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Brain trust gala commemorates Gerry Pencer

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From left, Holly Pencer-Bellman, executive director of the Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Trust; Brain Trust president, Nancy Pencer and Stacey Cynamon, officer of the Brain Trust. David Lee photo

The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Trust held its 14th Annual Brain Trust Gala on May 28 with 560 guests celebrating “A Night at the Castle” at Casa Loma and raising $800,000.

Gerry Pencer, philanthropist and CEO of soft-drink maker Cott Corporation, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1997 and died the following year at age 53.

During his illness, he searched for information, answers, treatment options and support for both himself and his family, all of which were hard to find. He set out to change that and was determined to do it big, the way he did everything.

“My dad, Gerry Pencer, was larger than life. He always thought outside the box, living 100 years in his 53 years of life,” said Holly Pencer-Bellman, executive director of the Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Trust.

Before his death, Gerry pledged $4 million to finance what is now Canada’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary brain tumour centre, dedicated to revolutionizing the way patients are diagnosed, educated, informed, treated, and supported throughout their illness.

The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Tumour Centre (PBC) at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital was established in 1998 and has grown to become the largest multidisciplinary clinic in Canada, and one of the largest centres of its kind in the world, treating more than 200 patients weekly.

To date, the trust has raised close to $11 million to help find a cure for brain cancer and provide care and support for brain tumour patients and their families.

Every day, 27 Canadians are diagnosed with a brain tumour and an estimated 55,000 Canadians are surviving with one. There are over 120 different types, making effective treatment very complicated.

As president of the PBC, Nancy Pencer plays a hands-on role.

“It’s really important to me to spend time talking with the families, and putting a face to a name. We’ve been through this. It’s not easy. It’s scary, and I feel I can contribute,” she said.

“People have described Gerry as an entrepreneur and one of the great innovators in Canadian business, but what I saw was the impact that he had on his family. The way his family has come together and continues to with such passion and support is, I think, the greatest testament that any man or woman can leave,"said Paul Alofs, president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Foundation. 

Lynne Terry, a patient at the PBC, was diagnosed in 2006 with oligodendroglioma, a rare and incurable form of brain cancer.

“I was given five to 10 years, and here I am knocking on the door of eight years! When you walk into the PBC, there are smiling receptionists, there are doctors, nurses, volunteers and counsellors, all there to help. It changes lives for the better,” she said.

“We are making progress in this disease. There has been a very significant change in outcome for patients with a variety of brain tumours in the last 15 to 20 years, and that has been very gratifying. People are living longer with this disease,” said Dr. Warren Mason, the PBC’s medical director.

The trust’s annual galas are known for their uniquely themed events, raising both awareness and funds to help finance state-of-the-art treatment and research at the PBC.

Attendees were entertained by such things as the Jester’s Cabaret, a casino where they were given a special currency to buy chips for the casino, raffle tickets or to bid on surprise pop-up items that were auctioned throughout the evening. Couples could also renew their wedding vows at the Cherub’s Chapel of Love or have their fortune taken at the Mystic Lair.

“Gerry loved to party. He would have loved this gala and all that it represents,” Pencer-Bellman said.

For more information visit www.pencerbraintrust.com.

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