Unlocking hope for healing: Julie Scopel’s story

Julie standing in front of LHSC smiling.

While patients with cancer may share similar journeys, their unique genetic makeup means their symptoms, prognoses and even treatment responses can vary drastically. And with each variation comes new worries.

But now, through London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) pioneering Verspeeten Clinical Genome Centre (VCGC), researchers are identifying these hidden genetic markers and using them to design more effective and targeted treatments for patients with cancer—patients like Julie Scopel.

A recently retired wife and mother who loves hiking, reading and golfing, Julie had experienced bowel concerns all her life. But in 2020, her situation worsened with aggravating symptoms bringing her to LHSC. After a series of tests, including colonoscopies, CT scans and MRIs, Julie received a diagnosis she could never have prepared for: stage 4 colorectal cancer that had metastasized to her liver.



“I won’t lie, I was terrified,” Julie admits. “Beyond the physical challenges, cancer is a mental and emotional struggle. There are so many questions. So much uncertainty. But the team at LHSC immediately filled me with confidence.”

Julie was referred to the VCGC, where she underwent a 5-fluorouracil toxicity test to determine how her body might respond to chemotherapy or whether a different course of treatment was required. But this was just the tip of the genetic iceberg.

The VCGC employs the latest in molecular testing and gene sequencing to inform innovative new cancer treatments, with the ability to detect more than 100 syndromes and counting. By identifying and mapping epigenomic biomarkers, the team can better understand a patient’s diagnosis and how their cancer will progress, opening doors for more personalized care and, ultimately, improved treatment outcomes.

As her chemotherapy began in April 2021, Julie agreed to participate in a molecular research study at the VCGC. Through a liver biopsy and examination of the biomarkers in her tumour, the team identified a genetic mutation—the G12D KRAS mutation—which presents in only 10 per cent of colorectal patients and causes uncontrollable cell growth in tumours. And though specific treatments were not yet available in Canada, Julie was inspired by the possibilities.

“The mere fact that we can access this testing means there is so much promise for the future of cancer care. This research will buy people time, leading them to exactly the type of treatment they need much sooner.”

New testing capabilities, state-of-the-art technology and novel studies bringing genomic profiling to more patients are helping the VCGC maintain its momentum. It is now the first or only site to offer certain tests in Canada or, in some cases, even the world. With more advancements and cutting-edge research on the horizon, VCGC is actively helping patients today while making way for the discoveries and innovations of tomorrow.

By July 2022, having underwent surgery in December to remove her tumours in conjunction with chemotherapy, Julie was finally deemed in remission. And while her experience with the VCGC was brief, Julie looks at its groundbreaking work with one overpowering feeling: hope.

“LHSC and the VCGC made a scary situation much better. Thanks to the care I received, I’m looking forward to new adventures and creating new memories with my family.”


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