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Frances Tam was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer shortly before turning 40-years-old.
"They removed a tumour the size of a grapefruit from my colon," she said. "I spent three weeks, including my 40th birthday, recovering from the surgery."
Today, she is not only a survivor but a passionate advocate for the importance of cancer research.
Tam participated in The Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women's Cancers for the first time September 6 to 7, 2014. Since its inauguration in 2003, the Weekend has raised over $148 million in support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. This year's event raised $7.7 million in support of women's cancer research, clinical enhancements and survivorship programs.
A bold next step: OneWalk to Conquer Cancer
Opening ceremonies for the 12 annual Weekend were held at Rogers Centre. Together, 3,100 participants gathered on Sept. 6 to kick off the event with Paul Alofs, President & CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.
Alofs surprised the Walkers with major news, announcing a historic transition for North America's largest multi-day walk supporting women's cancer.
"Today, we are thrilled to announce the all new Shoppers Drug Mart OneWalk to Conquer Cancer!" said Alofs. "OneWalk is the next step in expanding the impact in the fight to conquer cancer in our lifetime…OneWalk for all the women, men and children in your life."
The re-launched event has transformed the Weekend into a new one day walk, allowing each Walker to raise funds for cancer research related to the cancer type they wish to support. This will still include breast and gynecologic cancers.
As a woman previously diagnosed with a form of gastrointestinal cancer, Tam was excited to hear this news.
"Aside from generating funds and cancer awareness, I enjoy challenging myself and trying new things," said Tam. "I participated in The Weekend to End Women's Cancers simply because I wanted a new challenge, even though it wasn't necessarily geared towards my own previous cancer type," she added. "It's exciting to hear that there's a big and bold event I can participate in now to support research in the area that hits closest to home for me."
Believing in the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
After Tam's tumour was removed, she began six months of chemotherapy treatment at The Princess Margaret.
"Everyone was so kind and hopeful," said Tam. "The nurses at the station, the volunteer driver who would come and pick me up, my oncologist, Dr. Malcolm Moore -They all became a part of my security blanket. I still remember their kindness."
"It was important for me to give back to the place that treated me with such memorable and compassionate care," she added.
Tam spent the first few years of her recovery trying to improve her health and returning to her corporate lifestyle.
"I was doing my best to get back to normal…to who I was before my diagnosis," said Tam. "It took me a few years to realize that life wouldn't go back to the way it used to be. And that it shouldn't. Something big happened to me and I was lucky enough to survive it. So instead of focusing on myself, I turned my perspective outward and thought about what I could do to try to help others."
Creative and culinary fundraising approaches
By day, Tam is a Global Quality Auditor at a pharmaceutical company trained in biostatistics. By night, she is a passionate fundraiser with culinary flair. Although Tam's day job is technical in nature, she has found a creative outlet through her fundraising efforts.
Every year, Tam hosts a series of private fundraising dinner parties called "Cook for the Cure." In exchange for their donations, she invites friends and colleagues to dine at her home for a culinary experience.
Tam previously used the funds raised by her guests towards her pledge to participate in other third party fundraising events, where she selected The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation as her charity of choice. On average, Tam raised over $3,000 each year—a sum that was matched by her employer, further leveraging the impact of her efforts. Word spread of Tam's creative fundraising approach. In 2010, her inspiring dinners were featured in Ming Pao Daily News, a Chinese language newspaper.
Tam used the funds raised through her dinner parties this year to support her Weekend fundraising goals.
Using her strength to support others
"I love that the event takes you through areas you would never walk to," said Tam. "I saw Polish acts, Caribbean ones…The volunteers are so energetic and everything is so organized. I had a great time and look forward to seeing how they'll raise the bar with OneWalk."
Another highlight for Tam was meeting Dr. Tak Mak, one of the most cited medical scientists in the world, at the Weekend finish line on day two. Dr. Mak was on event for both days of the Weekend to personally thank participants.
"I feel fortunate to live and to tell my story," she added. "I would have never become the person I am today had this not happened to me. Of course, I wouldn't want anyone to ever go through what I went through. But I learned a lot about myself during my cancer journey. I want to use the strength I gained from my experience and share it with the world."
The inaugural Shoppers Drug Mart One Walk to Conquer Cancer will take place on Saturday, September 12, 2015.
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