Fast tracking while giving back
October 2000 - St. John's, Newfoundland "The Telegram"
Comfort Straight from the Heart
N.S. Woman beat cancer, now she's devoted her life to helping others
by Jean Edwards Stacey
The year 1992 was not a good one for Carol Ann Cole. In January that year, the Nova Scotia native, then 46, and her 75-year old mother, Mary Cole, were both diagnosed with breast cancer.
Carol Ann had a successful lumpectomy. Her mother, who had been aware for some time that she had a lump in her breast but was afraid to have it checked, wasn't as fortunate. By the time she saw a physician, the cancer had spread throughout her body.
Mary died in December 1992, 11 months after being diagnosed with cancer.
At the time of their illnesses, Cole and her mother were both living in Toronto.
"Watching cancer kill Mom was horrible," says Cole. "In retrospect, though, it was wonderful. We were there for each other, we created black humour, laughing together. Crying together. In Toronto, where we both had radiation, we were known as the mother/daughter cancer team."
By the time her mother passed away, Cole had returned to her job as a high-flying vice-president at Bell Canada.
She loved her job. But, following her mother's death and her own bout with cancer, the self-described workaholic found it no longer held the same spark for her.
In 1994, she jumped at an early retirement package and, once retired, vowed to give five years to what she calls "the cancer community."
"I was given an opportunity to change," she says. "For me, cancer was not a death, but a doorway."
Cole's doorway led to her home province of Nova Scotia.
Following her retirement, she moved to Halifax and began working full-time with cancer patients.
On a visit to her Annapolis Valley hometown of Middleton, she dropped into OceanArt Pewter, a store filled with small pewter gift items. Her eye was caught by a wicker basket filled with pewter hearts, designed, like worry beads, to soothe the holder during stressful times.
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At first, she bought 25 of the Worry Hearts to pass out to cancer patients while they were receiving treatment.
Later, after giving away. 117 of the hearts to people living at a time she now calls "half-past cancer," she came up with the idea of selling them to raise money for cancer research.
She persuaded May Ocean owner of OceanArt, and her sister, Linda Power, herself a cancer survivor, to change the name of the heart to the Comfort Heart and join the fund-raising effort by donating $6 of the $10 price to cancer research.
Working together - Changes Cole, herself, instigated included the addition of a tiny second heart onto the original.
She says the two hearts signify cancer survivors and supporters working together, heart to heart. She also had the manufacturers add a pewter loop so that the Comfort Heart can be worn as a pendant or hung from a key chain.
With the Comfort Heart a reality, Cole hit the sales circuit, making speeches, appearing on talk shows and doing whatever it took to promote the shiny little hearts.
Her efforts so far have raised $1 million for cancer research.
Now, three years past her planned goal of five years dedicated to the cancer community, Cole is still going strong and has embarked on a quest to raise a second million, this one specifically for breast cancer research.
Cole - who had 28 radiation treatments, took the anti-cancer drug, Tamoxifen, for five years, and remains cancer-free - is this year's Atlantic Canada spokeswoman for the Canadian Breast Cancer foundation.
A charitable organization dedicated exclusively to the support and advancement of breast cancer research, education, diagnosis and treatment, the foundation has, since its inception in 1986, awarded more than $9.6 million for breast cancer research projects and services.
On Oct. 30, Cole will be in St. John's speaking at an already sold out Breast Cancer Awareness Day breakfast at Hotel Newfoundland.
In addition to her continuing work of raising funds for cancer research, Cole has, as well, stepped back into corporate waters.
In 1999, she 1aunched her own business, Colemind, and embarked upon a professional speaking career. She's a member of The Canadian Association of Professional Speaker's. She's also working on her first book.
Broad Shoulders - A Memoir from the Heart is the working title of her life story, "My book is the story of a high school graduate from Nova Scotia who became a vice-president at Bell Canada and beat cancer," is Cole's explanation of the book that will be published by ECW Publishing of Toronto in the fall of 2001.
The second of four daughters, Cole did a commercial course in high school and, days after graduation, left Middleton in search of a job. She went to North Bay, Ontario, where she stayed with relatives and very quickly got work as a typist with the Bank of Nova Scotia.
On Fast Track - A year later, she became a typist at Bell Canada. Still in North Bay, she married, had a son, James Scott, now 31 and living in Barrie, Ontario, divorced, and got on the fast track to corporate success.
Always willing to relocate and take on different jobs, she became one of the first women to be a vice-president at Bell Canada.
She finished her career with Bell Canada in Toronto.
She says the reason she's writing her life story is because she believes the lessons she has learned can help others.
Cole, who lives in Halifax and commutes to Toronto at least once a month, has no desire to ever return to a regular nine-to-five job.
Her goals for the future, include continuing to raise money for cancer research and continuing her career as a professional speaker.