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Dr. Joseph Connors, BC Cancer clinician scientist, appointed to the Order of Canada

The Order of Canada is one of Canada’s highest civilian honours given to Canadians who have enriched the lives of others and made extraordinary contributions to the nation.
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Announced by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, Dr. Joseph Connors is one of 114 Canadian appointees “whose service has shaped our society; whose innovations ignite our imaginations; and whose compassion unites our communities.”  
Dr. Joseph Connors, an award-winning clinician scientist was recognized “for his contributions to the study and treatment of lymphoid cancers, and for his role in the advancement of lymphoma care in Canada.”

Dr. Connors was a medical oncologist with BC Cancer from 1981 – 2018. His clinical and research focus was on lymphoid cancer, including Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, lymphocytic leukemia and myeloma. From 1986 through 2008 he was the Chair of the Lymphoma Tumor Group and from 2000 to 2018 the Clinical Director of the BC Cancer Centre for Lymphoid Cancer. 

Dr. Joseph Connors is an author on more than 450 peer-reviewed scientific articles and continues to be named one of the World's Most Influential Scientific Minds; his publications have been cited by other researchers more than 60,000 times.

Now retired from clinical practice, here are his thoughts on being appointed to the Order of Canada and reflections on the work that led to the prestigious recognition. 

Recipients of the Order of Canada exemplify the Order’s motto: “They desire a better country” – how does this make you feel?
I am gratified that my clinical and research efforts have led to improved understanding of lymphoid cancers and through that understanding to more effective and better tolerated treatments. These improvements have helped patients across Canada and throughout the world, nicely matching the motto of the Order of Canada.

What are the career highlights that may have led to receiving the Order of Canada?
Over my career at BC Cancer I helped build and lead a research team focused on lymphoid cancer, employing cutting edge scientific techniques to characterize its underlying biology, especially the genetic changes leading to malignancy and to treatment resistance. My team of clinicians and researchers built one of the largest and most complete databases detailing the clinical course, laboratory findings, and outcome of more than 30,000 patients with lymphoid cancers from diagnosis through treatment and on to long term follow-up. We used this database to publish hundreds of highly cited scientific articles that continue to be used to guide the development of new treatment techniques for lymphoid cancer around the world.  

How did BC Cancer help contribute to the success of your work?
Genuine progress against complex diseases such as the lymphoid cancers can only be accomplished by dedicated teams employing the most modern research tools. Many organizations including: BC Cancer, the BC Cancer Foundation, TFRI, the University of British Columbia and Genome BC provided the comprehensive clinical setting and financial support necessary for such efforts allowing me to assemble a dedicated team and to provide that team with access to the molecular biologic tools essential for cancer research today.

How have you been enjoying retirement? 
Retirement has allowed me to spend more time with my wife, children and grandchildren, for which I am deeply grateful. I have also been able to continue hobbies such as sea kayaking, bird watching, exploring the seaside in Victoria and at our cottage on Hornby Island. It is a wonderful luxury to have the time to pursue these interests at a pace that permits me to enjoy them to the fullest. I miss the daily contact with patients and the intellectual to and fro of research but am delighted to follow the developing careers of the next generations of clinicians and researchers that I helped to train.

Where do you think the future of your field in cancer research will go in the next 5-10 years? 
We are still only beginning to realize the full potential of the newest scientific techniques such as genomics and increasingly sophisticated understanding of immune function as ways to unravel the complexity of cancer. The insights provided by such research have already led to more effective, better tolerated treatments. The next 5 to 10 years will see even greater progress. I am grateful to have had an opportunity to help develop and apply these tools and I look forward to all that can be accomplished by their application in the future.

Congratulations to Dr. Connors and to all this year’s recipients. He and others will be invited to receive their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a future date. 
BC Cancer
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