York Pension Fund manager wins cancer fundraising award

What does someone do when diagnosed with breast cancer? Well, for York University Pension Fund manager Leona Fields, she gets through it and raises as much money as possible for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, enough to win this year’s Determination Award for the top individual fundraiser.

Fields raised over $18,000 as part of this year’s Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure on Oct. 5 and shared her story during opening ceremonies. She has participated in the run since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. She missed the top spot and the foundation’s Determination Award last year by about $200. But this year, she did it. “I was very happy I was able to achieve that goal that I had set for myself. It was really quite fulfilling,” says Fields. “I turned the focus from healing to helping others.” All together, she has raised $71,946.78 for the foundation.

Right: Leona Fields with her daughter Kaylin Baker-Fields at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s mission is to create a future without breast cancer, says Fields. “I have two teenage daughters and that is a vision I would be very welcome to see.” Her daughters Rachel and Kaylin – aged 14 and 15 – are a huge motivating force for Fields. They also take part in the Run for the Cure as does Leona’s husband.

“For me, raising awareness is very important, but raising money is why I do it – to ensure the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation has as much money as they possibly can to do all the good work that they do and fund the many projects that they fund,” she says.

When Fields pulled the pink cancer survivor T-shirt over her head for the first time and hit the Run for the Cure course in Toronto, she felt scared and nervous, but she thought “at least I’m surviving.” Now she finds the event invigorating. “It’s exciting and it’s fun and it’s awesome. There is a sea of people. The TV doesn’t do it justice because when you’re walking down University Avenue all you can see is people ahead of you and all you can see is people behind you,” says Fields.

“You have a complete wall-to-wall sea of people five kilometres long from the beginning of the run until the end and when I think about that…they say there are 30,000 people, I think there are more. It’s really very inspiring.”

Left: The quilts created by friends, family and colleagues hang in Leona Fields’ home

After Fields found the first lump in her breast, she underwent a complete mastectomy. She felt lucky. The doctors told her chemotherapy and radiation were not necessary. Then, 13 months later, Fields found another lump, this time in her armpit. The feeling of luck evaporated. Some of the cancer cells had invaded her lymph nodes.

“This time I had six months chemo and five weeks radiation…. That was a very, very bad time. That was certainly a low point, not something I’d wish on anybody,” says Fields. “But you know I got through it.”

Today two quilts hang on her walls at home with over 70 squares, each one created by a friend, family member or colleague. The quilts were the inspiration of a friend and colleague, who organized it and sewed it all together. The first quilt, the larger of the two, was a surprise gift given to Fields a month after she’d started chemo.

“I brought it with me to all my chemo treatments. It restored my faith in humanity. People are there when you really need them, people are there and people will support you. It really, really, really helped,” says Fields. “When I finished my treatments, I hung it on the wall in a very prominent spot in my house. It doesn’t get old; it doesn’t lose its emotional value. Sometimes when I’m feeling down I’ll go and touch the quilt.”

Her recent Determination Award now hangs on the wall underneath the quilt. “They share the same space,” says Fields.

She still feels scared sometimes, but mostly for the future of her two daughters. “If I was them I would think that’s so unfair, just because my mom had cancer I’m at a greater risk of having it. That’s the ultimate unfairness.”

As for Fields, she says ironically she’s healthier now than before she had cancer. She lost a lot of weight, eats healthy and exercises regularly.

“I’m really quite confident that I’ve beat this thing. I am not going to die of breast cancer,” says Fields. “Everyone dies of something at some time, but it won’t be breast cancer that kills me.”

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer