People Like Me

CANCER CARE

PEOPLE LIKE ME

By Shauna Nyrose, VP Brand & Communications

“It’s not every day that you see your face cruise by you on the side of a bus,” laughs Rutland resident Whit Penner, a father of two in his mid-thirties. “But I get it. I’m the last person anyone would have ever expected to get cancer. I think that’s the point.”

This spring, Whit’s face wasn’t the only one that appeared on buses, transit shelters and in newspaper ads. His was not the only voice heard on the local radio stations as kids were dropped at school or trips were made to the grocery store. Because Whit is not alone. Last year, over 7,500 people like Whit from the Central Okanagan and surrounding communities underwent surgery or were admitted for cancer-related care at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH). 

People like Whit, and people like me. It’s probably no surprise that the inspiration for our Cancer Care campaign was drawn from my own experience as a cancer patient and survivor. In 2019, at age 44, I heard the dreaded words, “it’s cancer.” Like Whit, I was not someone anyone would have bet would get cancer. And the more our team spoke to cancer survivors and their families, the clearer it became: Cancer touches all of us. 

I’d like to share a little bit about our ‘faces’ of Cancer Care, because it takes courage to put yourself out there so publicly. Despite it feeling like a big city sometimes, our community is still… well, a community. There’s not much more than a degree of separation between any of us. We are your neighbours, friends, colleagues. We are that friendly face at the bank, that guy you play squash with on Friday mornings. We are real people. Maybe you are one of us. 

When you give to support the KGH Foundation’s Cancer Care priority, you’re giving to support us, and all those who, sadly, will follow. One thing we all learned for sure along the journey is that taking on cancer is not something that is ever accomplished alone.

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WHIT PENNER

Father, partner, dog dad, hockey enthusiast
Penile Cancer

“My whole world collapsed the day I received the call. I was 36 years old and an otherwise healthy person who had never—outside of an appendectomy— had any health issues. The news hit me like a freight train, shattering the illusion of invincibility I had carried as a healthy adult. The road to recovery is long and has its challenges, but I face it with unwavering determination and a newfound appreciation for life’s fragility.”

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DEBBIE ROBERT

Mother, grandmother, philanthropist, volunteer
In loving memory of her husband, Leo Robert

“Every day of health is a blessing and every experience with illness makes those days even more of a blessing. Leo fought his battle with cancer with an optimistic outlook and infectious positivity. We miss him dearly. I know he would want me to continue to advocate for world-class health care right here in this beautiful place we call home. When we need health care, we need it here in Kelowna.”

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CARLY GUNN

Mom, wife, registered nurse & youth mental health care specialist, Corgi mom
Breast Cancer

“I was a 38 year old breastfeeding mother at the time I found a lump in my right breast. It was a fast process after that for me as the type of cancer I was diagnosed with was so aggressive. The staff at KGH were wonderful to me. I’m happy to be able to share my story in support of initiatives to advance cancer diagnostics and treatment at KGH, and also to inspire others who are going through their own journey.”

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JENNY SCHLACHTER 

Mom of footballers, NICU nurse, wife, friend
Thyroid Cancer

“In all honesty, it was a pretty difficult time so I tried my best to remain optimistic – for myself and my boys, who were quite young at the time. Thankfully, I was surrounded by love and support – I had lots of cheerleaders! Being a NICU nurse and formerly an ICU nurse, I knew I was in good hands at KGH. I never take life for granted, I embrace adventure and will be cheering on my boys for decades to come.”

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ANIDA JOHNSON

World traveller, wife, philanthropist, friend
Living with Lung Cancer

“I have realized that life is a gift with no guarantees so make the most of the time you have. I have non-small-cell lung cancer. It was hard to believe as I am very health conscious, a non-smoker, and there is no history of cancer in my family. My cancer diagnosis has made me realize how important people and support is. It has definitely made me a better person with more love, care and compassion for others.”

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ALICIA LEE

Husband, father, grandfather, volunteer
In loving memory of her husband, Donald Lee

“Our family was shocked when Donald was diagnosed with mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs). Up until this point in his life, he was the picture of health, walking five kilometres a day, lifting weights regularly and eating a well-balanced diet. In the hospital, the doctors were stunned that the only medications that Donald took on a regular basis were vitamin D and C. He has left a tremendous hole in our lives and hearts but we are grateful for the compassionate care he received at KGH.”

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