Jackie & EllynJackie Holzman (left) with her daughter, Ellyn.

This year Team Holzman marks 18 years of fundraising at Ottawa Race Weekend to support The Ottawa Hospital.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is thrilled to have the opportunity through this blog to share stories with the Women’s Business Network of the incredible women in our city who do amazing things to benefit our community.  Since WBN Ottawa chooses to support The Ottawa Hospital’s Healthy Women Healthy Community fundraising campaign, it seemed a perfect fit to profile former Ottawa mayor and breast cancer survivor Jackie Holzman and Team Holzman for the upcoming Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

It was a pleasure to speak to Jackie about her experience and I hope you enjoy the story.

To support Jackie and Team Holzman click here and help reach their goal of $25,000 for the expansion of the Breast Health Centre.

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Jackie Holzman is a leader by nature and a fighter out of necessity.  She was at the helm of the City of Ottawa as mayor from 1991- 1997.  During her 15 years as a city councillor and mayor, Jackie was also involved in a number of local initiatives to help improve research and treatment for breast cancer patients including cutting the ribbon on the first Breast Cancer Clinic at The Ottawa Hospital, Civic Campus.   It was personal.  She lost her own mother to the disease in 1985.

So, when breast cancer came knocking for Jackie in 1998:  “I wasn’t surprised,” she says.  “I would have regular mammograms – but between my family history and my age – I had almost expected it.  My doctor said ‘I have bad news and good news.  The bad news is you have breast cancer, the good news is – it’s the best kind of breast cancer to treat.’”  The diagnosis: DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.  Jackie’s cancer was contained to her breast and had not spread.

Her best option was a mastectomy.  Jackie was a candidate to have the mastectomy and breast reconstruction at once and had the two procedures in 1998.  It was a progressive move for the time.

She had just finished her last term as mayor – and realized she couldn’t keep her diagnosis and surgery under wraps.  “And I didn’t want to.  I thought, ‘This is what I have and I’m going public with it.’  I knew I could make a difference.”

So Jackie scheduled a news conference at the Breast Health Centre at the Civic Campus and invited media to attend.  With her signature candor she announced she had breast cancer – and would undergo surgery.  She wanted to let people know about her decision.

“It was a memorable moment, for sure,” Jackie says.  “There it was, front page of The Ottawa Citizen – above the fold,” she laughs.  “People were surprised, they were interested and, the best part – they were engaged!  Women started having mammogram parties – scheduling their mammograms together followed by lunch.  They said my story motivated them to get tested.  If my coming forward helped even one woman detect her breast cancer early and get treatment – it was worth it!”

The Citizen’s publisher at the time, Russell Mills, had an interesting offer after Jackie went public.  The paper would make a donation to the Breast Health Centre if her daughter Ellyn would run the 10K at Ottawa Race Weekend.   It was the first fundraiser at Ottawa Race Weekend and Ellyn’s first run and it started a trend!

Since then, Jackie and Team Holzman have been fundraising for The Ottawa Hospital for various areas of treatment and cancer research to the tune of $245,000.  But this year – Team Holzman returns to its roots, raising funds for the creation of a new, expanded Breast Health Centre at the General Campus.

Jackie says, since her diagnosis in 1998 – time and research has meant progress in treating the disease.  But one thing remains the same: “Following a diagnosis of breast cancer, the first question you ask is ‘What am I going to do?’  The Breast Health Centre can answer that, now, more than ever,” she says.  “1000 women and 300 men in Ottawa will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.  The program needs to grow because the need has grown.  Rapid diagnosis and expedited treatment in the early stages is the key!”

Jackie and Ellyn’s motivation for their fundraising and activism is simple: “We welcome anybody and EVERYBODY to click here for our Run for a Reason web page to donate and make an impact.  Our goal is achievable based on the experience of those who have come before us.  My sister, diagnosed a couple of years ago, benefited from improved treatments and better radiation therapy.  Research and practice has helped scientists and clinicians find better ways.  It’s what inspires me – to enhance the experience of those who will follow and to make a difference.”