My friend Kristina nominated me for a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce award and I thought it was a long shot – the Spirit of Winnipeg Awards, Businesses that make Winnipeg better. This year they received the most nominations they have had in eight years, eight categories narrowed down to three finalists each. The Unexpected Gift was a finalist in the Rising Star category – I could not believe it! On March 10, at a Gala dinner, The Unexpected Gift received the award!

The diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming to say the least. Trying to figure out your next step is, in my opinion worse. I think some things have changed over the years; it has been over four years since my own diagnosis. CancerCare has published my cancer notebook and my cancer handbook. These tools help to guide you along. I feel that is huge progress.

When I went back to work after my treatments were complete, I knew the corporate world was not for me. My perspectives regarding life had changed. I felt that I needed to do something important; I no longer cared about my job title or salary range.

I began to think of all the items I needed to get through my diagnosis. I also thought about everything I needed, but did not know I needed them. Why was it not mentioned or listed anywhere for patients as a resource. Where was the checklist of items that you might need to get through the side effects, where was the list of places one could go to, to purchase these things. I know now, that there are listings for wig stores and where to buy breast prosthesis. I did not know then, I was too overwhelmed.

People like me, need a store like The Unexpected Gift. It is extremely unfortunate, but it is a resource. I started to think, how do I get there and then it began with an idea. I struggled with the concept of a business that functions because of a disease. As I worked through it, it became a resource, a social enterprise. The idea became viable and I knew that as a survivor I could provide the means in a substantial way. I had breast cancer, I had a mastectomy and reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. I had been through the whole range of cancer experiences. I was a resource; I had the understanding and compassion that might help other people get through a challenging time.

That is how The Unexpected Gift came to be. After months of planning and research, I found a space that was perfect. It became a labour of love. To keep costs down, I became the contractor, the plumber, the garbage removal person, and the stockperson. It was exciting and difficult, getting everything together. There were so many people to thank, that helped me each week. Friends and family, who took the time to paint, decorate and fix what I could not. It became all I imagined and more. The Unexpected Gift is a place where people can come and feel safe, feel compassion and not feel pressured.

The best thing about winning this award is the recognition for making a dream a reality. It is still a work in progress, it always will be. I am continually learning about new procedures in cancer care and new products that will help make life easier for you. I promise to continue living my dream and helping others, it is what I am supposed to do. Thanks for all of your support.