'I was given just six months to live': Cancer survivor calls on community to donate to BMO Ride for Cancer, with all donations doubled today only

mmaline Jesso (left) pictured with her husband, Charles, during his lifesaving CAR-T therapy treatment.

Caption: Emmaline Jesso (left) pictured with her husband, Charles, during his lifesaving CAR-T therapy treatment. Today, the couple are big advocates to create Atlantic Canada’s first-ever CAR-T therapy lab at the QEII Health Sciences Centre; a milestone that will only be possible with the support of BMO Ride for Cancer participants and donors.

Originally published via SaltWire.com.

Today, June 22, the fight against cancer in Nova Scotia is receiving a boost with donations to  BMO Ride for Cancer being matched up to $75,000.

Hosted by the QEII Foundation, BMO Ride for Cancer is Atlantic Canada's largest cycling fundraiser. Each year, the event rallies behind a new cause for cancer care at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. This year, the focus is on creating Atlantic Canada's first-ever CAR-T therapy lab at the QEII.

CAR-T therapy is a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment that involves genetically modifying a patient's immune cells (T-cells). In Canada, it is currently available for the treatment of patients living with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma who have not responded to any other treatment options.

For patients like Charles Jesso, it is a final lifeline and potential cure when all other treatment options have been exhausted.

“It gave me a second chance at life,” says Jesso.


The Sackville native was diagnosed with lymphoma in March 2021. He thought one round of chemotherapy would be enough to eliminate his cancer and that life would return to normal.

However, after two grueling rounds of chemotherapy, Jesso received the life-changing news that his cancer was not responding to treatment.

“I was given just six months to live,” he says. “It was the hardest day of my life.”

Despite the devastation of this news, it was also a turning point for Jesso. His doctor, QEII hematologist Mahmoud Elsawy, recommended he undergo CAR-T therapy.

Previously, patients in Atlantic Canada had to travel out-of-province for treatment, sometimes as far as Boston. This was not only costly but also physically taxing for patients who had recently undergone chemotherapy.

Fortunately, there was hope. A plan was in place to ensure Jesso would receive the necessary treatment without leaving home. He would be the first patient to receive CAR-T therapy in Nova Scotia.

“It was music to my ears,” he says.

On March 9,  2022, Jesso's T-cells were collected from his blood at the QEII in Halifax. These cells were shipped to California, where they were genetically modified into cancer-fighting cells designed specifically for his immune system. The modified cells were then shipped back to Halifax and infused into his body.

A year and a half later, Jesso says the procedure saved his life.

“It's a brand-new chance at life,” he says. “Last July, my sister got married, and I was able to walk her down the aisle. This November, my daughter is getting married, and I'll be able to walk her down the aisle. It has renewed my confidence in life... I'm surviving.”

Charles and Dr. Elsawy

Caption: Charles Jesso (left) pictured with his QEII hematologist and BMO Ride for Cancer participant, Dr. Mahmoud Elsawy. This photo was taken on April 4, 2022; the day Charles’ CAR-T cells were infused within his body to fight his lymphoma, after they had been sent to and genetically modified at a lab in California.


This year's BMO Ride for Cancer will take place on Sept. 23, 2023. Its goal is to bring a state-of-the-art CAR-T therapy lab to the QEII, a first in Atlantic Canada.

Having a CAR-T therapy lab will eliminate the need to send a patient's T-cells out of the country, which can result in significant delays and wait times for patients.

For patients receiving this treatment, every day matters. Cyclists participating in  BMO Ride for Cancer and donors contributing to these riders will help save lives across Atlantic Canada by bringing the lab to the QEII.

For Jesso, this cause is close to his heart.

“This means treatment times could be cut in half,” he says. “You'll help save lives.”

More than 1,300 riders will participate in  BMO Ride for Cancer, with an event goal to raise  $2.1 million to make the lab a reality.

“I know firsthand the life-saving impact it will make possible,” adds Jesso.

Jesso is not alone. David, Ian, and Rose Wilson of Wilson Fuel Co. Limited will be matching donations to  BMO Ride for Cancer on June 22, up to $75,000. A full match would result in an astounding $150,000 for the CAR-T cell therapy lab.

“Wilsons, our employees, and members of our family have participated in the event over multiple years. We have witnessed its impressive community support and growth,” David, Ian and Rose Wilson said in a statement.

“Cancer touches every family, including ours, and  BMO Ride for Cancer plays such a big part in bringing world-class care to our community. We are honored to help the hundreds of individual cyclist fundraisers who are making such a meaningful impact on cancer care in Atlantic Canada.”

When donors support a BMO Ride for Cancer rider this year, they will help the QEII offer more accurate and effective treatment with the latest available technology.

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This will impact cancer patients throughout Atlantic Canada - patients like Jesso, who offers his sincere gratitude to the riders and donors contributing to this year's BMO Ride for Cancer.

“The time and hope you’re giving to patients who will one day benefit from the QEII’s CAR-T therapy lab is so appreciated,” he says.

Today, June 22, all donations to  BMO Ride for Cancer are being matched by David, Ian, and Rose Wilson, up to $75,000. Double your impact now by making a general donation or supporting a BMO Ride participant at YourRideforCancer.ca or 902 334 1546.