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Dr. Karen Gelmon awarded Doctors of BC Terry Fox Medal

The Doctors of BC Terry Fox Medal is awarded to outstanding individuals with a track record of making a difference in cancer care.
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The Terry Fox Medal recognizes individuals conducting clinical practice, research, or teaching/education who have achieved national or international recognition based on the following:

  • A distinguished career of achievement in their area of focus
  • A seminal advance through the conduct of their endeavours
  • Promotion and achievement of advance in the conduct of cancer medicine and cancer control

We are delighted to share that Dr. Karen Gelmon is this year's recipient of this prestigious award. ​

Dr. Karen Gelmon is a prol​ific researcher, a talented leader, a fierce advocate and philanthropist, a gifted teacher, a generous mentor, and a compassionate clinician. Through her provincial, national, and international leadership and her commitment to excellence and innovation in cancer care, research, and education, she has improved the lives of countless breast cancer patients in B.C., Canada and abroad.

Dr. Gelmon's academic achievement is broad and deep. Her commitment to clinical trials, innovative translational studies, and new therapeutics research has resulted in practice-changing contributions to the understanding and treatment of breast cancer.

During her leadership of the Breast Disease Site Committee of the Canadian Clinical Trials Group she emphasized the collection of biospecimens, facilitating a broader understanding of the intrinsic nature of cancers, the biology surrounding response, and the discovery of new targets and prognostic markers. She has been the principal investigator of a gamut of studies ranging from testing investigational drugs, to large cooperative group phase III randomized trials to studies dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of women with breast cancer (such as investigating the effect of exercise in patients undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy and charting the effects of pregnancy on survivors).

Dr. Gelmon's long list of peer-reviewed, high impact publications highlights a lifetime of commitment to research. She has authored multiple important papers that have advanced the treatment and understanding of breast cancer and has had a hand in multiple seminal trials, which inform the utility of drugs in common use as its treatment today.

Dr. Gelmon joined the UBC Division of Medical Oncology in 1984 and became clinical professor in 1999. She then switched to the academic track and became full professor in 2011. She also is an active and sought-after participant in grant review panels and scientific advisory committees and a senior leader of B.C. and Canadian breast cancer organizations. Her depth of expertise and effectiveness as a teacher is exemplified by her countless invitations to speak around the world (over 200 invited presentations), as well as her formal and informal support for learners and junior faculty, many of whom have gone on to successful careers of their own.

At a provincial level she has been chair of the BC Cancer Breast Tumour Group, clinical head of Advanced Therapeutics, and a senior member of Phase I trials team. At a national level, Dr. Gelmon was the co-chair of the Canadian Clinical Trials Group (formerly NCIC CTG) Breast Disease Site Committee and Head of the NCIC Investigational New Drug Site for many years.  Internationally, she is a member or past member of the executive boards of The Breast Cancer North America Committee, and the Breast International Group, chair of the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Komen Foundation, and past chair of the Komen Grant Committee (endocrine). At ASCO, Dr Gelmon has held numerous roles ranging from track leader for the breast section to education committee breast site chair.

Other national contributions include membership on the Strategic Advisory Committee of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance Strategic Planning Subcommittee, the Canadian Institute for Health Research working group on oncology clinical trials, and member of the Michael Smith Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Gelmon has taken her dedication and passion for research one-step further by serving since 2018 as the Chair of the BC Cancer Research Ethics Board. She continues in this role even since her retirement from clinical care.

She has been co-supervisor for an impressive eight PhD candidates and primary supervisor of 13 medical oncology national and international fellows. She has generously facilitated fellowship positions in other institutions for trainees through her connections in the breast cancer research realm. She is valued for her regular mentorship and the sound advice she provides to her colleagues.

Over the span of her career, Dr. Gelmon has provided innumerable hours of teaching within formal medical school undergraduate courses, informal and formal postgraduate teaching, and a multitude of allied health professional groups. She has chaired and been on the planning committees of a host of continuing medical education events. In spite of a prolific research career and immense clinical practice, Dr. Gelmon finds time to serve on committees, bringing recognition and prominence to the profession of medical oncology and BC Cancer. University service includes membership on the Department of Medicine's Academic Appointment, Reappointment Promotions and Tenure (AARPT) committee, the University Clinical Faculty Appointment and Promotion Committee, and the search committee for the Chair of Breast Cancer Research. Dr. Gelmon was also the interim head of Division of Medical Oncology from 2013-17.

Dr. Gelmon is a tireless advocate. This is manifested by myriad activities, including co-authoring a book, The Intelligent Patient Guide to Breast Cancer, advocating for exercise trials for cancer patients in Vancouver, lobbying for early access to effective drugs, and championing trials exploring often overlooked aspects of importance to breast cancer patients, such as successful pregnancy following breast cancer. She puts her money where her mouth is, making philanthropic donations to Future Fertility, a charity for cancer patients, participating five consecutive years in the 60km two-day walk to raise money for breast cancer research, even occasionally paying for treatment for patients before it was publically funded. She has also given her time, having served on the board of directors for the BC Cancer Foundation and the Rethink Breast Cancer Foundation and has been a member of the Physicians for Human Rights organization since 2006.

Dr. Gelmon's impact on breast cancer, both at the individual patient level and at the societal level, is boundless. She has a nimble and deeply inquisitive mind and has shown endless capacity to learn and teach and grow. Her career is inspirational, not simply because of her immense accomplishments, but because throughout it she has remained grounded and has never lost sight of the individual patient – the real reason we are all here.

Congratulations Dr. Gelmon on receiving this year's Doctors of BC Terry Fox Medal. Please join us at this year's virtual BC Cancer Summit, taking place Nov. 18 to 20, where we will be recognizing Dr. Gelmon on this award. 

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