How Jim Button Owns Cancer


“A father of two, husband of one, brother of three, and friend to many.” This is how Jim Button describes himself. 

On Father’s Day, 2014, Jim and his family were on a rafting trip when he began to feel severe pain. A hospital visit revealed a case of appendicitis, but it also revealed a baseball-sized tumor on his kidney. Within hours, his appendix was removed, and his kidney three weeks later. But in 2016, cancer had metastasized in Jim’s lungs and his oncologist explained that he would be on treatment for the rest of his life – which they estimated would be about one to two years. 

“That was six years ago,” says Jim. “And the journey from here to there has been seriously up and down… I’ve had many times where I’ve been in near-death situations – many times where the family’s standing around the bed thinking [that] that was it.”

Over the last six years, Jim has been documenting his experience with cancer on his blog – Gather With Jim, a place where he shares some of the good, bad and ugly experiences of living with cancer. It’s now become a place where he has inspired countless others who are on their own cancer journey.

“I wanted to normalize conversations around the disease and death and dying,” he says. “People avert their eyes. It’s very hard for them to look at a sick person… I want to try to normalize that in order to allow people to feel, ‘Oh, okay, this happens.’ Even families have a hard time discussing and sharing these difficult conversations when instead they should all be on the same page working together.”

Through his blog, Jim has been able to meet other folks living with cancer. He often goes on walks with them where they converse about their shared experiences.

“I’ve been in many group therapy scenarios where you go in and everybody has cancer and they talk about all the things that cancer’s taken away from them and the futileness of it all. Once cancer owns you, then it’s a quick ride to nowhere,” he says. “Throughout the walk, I feel like my role is to give them back ownership of their journey.”

Jim explains that living with cancer can cause people to feel a loss of control. Based on his experiences, Jim advises them to manage what they can control and let go of the rest. He recalls how his wife, Tracey Button, experienced anticipatory grief and anxieties after Jim’s diagnosis. Concerns about the future regarding their children (Jack and Amanda), their finances, as well as her work. To address her concerns, Jim and Tracey took care of what they could – organizing their life insurance, wills, and estates – as well as practicing mindfulness to focus on the present moment.

“You can’t control everything,” Jim explains. “You’re not promised tomorrow, but you’ve got today – so make today the best you can with what you have.” 

 “I’ve never used the word ‘fighting’, I’ve never used the word ‘survivor’, never used ‘battle’ – because I’m living with cancer. I’d rather not have cancer but the cancer is here so I’m living with it and adapting to it. I very much believe that I am in control of owning cancer versus that cancer owns me.”

When the Centre opens in 2023, Calgary will be home to a world-class cancer hospital with a comprehensive approach that allows researchers, clinicians, patient-care specialists, and diagnosticians to work together in one place. Jim is all too familiar with the inconvenience of visiting a myriad of different medical practitioners across the city. “We’re bringing in researchers, medical teams, and patients altogether in one place,” he says about the Centre. “It’s the smart way to do it.” 

Despite being located beside busy roadways, the Calgary Cancer Centre will have more than 6,200 square meters of outdoor accessible spaces helping people connect with nature and providing a more relaxing healing environment. Something as simple as natural light and green spaces can make a world of difference for patients and families going through treatment. “There’s going to be color and energy and freshness… When I’m at the hospital for weeks at a time, it would be nice to [have] conversations with people in a positive space,” says Jim.

Jim and Tracey felt that it was important to address the unique needs of young cancer patients and their families. With the support of their network, they began the Button Family Initiative in Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology & Survivorship at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. The first project supported by this initiative is led by Dr. Fiona Schlute, Ph.D., whose research focuses on improving the health and psychological outcomes for young survivors and enhancing real-time communication between researchers, clinicians, and patients and families, alike.

 Together, we are making great strides to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors by treating the body, mind and spirit as a whole. 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

This is our moment. Our once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the landscape of cancer research, care and treatment. We’re ready to OWN.CANCER. Are you with us?

Click here to Donate.