Carmelina and the Nipple Sisters – Helping women own cancer

In 2014, Carmelina had a feeling that something was not right with her health and consulted her doctor about it. Her intuition was right. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. Carmelina’s diagnosis left her feeling alone, but she was determined to push through with love and laughter. Through this journey, she has found her purpose by creating a business in artistry, in which she does tattoo Areola Restoration for women who have undergone mastectomies. Carmelina and her business partner, Kacie, were coined the ‘Nipple Sisters’ through their incredible work. To this day, they continue to help women OWN their cancer journey by restoring their body confidence through tattoo artistry.

This is Carmelina’s story…


Tell us about yourself…

I was born in Calgary Alberta and am the second eldest of 6 kids.  My mother is Irish & Métis, and my father was born in Italy.  Growing up in both Italy and Canada, I have always strongly identified with my Italian roots.  I love to cook and take care of those I love.  I appreciate art and culture and the beautiful and simple things in life. It led me to a career in artistry, makeup and fashion.  I am really passionate about my career which I believe to be my purpose because it is the fusion of my passion and experience as a breast cancer slayer.  (I like to use the term slayer rather than survivor). Did you know that the word slayer in slang means to overwhelm, as with laughter or love?


Laughter and love are the two most important things to me.


How did your cancer journey begin?

I had a feeling something was not right in my body and insisted my doctor looked into it.  At first, he didn’t see the need to, but I continued to insist because like I said- I had a feeling something was not right.  

“I see Cancer in your breast, and it’s moved to your lymph nodes.” Those words from my doctor’s mouth have never felt real.  Cancer?  But I was healthy?  I am young… no one in my family has cancer… My life instantly changed, and nothing made sense at the time.

Shortly after I was bombarded with calls, CT Scan appointments, MRI appointments, blood work, bone scan appointments, and echocardiogram appointments.  There was no space. At that point, I was meeting my chemo oncologist and my surgeon biweekly!

My head was full. My emotions were on a roller coaster.


I did not want to die.  I did not want to lose my hair. I did not want to lose my breasts. Everything I once took for granted was in jeopardy.


The initial diagnosis was a lot to process, and I felt really alone.  I had many friends and family who supported me, but it is different when someone has not experienced it.

There is no one way or right way to deal with a diagnosis.  I chose to believe that I wasn’t sick.  Some would call that denial.  I call it mind power.

The power of the mind and meditation helped me.  I started to do things in my material life to honor the letting go process- like cutting my own hair off. That day, I was surrounded by friends and supported.  It was like a ceremony, and I felt like I was honoring what I was coming into… the unknown.

When my hair began to fall out- I shaved my head.  There is nothing you can do about the inevitable BUT there is a lot you can do in the space of the unknown.  I love to dance, and the process became a dance of releasing, letting go, clearing and bringing in.

My first round of chemo was my birthday on Dec 12, 2014, I had 8 rounds all together, radiation and surgery.

It was a slow surrender and the longest journey of strength.

How are you doing today?

I am doing good today, and I am very conscious and aware of my health. I was healthy before but it’s a complete lifestyle now. Now, I regularly get vitamin drips for immunity, I strength train and do yoga, I meditate and take supplements. Also, I have not had a drop of alcohol in 5 1/2 years. I am fully present and committed to living, and I am grateful to be alive.

Tell us about your treatment…

I was treated at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and I felt completely supported by the staff and the system.  Everything sort of happens so fast and there was constant help assisting me with all of the moving parts and navigation.

What was the inspiration behind the Nipple Sisters?

The Nipple Sisters was a true marriage of passion.  The initiative was established in response to the cancer-related death of Kacie’s father in 2007 and my breast cancer journey. Together we believe we can make a difference by joining forces to help make women feel whole again.

We work together as certified paramedical pigmentation specialists focusing on Areola Restoration through a give back initiative called Procedures for a Positive Purpose.  As the nipple sisters, we have a lighthearted approach to a very serious matter.  We want women to feel good, confident and whole again.  Areola Restoration is symbolic of the end of the journey.  It is emotional and triumphant.


What is your favourite part about your work?

My favourite part of my work is to meet each woman and to listen to their story and then to see the look in their eyes when they look in the mirror after the procedure.  You can feel that look.

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you?

One huge missing aspect for me were integrative oncology resources at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.  I strongly believe in mind, body, and soul healing. This healing integrative therapies. Fortunately, these resources will be available at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, which is a huge win.


Let’s create some awareness about the women’s stories who are thriving after a diagnosis.  Every journey is different, we can learn from one another and tap into some strength.


Let’s create awareness about HEALTH and prevention. Let’s create awareness about HEALING.  Have you seen the HEAL Documentary.   Your mind is powerful.  Watch this movie.   I am living proof that this is not “whoooo whooo”.

I completed my treatment plan with other natural and holistic protocols, and I am grateful I am here today to tell my story.


You can find Carmelina on Instagram, @Carmelinabaccari or her website at

You can find the other half of the ‘Nipple Sisters’, Kacie, on Instagram, @kacierainey or her website at


At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact on cancer research and treatment and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Krissy Chutskoff on her breast cancer journey

Krissy Chutskoff was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. Navigating this disease at a young age came with challenges, yet throughout her cancer journey, she found hope in her loved one’s support, leaning into feel-good activities and learning about the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

Here, she shares her story…

Tell us about yourself…

My name is Krissy Chutskoff. I’ve lived in Calgary for over fifteen years now and share a home with my husband, Chad, and our free-roam house bunny, Flirt, who makes us laugh and brings us so much joy every day. My husband and I are both originally from Saskatchewan, so we are both devoted Saskatchewan Roughrider fans and enjoy travelling back to the province regularly to spend time with our families.

Although my husband and I are homebodies, who enjoy staying in with a good book, movie, or crossword, we also enjoy supporting local live music, entertainment, and food with our friends.

Krissy’s bunny, Flirt.

How did your cancer journey begin?

I found out that I carried the BRCA1 gene in 2009 when I was 27. Because of that, I was set up with semi-annual mammograms, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, and physical exams for breast cancer surveillance.

I stayed on this surveillance program dutifully until December 2019, when I went in for a regularly scheduled surveillance MRI. I wasn’t overly concerned about it since my most recent mammogram, and a recent physical exam, didn’t show any cause for concern. With this, I was in high spirits for the holiday season.

A day after my MRI, while driving home for Christmas, I received a call from my Doctor that the MRI had shown a large mass and a swollen lymph node in my left breast. Given my BRCA1 gene status and this mass’s seemingly rapid growth rate, this likely was something of concern. I returned from the holidays, on January 2, I was sent in for a biopsy. On January 8, I was officially diagnosed at the age of 37 with stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which had spread to my lymph nodes.

Krissy with her husband,

I had 18 months of active treatment, which included neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation, and 6 months of additional oral chemotherapy.

How are you doing today?

Today I am just over a year out of active treatment, considered NED (No Evidence of Disease) and doing quite well! I’m still getting used to my “new body” and struggle the most with fatigue, brain fog, sore joints, and other fun symptoms that go hand in hand with a post-cancer and surgical menopausal body in your thirties.

Daily workouts and walks in our beautiful neighbourhood help loosen up the body, and I recently completed the 8-week brain fog course through Wellspring, which armed me with many wonderful tools to utilize and help with that. I also had a prophylactic oophorectomy to decrease my chances of developing ovarian cancer (the BRCA1 gene also greatly increases the risk of that).

From the moment I was diagnosed with cancer, there was a plan in place and no messing around. My experience at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre felt like a well-oiled machine.

How did you feel supported by the healthcare professionals and staff at the Tom Baker?

I remember the first chemo treatment that I had alone. I couldn’t open my snacks (one of the many reasons caregivers are so important, snack help) because my hands were in ice mitts to prevent neuropathy. I started to cry, an RN saw me struggling, and she ran over immediately to help. The excellent Tom Baker Cancer Centre staff, and the caregivers supported me as much as possible in a constantly changing situation.

Not to mention, I have no doubts that if I did not receive routine screening due to my BRCA1 mutation, I would not be here today.

What were some challenges you faced through your journey, and what advice do you have for others who may face the same challenges?

The hardest part of my diagnosis was the worry it caused my family and friends. I know that my parents would have given anything to take the pain away for me and seeing how hard it was on my husband (the ultimate caregiver) was very difficult.

A piece of advice I lived by was even though it can be uncomfortable to ask, just do it. People genuinely want to help, so let them know what you need if anything (rides, dinners, help cleaning). That and don’t feel the need to purchase a ridiculously overpriced wig. Amazon has endless fun ones for a fraction of the cost.

How do you OWN.CANCER?

I had a prophylactic oophorectomy to decrease my further chances of developing ovarian cancer (BRCA1 gene also greatly increases the risk of that). I have been working hard at trying to keep a healthy but balanced lifestyle to help prevent recurrence but also still enjoy the things I love. I am also participating in clinical trials and research geared towards women’s health and early onset cancers as well as utilizing courses offered by Wellspring.”

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you?

I distinctly remember sitting alone in one of the dark and aged Tom Baker basement waiting rooms watching the TV as it displayed renderings of the new Calgary Cancer Centre – showing the bright open atrium – and feeling an overwhelming sense of hope for future patients.

“When someone knows they are receiving state-of-the-art care and it looks and feels new and shiny, it gives people extra confidence in their journey.

The state-of-the-art technology, treatment, research, and clinical trials that will be offered at the new Centre means that many more lives can be saved.


At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients like Krissy, and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Carolina Diaz owns cancer

At eight months pregnant, all while mothering a two-year-old, Carolina Diaz discovered a lump on her breast. The Columbian-Canadian knew immediately that there was something deeply wrong. While her gynecologist told her not to worry, that it just had to do with her breast milk, Carolina knew in her heart that this was not the case, “I kind of knew it was something bad”. The lump grew after her baby was born, and Carolina was insistent that something was not right. On May 5, 2021, she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
“I couldn’t believe that was happening to me,” Carolina says.

Three weeks after her diagnosis, and after giving birth to her now one-year-old, Carolina went into surgery for her cancer and began an intense treatment that would take a full year to complete. In addition to the raging hormones and usual parental stress she was experiencing after giving birth to herdaughter, Mila, Carolina was forced to face a devastating diagnosis at a time in her life that was meant to be happy and full of life.

Young mother with breast cancer and her daughter

Carolina’s stress at this diagnosis was largely centered around her children, “I cannot die because this baby needs me to live”. To add on to the stress, Carolina’s family was still in Columbia. She called her cousin, who is a doctor, to break the news. Her cousin’s words shifted Carolina’s mindset in a way that would change her journey for the better going forward: “You have to put into your mind that you’re not going to die of this”.

From that day forward Carolina practiced meditation and shifted her mindset to a more positive one and focused on her wellbeing. Her mother flew all the way out from Columbia to care for her new born baby as her husband worked and she focused on her own wellness.

For Carolina, good family support was the “key” to not only surviving her cancer journey, but thriving throughout it.

Young woman with breast cancer receiving treatment

Despite this dark chapter, things began looking up for Carolina and her family. “After the diagnosis, blessings started coming,” says Carolina, who shifted her focus to strengthening important relationships, bettering her mindset, and pursuing adventures that she has always wanted to go on.

Stepping into the Tom Baker centre, Carolina was met with positivity and empathy from all who work and volunteer there, “I felt like I wasn’t alone”.

She also felt the gaze of other patients at the centre, and heard remarks about how young she was, and how terrible it is for this to happen to someone so young. She met all of this by going to the store and buying a variety of colorful scarves with which to wrap her newly bald head (which her daughter, Luciana, helped her shave).

With her head held high, Carolina got dressed up to receive treatment, “if people are looking it’s because I’m beautiful,” she says.

Young woman with breast cancer shaving head

Throughout her treatment Carolina recalls beautiful memories shared with her family. She recalls a wig made out of her own hair, which she was originally intending to donate her self, as well as her cousin’s and her sister’s hair, gifted to her.

She also recalls shaving her head with little Luciana, and celebrating baby milestones with baby Mila; and fondly, a beautiful Christmas basket gifted by some donors that made her cry, and so much more.

Her children provided extra light and love during what would otherwise be a very dark time. The eldest, Luciana, described as the “chaotic” child of the family, always brought a smile to Carolina’s face throughout her treatment with her antics and sense of humor. Mila, short for Milagro, translates from Spanish to “miracle”, and Mila was just that for Carolina.

“She is my miracle, she came into this world to help me through hard times”.

Now, Carolina is recovering from some of the after effects of her treatment, and focusing on spending even more time with her children. She is excited for the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and given her positive experiences at the Tom Baker she can only imagine what awaits at the Calgary Cancer Centre when it opens.

Overall, Carolina feels fortunate to have gone on this life journey in Alberta, as she recognizes the generosity of Albertan donors and all of the resources that were available to her through such generosity.

Mother with daughters after cancer diagnosis

“I feel really lucky that this happened to me in Alberta,” – Carolina Diaz

Despite the hardships that arose from her diagnosis, Carolina has pulled some important life lessons from this experience. In addition to learning to let go, she has learned the importance of a positive mindset, and of also recognizing the significance of one’s experience in the grander scheme of things.

She urges those going through their own cancer journeys to recognize that they are not alone, “many people go on this journey… you have to find something to hold on to”. Carolina is closer to her family than ever before, and now donates the Alberta Cancer Foundation every month as a way to give back. She is looking forward to having more time on her hands so she can volunteer as well.

Now, Carolina Diaz is up to any challenge, and knows she can face anything with her positive mindset and the help of her family.

“You cannot let cancer define you”. – Carolina Diaz


At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Brandi Perron and Her Cancer Journey

It was a day like any other when Brandi found a lump that would change her life forever. “I swear it wasn’t there in the morning. I was getting in the shower, it was so noticeable I could see it in the mirror.” Without hesitation, Brandi contacted her doctor. They sent her in for scans, a mammogram, and an ultrasound. By the time Brandi left the examinations, she knew she had cancer. “I could tell by the look on their face,” she recalls.

On December 23, 2020, a time that was supposed to be joyous was rather stressful as Brandi Perron went in for a Biopsy. “It was right before Christmas. It was also the day of one of the biggest storms we have had in years. I told them that I didn’t know if I could make it. They said ‘just try your best, it doesn’t matter what time you get here. We’ll still do it.’”

A couple of weeks passed by over the holidays. Brandi then received the fateful call from her Doctor on January 4, 2021, and was told she had cancer. Brandi’s doctor set up a meeting with a surgeon at the Breast Health Clinic at the Foothills Hospital. Through this meeting she would be briefed on her diagnosis. Even though the mass was large, they felt they had caught it early. With this in mind, they asked Brandi how she would like to move forward.

“The crazy thing about getting diagnosed with cancer is they give all these choices and at the end they are like ‘what would you like to do’ and I remember thinking ‘I don’t know.’”

For about a week, Brandi stepped away to think over the options she was given with one of her closest friends by her side, a nurse at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and someone who joined her for all of Brandi’s appointments. After discussing her options with her friend and doing her own extensive research, Brandi decided to go with a double mastectomy.

Still navigating the changes today, Brandi said, “No one can prepare you for what happens when you have your breasts removed.” After her double mastectomy, pathology showed cancer in the lymph nodes and Brandi was sent to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre to start chemo.

“My Oncologist is Doctor Webster… my experience with Doctor Webster was amazing. He allowed me a lot of say in my treatment and provided me with a lot of information. I was very into holistic medicine before I got cancer and he allowed me to have space to talk about some of those kinds of treatments as well.” Providing this space for conversation helped bring a sense of autonomy during a confusing and overwhelming time.

When her chemo treatments came to an end, Brandi then started radiation. “Radiation is also scary, but it’s a different kind of scary.” However, she was happily surprised by the treatment she received from two radiologists at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. “When I originally arrived [for her radiation appointment] and found out it would be two men who would be doing my radiation, I almost refused to go in. I almost felt ‘man, I’ve been through enough already and I don’t want two men doing my breast cancer radiation treatment. Those two guys turned out to be probably the best part of my experience. They were amazing and did everything to make me comfortable and then some.”

Chemotherapy can often be a challenging period for a cancer patient. Brandi recalls her experience with this treatment as strenuous. “I was supposed to have six courses of chemo, but I only had four. I had really bad headaches, jaw pains, and two times I had psychosis after my treatments. Which was really scary for my family, my kids especially.” Treatments can impact patients in different ways. The side effects of chemotherapy became too dangerous for Brandi, ultimately leading to the decision to stop chemo at four treatments.

Brandi’s radiation treatments occurred five days a week for five weeks. During this physically demanding treatment, Brandi’s holistic interests came in handy. She often used organic ointments to help soothe and heal her radiation burns.

In December of 2021, Brandi was given a No Evidence of Disease diagnosis. She recognizes, however, that because her cancer was estrogen positive, she will always be at high risk for reoccurrence and is now on preventative treatment, including medication to put her in a medical menopause. “In some ways this is harder than active treatment. When you’re done treatment, you’re just done. Everything just goes back to what it was except for you.”

Brandi still experiences symptoms from her treatments, such as pain in her bones, insomnia and headaches. The psychological impacts often outweigh the physical ones. “It’s just a constant worry that every ache and every pain is just the cancer coming back. But all the meds give you the exact same symptoms as what it would feel to have the cancer coming back. I stopped calling my doctor every week, which I am sure he is grateful for.” She chuckles.

When asked how she found support during this harrowing experience, Brandi opened up about the online community she had found. These groups provided space for her to open up about all aspects of her breast cancer journey, and she does the same for them.

“Those women online have saved my life repeatedly.”

A constant theme running through our conversation was the idea of support and the deep gratitude Brandi held for those who lent her a helping hand. “My family doctor called me every other week,” She explains. Her family doctor would even check on her children to see how they were coping with their mother’s diagnosis. “I appreciated this so much because I felt like I didn’t have the capacity to support my family.” The not for profit agency she worked at also provided her with time and support to navigate her diagnosis. Along with family, friends, the breast cancer Support clinic in Calgary and the community she found online, Brandi found herself in the midst of a solid support system.

The financial burden of cancer is something that is not talked about often. Brandi opened up about her experience with this saying, “The financial burden of cancer is crazy. I don’t think many people know about this, I certainly didn’t. I am just starting to catch up.” This experience is more common than most of us know. There is support out there, check out Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program here.

Being a Calgarian and going through all of her cancer treatments at Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Brandi is excited to see what the new Calgary Cancer Centre brings. “The new Calgary Cancer Centre is probably going to be off the hook. I think it’s amazing. Tom Baker is so busy and there isn’t enough space. It’s the busiest place I’ve ever been.” Brandi also explains that she is grateful that the Calgary Cancer Centre not only will be there for those facing cancer but has also brought jobs and opportunities to our city. “I am excited that the Calgary Cancer Centre is going to be there for people.”

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Ashley Yoisten owns cancer

In January 2020, Ashley Yoisten, a young mother of two, didn’t expect her life to change forever.


When the now 35-year-old began to notice irritation in her breast, she consulted her family doctor, who suggested she go for a mammogram. Although they were hesitant to do a mammogram given her young age, they decided that it was the best thing to do given her symptoms.

When her mammogram results returned as calcified breast tissue, she was told not to worry. However, this didn’t sit right with her doctor, who referred her to a surgeon.

“I never thought that it would be cancer at any point in time.I truly just felt that it was a cyst or a blockage of some sort,” said Ashley.

From there, Ashley received an ultrasound as directed by her surgeon, where the worry struck. Immediately after, the doctor and nurse came into the room to perform an urgent biopsy. They later determined that there was, in fact, a bigger problem.

“I remember getting on the table and asking them, “Am I allowed to go back to work after this?” they looked at me like I had five eyes and said, no, you can’t, you need to take some days off,” said Ashley.

Not long after, Ashley went back to the surgeon’s office when she found out that she had a Carcinoma in situ. After a second biopsy, it was determined that Ashley was HER2+, grade 3, stage 3A. While waiting to define the likely next steps, Ashley got even more heartbreaking news – her mom was also diagnosed with cancer.

“It was alarming to realize that it could be genetic and that my sister could be at risk as well or potentially my kids or my nieces and nephews,” said Ashley.

From there, she decided to move forward with a double mastectomy, scheduled for October 28. After receiving the pathology report, she found out that she had four other tumours within her breast wall and Paget’s disease, cancer in the nipple. Her cancer originated from her nipple and spread from there, affecting her lymph nodes.

“I believe very highly in the power of positive thinking, and so when it was all seeming to fall apart, I just tried to keep a positive attitude as much as I could about it.,” said Ashley. If I was having a bad day or having a moment… I did allow myself the space to feel those feelings… but I just tried not to stay within that mindset for very long.”

Throughout her journey, Ashley thought of her late step-father, who also faced cancer. Ashley recalls his positivity and outlook on life, especially when he was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Unfortunately, her step-father’s cancer was very aggressive and was inoperable. However, she believes that his positive outlook made him outlast his 18-month life expectancy, turning it into four more years of memories.

“I always admired that strength. So when I got my diagnosis, I just remembered that and just wanted to be as positive as I possibly could be no matter how hard it was.” – Ashley Yoisten

Along with her step-father’s optimism, Ashley is grateful to her family and friends. To say that going through cancer treatment during a pandemic is easy would be a lie. Ashley was fortunate enough to have a close group of friends and family safely join her cohort, where she could be with them in person.

Ashley, an independent person, who rarely asked for help, leaned on the kindness and support of her family and loved ones who supported her through every step of this journey.

“There was so much love and support for me, my kids and my husband. They were there to catch us and support us for everything we needed,” – Ashley Yoisten

Ashley is also incredibly thankful for her loving husband, Matt and resilient sons, Mason (9) and Nixon (6), who supported her, cared for her and loved her endlessly. With her sons being so young, Ashley still needed to be there for them in any way she could.

“I did my best to be as honest with them as I could about my journey and tried to include them where I could,” said Ashley. “I want them to understand that cancer is a part of life. It happens.”

Ashley completed her treatment in April, doing 25 rounds of radiation and even ending up in the ICU at one point. It was a difficult three months of treatment. Unfortunately, not long after, in May, Ashley and her family got in an accident on their way to a family camping trip, which took a toll on her health. Happily, she is starting to feel like herself again. She allowed herself time to heal and spent lots of time working hard on getting better and back to a place where she felt “normal” again.

“I did all the work; I told my care teams and physios that “I will be your best patient if you just tell me what I have to do, I will do it” because I need to get back to where I was or come back better,” – Ashley Yoisten

Recovery was not what Ashely initially expected. She thought she would feel better as soon as her treatment was complete, but she had to learn to be patient and listen to her body. She focused on fueling it with nutrition and respecting it every step of the way, taking the time to focus on not just her body but also her mind.

“Be kind and gentle on yourself and allow yourself that space to heal. This is your journey and no one else,” said Ashley.

Ashley took the time out of her treatments and recovery to share her story on social media. For her, it was an outlet to share with family and friends, but in turn, she found a community going through the same thing. Her journey has and continues to be a massive inspiration to many.

“I found that sharing this helps them know that they can do it too… When they tell me my story brings them comfort – it brings me joy that I can help someone,” said Ashley.

You can continue to follow her story on Instagram.

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients like Ashley, and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.



Barbara Munroe – Campaign Cabinet Members

A campaign of this magnitude doesn’t happen without the support and dedication of our community. The OWN.CANCER campaign cabinet is made up of passionate Calgarians who are champions for improved cancer research, treatment and care in our province. Through their advocacy, donations and guidance, we’re closer to reaching our $250 million fundraising goal in support of the Calgary Cancer Centre. In this series, we’re sitting down with our cabinet members to learn what the OWN.CANCER campaign means to them and the impact it will have on Albertans facing cancer. 

Barbara Munroe is a former lawyer having retired as executive vice president and general counsel of WestJet Airlines. Prior to that, she held senior legal and executive positions at Imperial Oil, SMART Technologies and Blake, Cassels & Graydon. Barbara Munroe is now focused on corporate directorships within the oil and gas (Crescent Point) and utilities (ENMAX) sectors, along with being a Trustee of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. She is also a two-time University of Calgary graduate (BComm ’87, LLB ’90).


I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

– Barbara Munroe


What inspires you to OWN.CANCER?

In May 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world was displaced at the time I was full-stride in my career. One year following my diagnosis, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in her jaw that necessitated invasive surgery with long-lasting daily living effects, and my father is currently living with metastatic prostate cancer.

Having repurposed myself, I now have more time to give and the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the OWN.CANCER cabinet is the perfect fit to add my voice to the advancement of cancer awareness, prevention, screening and increased funding for research in Alberta, and for the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

I learned that the work of the Alberta Cancer Foundation supports every cancer-related clinical trial in Alberta – and that one positive clinical trial can help out hundreds of thousands of patients. That is real impact and is the practical inspiration that got me involved to advocate and fundraise for the OWN.CANCER campaign.

As the Lululemon tag goes “do one thing a day that scares you”. I am lucky as a survivor that I can try to live in the spirit of that adage – my personal inspiration to OWN.CANCER is that facing cancer should not be one of those things!

Why was it important to you to volunteer and contribute to this campaign?

You can’t help but be impressed with what has been built to date. With an investment of $1.4 billion, the Calgary Cancer Centre is the largest government infrastructure project in the province.

Construction will be complete in 2022 and it is anticipated that this facility will open to the public in 2023. That’s not a lot of time! But a lot of energy is going into attracting world-class clinicians and researchers to make the Calgary Cancer Centre the gold standard in care. Countless hours of professional and volunteer time have gone into this project, and we are on the doorstep of something that is going to be nothing short of game-changing.

It keeps coming back to that for me – the integration of research to optimize care – a collaborative approach with all of the right groups represented. This is what will differentiate the new centre and most importantly, offer hope and save lives! Integrated care and research is a pretty involved subject, but I am convinced that through the partnership with the University of Calgary, the Calgary Cancer Centre will be one of the leading cancer centres in North America.

How do you believe this campaign and the Calgary Cancer Centre will impact Albertans facing cancer?

Experience offers some perspective. While going through my own treatment, and observing that of my parents, the care and options were very good. However, the system, and the scattered and various facilities, were complex to navigate and didn’t result in feelings of being intimately connected to the universe of care providers.

Having everything in one place will alleviate anyone from feeling that they are alone when facing cancer. The feeling when walking into the Calgary Cancer Center will not be one of fear, but rather one of belonging.

I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

But most importantly, there will be a one-word answer for patients and their families facing cancer who ask “Where do I need to go?”



Click here to learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign and the amazing work done by our cabinet members, like Barbara Munroe.

Donor Heather Culbert’s Drive to Thrive

Heather Culbert and her husband, Michael, are long-time donors to the University of Calgary, devoted to elevating cancer research that will make a difference via early detection and improved precision treatment. Culbert’s interest is, indeed, personal: though she lost her mom to cancer, she herself is a cancer survivor with a message of hope as the new Calgary Cancer Centre finally comes into view.


What’s your personal experience with cancer? 

My mother, Connie Cooper, who was a nurse, passed away from cancer in 2013. She developed breast cancer three times, and colon and liver cancer. In 2009, just before my mother got her third breast cancer diagnosis, I found out I had breast cancer, too. The timing of my diagnosis was wild: at the time, I was not only taking my mom to her appointments for breast cancer treatment, but I had just recently been named honorary chair for the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers in Calgary.

How did you feel when you got your diagnosis? What did you do?  

Given my mom’s history with breast cancer, I can’t say I was really surprised. I was fortunate to be diagnosed very early on: I’d gone in for my annual mammogram and they saw a shadowy spot. I was offered different options and took the more radical route — I decided to have a mastectomy right away instead of a lumpectomy where you’re not sure whether they ever got it all. I’m clear now. And I’m clearly a big believer in getting an annual mammogram. Even if there’s no family history — cancer can happen to anyone.

You’re also a big believer in the impact of cancer research — where do you want to make a difference? 

Early detection and precision oncology. My support is largely focused on breast cancer. My husband, Michael, and I have given to help advance research at the University of Calgary led by Dr. Tina Rinker. She and her team have developed a blood test for rapid testing and diagnosis of breast cancer. It can help cancer be detected much faster and find it in places where imaging techniques wouldn’t detect it as quickly. And we’ve given to help the university purchase equipment to advance genetic profiling for precision oncology — that’s how doctors can develop customized treatments for patients to target an individual’s tumour.

What was it about your mom’s cancer experience that moved you to support cancer research? 

I was my mom’s advocate as she went through the system, which is fragmented. There has been no central place for cancer testing, treatment, and care, and we had to go all over the city for all the various appointments, which made things challenging and confusing sometimes. I wanted to help change that. I feel like that’s my calling, it’s why I give to the university — to keep making the experience better for others by improving how cancer is diagnosed and treated. It’s why I’ve supported cancer research and why I am now advocating to help get the Calgary Cancer Centre underway — it’s an incredible project and it will change the future of cancer research and care.

To you, what’s the most exciting or transformative aspect of the new centre? 

That everything patients need throughout the course of their cancer journey Is all in one place.  I’m also excited about the thoughtful spaces designed for people with cancer to recover and spend time with their families. It’s an incredible opportunity for improved patient care and earlier diagnostics, and Calgary has the capacity and ability to improve the experience. When the Centre opens in 2023, this city 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. I would love for people to feel a sense of calm and hopefulness when they walk into this place.

Heather Culbert is the volunteer co-chair for the Calgary Cancer Centre OWN.CANCER campaign – a $250-million fundraising partnership between UCalgary, the Alberta Cancer Foundation and Alberta Health Services to support the best of the best in cancer research, education and patient care in Calgary.

As originally published in the University of Calgary’s Arch Magazine.


At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign today.