While receiving my cancer treatments at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary I have become aware of some sobering facts about the disease. Technically I should say the diseases, because there are over 200 different types of cancer. The reality is that in Alberta and the rest of Canada, 40 per cent of all women develop cancer and 45 per cent of all men develop cancer sometime during their lives, so nearly every family is affected. According to statistics by the Canadian Cancer Society, there are about 750,000 Canadians living with a cancer that has been diagnosed in the previous 10 years. Those afflicted with the disease come from all cultures and represent all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Ultimately all social classes are implicated—cancer does not spare the wealthy or the powerful. Unlike the general population, however, the extremely privileged are unique in terms of the enormous contributions that they are able to make in the fight against cancer. They are often able to assume a leading role through philanthropy and public awareness.
Here are two prime examples of families touched by cancer involved in philanthropy:
Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital received a $50 million donation in January of this year in what’s being celebrated as the largest-ever private gift to cancer research in Canadian history. The multi-million-dollar donation will be paid over a decade by a philanthropist couple, Emmanuelle Gattuso and Alan Slaight. It adds to the hospital’s goal to raise $1 billion over five years to fund personalized cancer care research. It’s a budding initiative in which patients’ genetics are studied to help diagnose cancer and provide individual treatment. Gattuso herself is a 10-year breast cancer survivor – her sister also fought the disease and her mother succumbed to it. “I have been touched by cancer, as have so many friends and family members,” she told reporters at a press event announcing the unprecedented gift. “(The donation) will help us understand cancer at the most advanced level, but most of all, let’s face it, it’s for the patients, who will benefit from these advances and from this research,” she said.
In October 2010, the parents of a boy who lost his battle with cancer donated $30 million to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with the goal of helping more children survive the disease. The donation, believed to be the single largest private gift to pediatric cancer in North America, is being used to establish the Garron Family Cancer Centre and to fund research into childhood cancer. “We are privileged to support one of the most respected children’s hospitals in the world,” Myron and Berna Garron said when they made the donation. “Our son was treated for cancer at Sick Kids for many years and we will never forget the dedication and level of care he received. We are confident this gift will help create more positive outcomes for cancer patients and their families.” In 1975, the Garrons’ son Michael died at age 13 from synovial sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer that occurs most commonly in the young.