A common theme runs through all transformational gifts made to The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. A desire to make sense of a tragic loss, to bring an end to suffering caused by a particular cancer, and to help others avoid a similar fate.
For Anne Lewitt and her family, all of these motivations were behind their decision to create the Wilfred G. Lewitt Chair in Pancreatic Cancer Research. Pancreatic is one of the most deadly types of cancer – only 8% of patients live longer than five years.
“I would hope, from the bottom of my heart, that our gift will help people and help find a cure for this horrible disease,” says Anne, who lost her husband, Wilf, after 47 years of marriage to pancreatic cancer.
Four years after Wilf’s death, her loss has not become any easier. “The first year was horrific, the second year was more horrific. Nothing really changes, because he’s not here,” she says. “We were sort of joined at the hip, we were great friends and just quite happy to spend time together.”
Wilf’s sudden illness came as a shock. He was an avid athlete who enjoyed sailing, tennis and skiing, and, Anne says “didn’t have one health problem his entire life.” An active couple, Anne and Wilf loved to attend the opera, ballet and theatre together, and they travelled a great deal. One of their favourite places was Vienna, with its famous opera, cobblestone streets, and lovely people. Of course, a favourite activity was spending time with their family.
Then in December 2007, just three years after retiring as Chairman of MDS Inc., a successful global health and life sciences organization that he helped to build over 30 years, Wilf became terribly ill. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure, an operation that removes parts of several organs and reroutes the entire digestive system.
“After the Whipple, he was referred to Dr. Malcolm Moore at The Princess Margaret, a fine doctor and a fine gentleman,” says Anne. “Wilf underwent just one short course of chemotherapy, and then he was declared cancer free.”
Unfortunately, Wilf’s cancer returned not long after. “As he said, ‘The lights went out.’ He was a runner and a tennis player, and he couldn’t do either,” says Anne. They had only a few more months together.
“We dealt with it one day at a time. We have a wonderful, supportive family of three kids who were very good to their Dad and me. We also have eight grandchildren, who were an absolute joy to Wilf in his darkest days,” says Anne. “He never complained and he didn’t wallow. He was kind, thoughtful, and always put the other person first. He always listened. We talked for hours.”
Near the end, Wilf spent time in the Harold and Shirley Lederman Palliative Care Centre at The Princess Margaret, with staff who were “wonderfully kind and solicitous,” says Anne. “I feel strongly that if I were diagnosed with cancer, The Princess Margaret is where I’d want to receive care.”
After Wilf’s passing, the Lewitt Family wanted to help other families facing pancreatic cancer. Through The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, they supported rapid diagnosis efforts, palliative care, and established a five-year fellowship in pancreatic cancer.
But given the deadliness of pancreatic cancer, they felt strongly about helping to accelerate the pace of new research discoveries. So this year, they decided to fund Canada’s first Chair in pancreatic cancer research.
“Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has one of the leading pancreatic cancer treatment and research programs worldwide. The Wilfred G. Lewitt Chair in Pancreatic Cancer Research will make a significant impact on pancreatic cancer research both at The Princess Margaret and internationally. It will enable us to recruit a researcher or clinician-scientist of the highest calibre, who will enable us to more rapidly bring scientific discovery from the laboratory to the clinic,” says Dr. Malcolm Moore, Director of the Wallace McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer. “We are currently searching for an accomplished individual who will have a critical role in pancreatic cancer research, help us to train the next generation of scientists and physicians, strengthen the quality of our pancreatic cancer programs, and drive research discoveries.”
If you would like to make a contribution to pancreatic research or patient care at The Princess Margaret, please contact Christy Morrow at (416) 946-2107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.