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Cathy Veres, a loving and dedicated mother with an infectious laugh that drew in all those around her, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last year. She was 45.
Diagnosed in 2010, Cathy was optimistic and unyielding in her approach to cancer. Her husband, Denis, describes it as her "kid mode."
"Her only concern was to minimize the impact of her cancer on the kids," Denis Veres says. "They were very afraid because one of their teachers at school had died of cancer.
"But like always, Cathy was our rock and knew exactly what to say."
Cathy's courage, grace and spirit live on through Denis and their three children. Together, they are honouring her memory at The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation's annual Doves of Hope ceremony held on Wednesday, Dec. 10 in the main atrium of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. It's open to all.
An incredible woman
"From the minute I laid eyes on Cathy, I knew she was the one," Denis recalls. They met during their first week of university and were inseparable for 26 incredible years.
"What a lucky man I was. Cathy had the most beautiful curly blond hair, a bounce in her step, an infectious laugh and warm, smiling eyes. People could recognize her before they even saw her face because she just radiated joy."
Together, they raised three wonderful children and became an active part of the community. Cathy performed with a local theatre troupe and brightened the lives of everyone around her.
"She was the most incredible woman I've ever known. She was a selfless and devoted mother. She was the cornerstone of our family and the brightest light in our lives," Denis says.
But during a weekend away at the cottage, Cathy woke up with an intense pain in her side. Weeks passed and Cathy was still in pain, no longer able to eat. Her eyes looked yellow. The alarms in Denis' head started to signal that something was very wrong.
It was a tumour. Cathy had pancreatic cancer.
Fighting with grace and determination
"Cathy never asked why [she had cancer]," says Denis. "Her only question was, 'What do I do?'"
Cathy underwent a Whipple procedure, one of the most complicated and invasive surgeries a person can have. The procedure removes parts of the pancreas, stomach, gallbladder, large intestines and reroutes the entire digestive system.
"It's the only effective treatment for pancreatic cancer and we were hopeful that we'd caught it early enough for the Whipple to work," said Denis. "Recovering from the surgery was long and painful, but Cathy never complained once."
Compassionate care at Princess Margaret
Following her Whipple procedure, Cathy was referred to Dr. David Hedley, oncologist at Princess Margaret. The next part of her treatment plan involved six months of chemotherapy.
"We never for a moment doubted we were in the right place," says Denis. "We felt lucky to be treated at one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. Dr. Hedley is a compassionate, brilliant man. He shared our determination and promised to give it everything he possibly could."
As part of Princess Margaret's internationally recognized clinical trials program, Cathy qualified and was able to participate in a leading-edge clinical trial.
"With people like Dr. Hedley and Cathy's beloved clinical trial nurse, Bernadette, behind us, we had all the hope in the world," says Denis.
Aiming for "normal"
Thanks to a new course of treatment recommended by Dr. Hedley, the Veres family was able to share three more years together.
"We went on ski trips with the kids and lived as 'normal' a life as we could for as long as possible," says Denis. "With everything going so well, we were blindsided when a CT scan revealed that the cancer had spread throughout Cathy's abdomen."
Though she maintained a brave face, Cathy started to lose her hair due to the side effects of treatment and had to shave off her beautiful curls.
"She kept getting weaker and thinner," says Denis. "And after trying everything possible, Dr. Hedley had to give us the news that changed everything. Cathy had only a few months left to live."
Preparing for goodbye
When Cathy found out she only had a few months to live, it devastated Denis to see the hurt on her face.
"Cathy never entertained the idea that she wouldn't beat this," he says. "Until then, we were constantly in action…going to treatment, going to appointments. Fighting, fighting, fighting. At that point, there was nothing we could do but wait."
It was at this point that Cathy cried for the first and only time during her cancer journey.
"But those tears didn't last long," says Denis. "Cathy immediately went into 'kid mode.'"
Wanting to give their children one last fun memory, the Veres family immediately booked a trip to Florida. While they planned a 10-day trip, Cathy was in such pain that she could only hold out for six.
"During that trip, I pulled the children aside and said the hardest words I've ever spoken," says Denis. "I told them their mother wasn't doing well. 'She's dying,' I said. They knew. They could see it. But in the greatest testament to how well Cathy had raised them, they handled it with strength far beyond their years."
Heartfelt celebration of life
One of Cathy's only wishes was to stay in the palliative care unit at Princess Margaret until the very end.
"She just felt so comfortable, safe and loved there," says Denis. "The staff cared for our family like we were the only patients they've ever had, and their compassion meant the world to us during the most devastating time in our lives."
With the same grace and dignity she showed throughout her entire battle with cancer, Cathy passed away on April 24, 2013.
"Our daughters Taylor and Sydney were 13 and 12, and our son Ryan was only 9," says Denis. "I couldn't fathom how we were going to go on without her, but deep down I knew we would be okay. We would be okay
because of her."
Taylor was so touched by the care her mother received that she immediately wanted to begin fundraising for Princess Margaret as a tribute to their mother.
"Cathy would be so proud to know what a difference her children are making," says Denis. "I hope that Cathy's story leaves everyone filled with love and hope and the amazing potential we all have to make this world a better place."
Support Doves of Hope
Doves symbolize unity, hope and strength for patients and their families. Supporters of Princess Margaret are invited to dedicate a Dove to any loved ones who have been touched by cancer. Doves can also be dedicated to the name of a Cancer Centre staff member or caregiver. Approximately 10,000 paper Doves were hung last year, each bearing a handwritten name. This year, Doves of Hope is offering supporters the option to dedicate a Dove online. Nearly 8,000 Doves have been created as of December 4, 2014.
Amongst the thousands of paper Doves that will decorate Princess Margaret this year, one proud cluster will read "CATHY" and "MOM."
The annual Doves of Hope dedication ceremony will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 11:30 a.m. in Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's main atrium. All are welcome to join.
To dedicate a Dove online or to learn more about Doves of Hope, please visit