I am extremely honoured to have the privilege to stand before you tonight and talk about my wonderful sister, Joanne.
She has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me and to many others as well.
As I thought about what to say tonight, it became clear to me that I had an impossible task. How can I possibly do justice to Joanne’s life in a few short words?
But I will try…
Joanne’s Journey, as we call the time she lived with breast cancer, has defined much of the last seven years of her life, as well as those of her family’s lives. During this time, she has demonstrated incredible wisdom, grace and dignity.
Quite recently, she said to me that “there is not one part of this that I accept”. And while she would never accept breast cancer, she would not let this affect her outlook and she faced its challenges with incredible resolve.
Through this, she has shown us how to approach the type of challenging issues that all of us will face at some point in our lives. This is a lesson that we should all be thankful for.
Joanne helped us along the way by being honest and by being willing to express her challenges, her feelings and by savouring the joy in every day.
Joanne was very articulate and wise. Throughout her life, she had a voracious interest in reading. She used this love of reading as a way of better understanding her world as well as the world around her. It is very fitting that she choose the quote on the back of the memorial card. It is referenced in one of her favourite books, If Today be Sweet, and it is fitting because it sums up her outlook on life and became, to the end, a rallying point for her family.
Along her journey, she inspired many people, including many of those that were providing her with care. She formed strong bonds with the Palliative Care team and these relationships provided her, and the entire family, with incredible support and insight along the way. We are very grateful for this.
She had the ability to connect with people; quickly and sincerely. One story that comes to mind happened only a few weeks ago and is that of a hospital porter who was responsible for moving Joanne, by stretcher, from her room in the Oncology ward to the radiation treatment room where she was receiving her final palliative radiation treatments. She would chat with Joanne for only two or three minutes at a time as they moved the short distance within the hospital. After only a couple of these short interactions with Joanne, this porter approached our mom to tell her how much Joanne had affected and inspired her. In only a few minutes, Joanne had been able to demonstrate such courage, honesty and dignity and had made this person feel that her small contribution to her care was meaningful.
Through her blog and her online breast cancer support groups, she touched countless people. The sense of community that emerged from these efforts was significant. So significant in fact, that several of her breast cancer or “bc sisters”, as they refer to themselves, travelled great distances to be her while she was alive and now again to be with all of us tonight.
One such “bc sister” NYCarol said to Joanne,
…you have made such a difference in the lives of so many people. Yes, your family, your close friends, but beyond that, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who visit this site and have been reassured or given information by you. Your sharing has been simply amazing....A legacy few ever achieve in their lifetimes....and you did it with intelligence, caring and humor.
Throughout this journey, her actions and words were compassionate, intelligent and brought comfort to those around her. In those that have supported Joanne (and this is many), a common thread emerged. It seemed that no matter how hard you tried to help and comfort Joanne, she would end up helping you.
Another of her "bc sisters”, who goes by the name “Tender”, described it best when she said to Joanne in a very recent post.
Incredulous! Instead of me helping to carry your load, you offer in your words, over and over again, your determination to teach us how to carry ours personally. What a remarkable woman you are Joanne. I thank you for your perseverance in keeping uplifting thoughts present, all the way, and in every way. You are teaching your children and us, true greatness in life.
as incredible as Joanne’s Journey was, it does not define her life.
Her Journey with breast cancer was simply another, and more recent, example of the type of person she was throughout all aspects of her life.
Joanne was many things, to many people.
For me, and my sister Kelly, Joanne was a wonderful sister.
For those that knew Joanne, it will not surprise you to hear that most of my early and most savoured memories of Joanne involve food.
I don’t really have a favourite of these memories, but if I did, it could be one which is also one of my fondest childhood memories; which involved playing Galloping Gourmet (a tv program from the late sixties) with Joanne, (being the oldest), as the illustrious chef and Kelly and I the eager audience ready to taken by the hand and run up to the table to taste the latest concoctions that she would produce (usually chocolate ice cream).
Or perhaps it is one of the many birthday cakes she baked for me, including the one that slid off the counter and onto the floor.
Or better yet, perhaps it was the time when my new found appreciation for cheesecake coincided with her interest in experimenting which resulted in a seemingly never-ending daily dose of new and delicious cheesecakes.
Later, while I was living in Montreal for university, I remember being surprised when a package of hand written recipe cards appeared in my mail box. She was so encouraging and gave me the confidence to try new things. I would not have been nearly as well fed those years and those recipes still form the basis for many of the things that I cook.
Several years later, I remember visiting Joanne and Gord and being in awe while witnessing the creation of the most delicious homemade soup I had ever tasted. It appeared seemingly out of nowhere; after only a short walk through her garden and a brief visit to the fridge, all the while being flavoured by a wonderful conversation. During which I was unable to get a word in edgewise.
These are small things, but as I have since learned from Joanne, there is great pleasure and significance in these everyday things.
When I asked Kelly about her impressions of Joanne from our childhood she recalled how generous she was of her time and her energy. Joanne always took such good care of us. When on long car trips, she kept us amused with the most amazing collection of activities that she would pull out at intervals from a box that she had created. Kelly remembers how meaningful it was for her, as the younger sister, to be included with Joanne and her friends. I recall the daily ritual of coming home from school to find Joanne, Kelly, Anne and several other her friends watching “Another World” on television.
I always felt welcome as well.
Joanne always made us feel special. This is something that we have both enjoyed witnessing in Joanne’s relationships with our children. She formed connections easily and sincerely.
For our parents, Joanne was a wonderful daughter.
Joanne placed great value in family and was instrumental in so many of our families’ traditions, rituals and gatherings. I cannot begin to try to speak on behalf of our parents, but I am certain that she brought great pride to our parents throughout all stages of her life.
Joanne was a wonderful wife for Gord and a wonderful mother to Michelle, Craig and Brian.
Joanne always spoke so highly of Gord and of her children and it is clear to me that this is the part of her life that she took the most pride in, and gained the most satisfaction from.
At this point, I will read a letter that Gord has asked me to read. He wrote it to Joanne in the past few days.
My dear, dear, love Joanne:
Words cannot adequately express the thoughts and feelings we are all experiencing but words are all we really have to express ourselves at times like this.
You have touched the lives of many people around the world but none so much as mine. You have shared my joy and sorrow (and there has been much more joy than sorrow). You have been a source of reason and conscience in my times of anger, my source of hope and comfort in times of fear and stress. You have given me the strength, courage and confidence to make tough decisions in my life and consoled me if they didn’t turn out as I expected.
You were a loving, devoted, encouraging mother who always put our children’s wants and needs ahead of your own and always had their best interests at heart.
Your courage, strength, generosity, wisdom and love extend beyond family and borders. As a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, colleague, employer and employee you always acted with respect, integrity, wisdom, and compassion.
I will always remember you as my girl who saw the glass as half full rather than half empty. (Except in the case of red wine in which case it was half full but needed filling) Everything was a challenge or an opportunity -- not an obstacle or a road block. Even in the toughest times you maintained hope, integrity, respect, dignity, and clarity of purpose. You loved life and lived it to its fullest. I know if you could say something to all of us right now you would say this: “even though the glass may seem empty right now, you know it is really still half full.”
I could go on and on but I know everyone would rather be celebrating your life than listening to me so I will end with this:
You were my navigator through life, my soul mate, my partner in all things and my very best friend.
You will be forever loved and missed.
Joanne was a successful Dietitian.
She excelled at her chosen profession and she made a real difference in the lives of those she worked with. She took great pride in her profession and worked to expand the role and respect for Dietitians across Canada. Recently, she became involved on the executive of the Canadian Society for Clinical Nutrition which advocates for a multi-disciplinary approach involving Dietitians, Doctors and Nurses. The respect for the science of Nutrition combined with the multi-disciplinary approach is very similar to the manner in which she embraced the medical team that cared for her while living with breast cancer. Once recognizing this, it is easier to understand her point of view that her approach to living with cancer was ordinary, however modest she may have been.
Joanne was intelligent, articulate and thoughtful.
I have always had an intense respect for her intellect. She excelled academically at all levels of her education. She possessed the gift of the perfect balance between pure academics, common sense and creative thinking. I enjoyed our many discussions on a wide range of subjects, most of which were fuelled by a good pot of coffee. Joanne always seemed to have either a strong interest in, or a working knowledge of just about any issue. She was much like our late Auntie Annie in that regard.
Joanne was a pillar in our extended family.
She occupied a unique position in my mom’s extended family. Being the oldest of a large group of cousins, she was a bridge between the adults and the kids. She could occupy both worlds at the same time and was accepted equally in each. She has had a significant impact on the lives of many of the members of our extended family. She nurtured special relationships with many of our Aunts and cousins that go far beyond the norm.
For all those that knew her, Joanne was a great friend.
Joanne was blessed with many, many incredible friendships. Her generous spirit and deep loyalty led to bonds that cannot be broken. Wherever their professional lives took them, Joanne and Gord struck deep and meaningful friendships. She was always extremely welcoming and gave freely of her time and energy. These friendships often extended beyond Joanne and several of her friends have become an important part of our family.
We are all better off for having shared her friendship.
Joanne’s life was far too short and this is a tragedy that cannot be adequately described.
However, her life was well lived. She made a difference and leaves a tremendous legacy.
She has helped us to move forward without her physically in our lives and we must honour this.
Of course, it is absurd to think that she will not be in our lives. She will never be far from our thoughts. We will savour our wonderful memories and share the lessons and legacies that she left us.
I will be reminded of Joanne while enjoying a very fine meal or when savouring a good cup of coffee. I will think of her when I read a particularly good book, especially one of her favourites. I will wish that she could enjoy a really special piece of dark chocolate. I will recognize her in her children. And I will smile as the wonderful memories flood back to be savoured and shared.
To Gord, who is such an important part of our family, to Michelle, Craig and Brian who we love so dearly, to my Parents and to the rest of my family, all I can say is this;
There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead, but we will get through them and we will do it together. We will take comfort from her lessons and we will be thankful for all that she has given us. We will fulfill the promises we made to Joanne and we will do this by following her example.