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Quest to combat cancer is personal

When Dave Chalmers canvasses his neighbourhood for the Canadian Cancer Society, it seems everyone has a story about the disease.

“You discover so many people who’ve had an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, a child – it’s got no age barriers, it’s just touched every family.”

Dave Chalmers holds a photo of his late wife Rose, taken when she graduated from nursing school. Rose was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1988.
Dave Chalmers holds a photo of his late wife Rose, taken when she graduated from nursing school. Rose was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1988.

Chalmers has a story of his own, and it’s why he canvasses for the cancer society: 19 years ago, he lost his wife Rose to colon cancer.

Rose was diagnosed in the summer of 1988. A nurse, she was expecting the worst when doctors found polyps on her colon. But the initial biopsy showed the polyps were benign, and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. It wasn’t until three months later, during surgery to remove the polyps, that doctors realized there were cancerous ones higher up her colon.

After the surgery and a round of chemotherapy, everything was fine for another year. Then the cancer returned, and wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. Rose spent Christmas in the hospital, at which point doctors told her there was nothing more they could do.

Losing his wife at 47 was a terrible thing, especially with three young daughters.

“I relied on the three Fs,” Chalmers said. “Faith, family and friends. I don’t know which is more important; to me, a person needs all three of them to get through something like that.”

If medical professionals had known 30 years ago what they do today, they would have screened Rose for the disease earlier, because colon cancer tends to be hereditary and her father and an uncle on her mother’s side both had it. However, Chalmers said she hasn’t died in vain; now his daughters are regularly screened for the disease.

Having watched his wife suffer through months of the pain and side effects of chemotherapy, Chalmers didn’t hesitate when the Canadian Cancer Society asked him to volunteer.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something to help people not go through what she went through,’” he explained. “I’ll never see the day that it can be eradicated, but hopefully we’ll get there in time.”

He credits the generosity of ordinary people with raising money for research that has led to more effective treatments and painkillers and better screening for the disease.

In April, he’ll be hitting the sidewalk again and ringing his neighbours’ doorbells during Daffodil Month, the Canadian Cancer Society’s largest fundraising campaign.

A retired school principal, Chalmers said it takes him most of the month to canvass the two streets he’s assigned, because he enjoys the chance to catch up and chat with his neighbours.

“I’m the type of person that enjoys people so it’s a nice opportunity for me to be out meeting the people in the neighbourhood. I have never found it an onerous task.”

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