Volunteering to Fight Cancer: A Familiar Diagnosis

By Emily Strempler

Debra Hannah knows the impact of cancer well. “I used to help fundraise for breast cancer,” Hannah says, “when I found out Techapalooza fundraises for CancerCare, that covers all forms of cancers, I decided to shift my focus, since I know so many people that have been affected by this dreaded disease.” She lists off relations — husband, father, step-daughter, sister-in-law — friends and types of cancer, eventually settling into talking about her father, John Marshalok, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his early 60s.

A lifelong resident of Kenora, Ontario, Marshalok worked at the paper mill as a painter. “He was able to retire at the early age of 55,” Hannah says, “[He] became an avid golf player and loved to watch hockey, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs.” Though she describes her father fondly, with special mention of family road trips connected to his involvement with the Kinsmen Club of Keewatin, Hannah says she didn’t have a lot of one on one time with him growing up.

Debra Hannah and her Dad, John Marshalok

After his diagnosis, Marshalok travelled back and forth between his home in Kenora and Winnipeg, where he received treatment — surgery and radiation — at CancerCare Manitoba. For the six weeks of his treatment he stayed in Hannah’s home. “I was 40 when I went for lunch with my dad for the first time by myself,” Hannah says, “The experience for me was bittersweet because I didn't want to see my dad go through the experience, and yet, it gave me an opportunity to get closer to my dad.”

Speaking about his treatment, Hannah is the embodiment of bittersweet, saddened by the experience, yet grateful for the opportunity to be there for her parents, and for the caring treatment he received. “I remember how accommodating they were with his appointments. He would get a late appointment on Mondays and an earlier one of Friday so he was able to travel back and forth to Kenora without having to stay too many extra days,” Hannah recalls, “I remember sitting with him one day in his room — one of my daughters gave up their room for him — and I bought him a card that had the word ‘cancer’ on it. We read it together and we both cried.”

Marshalok made a full recovery after his treatment, living until 2012, when he and his wife, Irene Marshalok, both died in a tragic car crash. In his obituary, published online and in the local paper, the family requested donations to charitable organizations in lieu of flowers, including to Prostate Cancer Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Hannah’s husband, Kerry Hannah, is also a cancer survivor. Diagnosed with early stage colon cancer, he was lucky to avoid intensive treatment. At Techapalooza 2016 he played in The Bit Scootin’ Boogie Band and Hannah went along to watch him perform. “I was just blown away by how well the event was organized and how much money it raised for CancerCare Manitoba,” Hannah said.

This year, Hannah is pitching in on the fundraising committee as well as acting as band manager for the Great-West Life Google Dolls 2.0. She plans on continuing to be involved in the future.

“Anytime, I went with my dad or one of my friends, I saw the loyalty, caring, and dedication the staff had to the patients, and I am so thankful that they are there to help people through these challenging times,” Hannah says, “it is comforting knowing there are services like CancerCare that can help make it more manageable.”

3 thoughts on “Volunteering to Fight Cancer: A Familiar Diagnosis

  • Beautiful story. Of course, everyone who knows Debra already knows this. She is the embodiment of what every volunteer should be – giving everything and expecting nothing in return! Just a beautiful soul.

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