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Red Carpet: 'It's the hope that keeps us going': Luncheon of Hope marks 20th anniversary

Popular event has raised more than $900K over the past two decades 

Linda Ockwell-Jenner has had her share of bad luck.

The Kitchener resident, who emigrated to Canada from England 25 years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer twice, eventually requiring a double mastectomy.

She got breast implants at the same time as her double mastectomy, but they were removed three weeks later because of an infection (Ockwell-Jenner points out the surgery ominously happened on Friday the 13th). 

But the mother of four wasn't done with either cancer or surgery — she was diagnosed with skin cancer, and had a tumor removed from her nose, underwent a preventative hysterectomy and received another set of breast implants.

She also got divorced after her first cancer diagnosis 20 years ago (she's since remarried, and refers to her second husband as her “soul mate”).

If you've lost count, she's a three-time cancer survivor. 

But Ockwell-Jenner, the guest speaker at the 20th annual Luncheon of Hope, which took place Sept. 28, tries to look on the bright side of life, even when things are by all accounts pretty dim.

She encourages people to have hope, even when they've been dealt a blow such as a serious illness. 

Ockwell-Jenner has a trademark sense of humour, relating — to peals of laughter from the crowd made up of many breast cancer survivors — a story of telling a cancer surgeon with poor bedside manner “What would you do if I cut your bits and bobs off?”

“People say to me 'You're a strong woman. How do you keep going?'” she said. “I'm no stronger than anybody in the room. It's the hope that keeps us going.”

Ockwell-Jenner acknowledges that's not always easy for her or anyone else. “I'm not superhuman,” she said.

But she encouraged those at the event to look at life's challenges — even breast cancer — as an opportunity to better your life.

After going through cancer for a second time, Ockwell-Jenner quit the three jobs she'd been working and went back to school to become a secretary.

She was asked to share her cancer story with her classmates, and that turned out to be what started her career as a motivational speaker.

Off work while recovering from her hysterectomy, her husband suggested it would be a good time for her to write a book, as she'd always dreamed of doing. Ockwell-Jenner is now the author of three books.

“I love life,” she said. “I'm blessed, aren't I?”

Northern Cancer Foundation executive director Tannys Laughren said when her organization is looking for a Luncheon of Hope guest speaker, they ask for recommendations from other cancer foundations.

Ockwell-Jenner came highly recommended.

“We thought she was the perfect fit, especially for our 20th anniversary,” Laughren said. “Her message of hope, her kind-heartedness, her warmth just matches what this luncheon is all about.”

The Luncheon of Hope raises funds for the Northern Cancer Foundation to purchase breast cancer equipment for the Northeast Cancer Centre. This year, the event raised $69,500, bringing the 20-year total to more than $900,000.

This year’s event raised funds towards the purchase of the Incucyte S3 Live Cell Analysis system (Laughren said the new machine will be purchased within a few months). 

With IncuCyte S3 live-cell analysis, cells are measured continuously so new insights into biological processes and changes can be done via real-time.

With greater understanding of cell activity researchers can run multiple tests and devise new experiments that will lead to better insight and treatment for breast cancer.

The Luncheon of Hope is a popular event, with 600 people cramming into the Caruso Club's upper hall this year, including many mayoral and city council hopefuls.

“We are beyond sold out,” Laughren said, adding that cancer foundation staff even gave up their own table because so many people wanted to attend this year. “We said we can stand because people wanted to come. Again, it's this groundswell of overwhelming support.”