OK. And now just on the personal side, you used to be a journalist and you’ve moved to a different world. What kind of, I assume that the adrenaline is similar, because you have so much emotion in your job, but it’s a different kind, other than talking to a journalist like me. [00:19:56] I’m going to speak very honestly to you. When I was a journalist because I’m an incredibly passionate person as you know. I found it very difficult to cover the story but not be involved in it. And what I find now is that I have an opportunity to actually have a direct impact on my community and it’s hands-on. And so it is very similar in terms of how you tell the story that has the impact, that you engage the community. But it’s just a different step in getting actively involved in mobilizing people to have an impact on the community. [00:20:41] Well and it’s also similar in that you have to be a thoughtful and accurate spokesperson and willing to say I don’t know when you don’t know. [00:20:54] Absolutely. And you know we’re striving to we’re striving to mobilize as many people as possible. If you think about it, we’re the second most important research hospital in the country right after UHM in Toronto. We have 700,000 patient visitors at the Glen alone, 500,000 of those adults. Those are big numbers. There are a lot of people who can work together and have a desire to work together to improve care for the community. So what our objective is simply to help them work together and help mobilize them. [00:21:42] Yeah well I’m glad that you pointed that out to that. I think there’s a very important and to give an idea of the kind of scope of the projects you are working on. This is one event in a very large fundraising effort. It’s an important event because it’s a targeted event. [00:22:03] Yes exactly. Absolutely. And in order to operate the entire initiative I’ve mentioned to you, we need about $300,000 dollars per year, which the foundation supports. So those are also big numbers. [00:22:18] Wow. Yeah, that’s a big gap.
Do you consider yourself a Canadian? And if so what does that mean to you?[00:22:39] I absolutely consider myself a Canadian—a Canadian first and a Quebecker and of course a Montrealer as well. And I think that that defines us. Canadians are very different and I think with what we’re seeing with our neighbours down south, it seems to from my perception have reaffirmed the differences between being Canadian and others around the world and we have a tendency towards being more diplomatic, more engaging and collaborative and those are things that I strive to do every day at work and at home with my personal life.
I also sit on the board of directors with a really important group called the Banff Forum where we strive to find solutions to break down those barriers across the country from east to west. We’re meeting next week and this is part of on my personal time one of the areas that I find most important and I hope to be able to contribute.
The Banff Forum[00:24:03] Oh can you talk a little bit about the Banff Forum? [00:24:12] Well the Banff Forum is an organization that was created by a small group of Canadians after the referendum in 95. The idea behind it was really to engage Canadians across the country to break down those barriers and have everybody working together. There’s a lack of communication in the past so that was really important to get people around the country. It’s really targeted at younger Canadians. It was founded officially in 2002.
We should be defining what kind of country we want to live in in the next 20, 30 years. So it’s a group of very very passionate young Canadians.
Although I’m not so young, they are very young and very engaged. We meet officially for a conference once a year, but we have many chapter provincial meetings as well and seminars. We talk about the environment and indigenous issues. We talk about politics. Many politicians from every party come and speak with us as well to be able to have that diversity of conversation. We talk about culture. And it’s really about building that curiosity and seeking solutions and all of the members who—we are very careful to welcome the members that represent different diversity of different age groups and different cultural backgrounds and make sure that these are all individuals that are also incredibly engaged in their communities and so they bring back this information and knowledge to their own work into their networks.
And so the meeting next week is actually in Yellowknife. We’re going to Inuvik first and then in Yellowknife. We’ll be visiting from villages communities and we’ll be hearing from them are their challenges and seeing it for ourselves. I’m hoping to have some time to go visit some of the clinics that are there as well. And somehow, of course, it’s impossible not to have an impact on perception.[00:26:40] We’re all very anxious to hear from them Yeah exactly. Well, will you have any presentations about your experience in the future?
None are planned.[00:26:53] This is a closed group because we want to make sure that everyone can speak very openly. But of course, you know you cannot leave such an event without changing as a person in your own perception changes. So I’d be happy to speak with you afterwards if you’d like. [00:27:14] That would be wonderful thank you very much.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.