Paul Alofs (far left), President & CEO, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, stands with inaugural David. P. Harris Courage Award winner, Mariko Yaguchi-Chow (left).Jake and Melanie Harris (right), Harris’ son and wife, were present for the award ceremony. (Photo: The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation)


David P. Harris was courageous.

A long-standing board member of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (The PMCF), Harris lost his battle to cancer in May 2012 at the age of 51.

"David was an incredible father and husband and loved by everyone who knew him," said Paul Alofs, President and CEO, The PMCF.  "He showed enormous courage during his long battle with cancer.  Courage is what so many patients at Princess Margaret teach us every day."

The David P. Harris Courage Award recognizes a staff member of The PMCF who demonstrates unwavering passion, excellence, dedication and courage in furthering The Foundation's purpose of raising and stewarding funds for cancer research.  

In December 2013, Mariko Yaguchi-Chow, Senior Coordinator – Community Giving, was named the inaugural winner of the Award. Despite being the recipient, she recognizes defining courage is no easy task. 

"Twenty to 30 years ago, I wouldn't have had a clue what courage was," said Yaguchi-Chow.  "My understanding of courage developed gradually when I started working for Princess Margaret." 

Courage is the primary theme of t​he University Health Network's (UHN) "Courage Lives Here" campaign.  As part of UHN, The PMCF established the David P. Harris Courage Award in May 2012.  It is the Foundation's first staff recognition award.

'Courage is about facing difficult truths – cancer is a difficult truth'

"Courage, to me, is about being able to face difficult truths.  Cancer is a difficult truth," said Yaguchi-Chow.  "There are difficult moments – like listening to a donor's story of having lost a loved one and wishing that more could have been done.

"But knowing that what we do here will continue to fuel research and improve lives of patients is what pushes me forward," she added.  "That's why I feel extremely humbled to have received this award.  It's less about any courage that I may have, and more to do with the courage of patients like Mr. Harris and their families, doctors, researchers, nurses and all of our frontline staff."  

David P. Harris' legacy

David Harris served on the Board of The PMCF from 2005 to 2012 and is remembered for many significant contributions to the Foundation, including chairing the Board's Human Resources Committee.  His wife, Melanie Harris, is an active part of the review committee that selects the Courage Award winner. 

Learning what courage means

In 2001, Yaguchi-Chow started her career at Princess Margaret as a medical administrative assistant working in the department of Surgical Oncology for Dr. John Trachtenberg's team.  She transferred to The PMCF in 2006 and is now Senior Coordinator for the Community Giving team.

"Working for Princess Margaret was my first exposure to healthcare," said Yaguchi-Chow.  "At the time, I didn't know what working at Princess Margaret would be like."

Friends and family warned Yaguchi-Chow that working at a cancer centre might be "depressing."  Cancer can be devastating and seeing sick patients on a daily basis is challenging. 

Yaguchi-Chow credits her colleagues for shaping her positive outlook.

"They set the tone.  Everyone was always positive and demanded the best.  Their attitude was never 'Oh, that's good enough.'  Not ever," she said.  "You really do experience things like courage and inspiration when you walk into Princess Margaret.  Rather than making you feel depressed, it makes you want to work that much harder."

Yaguchi-Chow was nominated for her innovative work in the Foundation's wedding and anniversaries program, as well as for playing a key role in fostering relationships with The Foundation's growing Chinese and South Asian communities. 

Pushing boundaries and bold pursuits

Through her long career and growing understanding of courage, Yaguchi-Chow notices one overarching theme.

"I quickly learned that complacency has no place at Princess Margaret," said Yaguchi-Chow.  "It's only since I came here that I realized the scope of what our researchers and staff are trying to accomplish.  Everyone, and everything, feels driven and urgent in a positive way."  

It is this meaningful sense of importance that drives Yaguchi-Chow to continue as a courage ambassador for The PMCF.  To Yaguchi-Chow, courage means pushing her boundaries in the bold pursuit of conquering cancer. 

"There is no doubt that I absolutely love my job," said Yaguchi-Chow.  "But this is a very, very busy place – we have been challenged to raise one billion dollars in five years.  Complacency has no place at The Foundation, either."

With a smile, she added, "And I wouldn't have it any other way."

For more information about programs at The PMCF, please visit http://www.thepmcf.ca.

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