When Jane Weller began her career at the Alberta Cancer Foundation, her job as Foundation coordinator consisted simply of receiving donations at her office in the Cross Cancer Institute.
“It wasn’t very proactive,” she says.
But that was back in 1988 — the Foundation was still in its infancy, with just a handful of staff members in Edmonton and Calgary (that number has since grown to about 60). In that year, Foundation donations amounted to about $500,000 for the whole of the province, a sum that has since grown to tens of millions.
“The donations have just skyrocketed,” says Weller, whose career path has paralleled the growth of the Foundation, not to mention cancer research and the fund development profession.
During her 30-year tenure — including the first decade she spent as the Foundation’s sole development officer — Weller worked in every aspect of fundraising, helping to grow and launch many important initiatives. From organizing events and writing thank-you letters to donors, to matching donors with projects in need of funding and overseeing all of the organization’s fundraising efforts, Weller did it all — and loved it.
“I originally wanted to be a nurse, but after volunteering as a candy striper in a hospital, I thought, ‘I don’t think so!’” she says with a laugh. “I just wanted to be on the periphery [of medicine], and the perfect job just kind of fell into my lap.”
Not one for the spotlight, Weller has happily worked behind the scenes with staff, volunteers and patients to raise the funds needed to improve cancer research and care in the province.
“We only had our eye on one thing, and that was the very best for cancer patients and their families,” she says.
As years went by, the job became easier, in some ways. On top of growing public awareness about cancer, it helped that Weller had far more research successes to share with prospective donors.
“I think back to my early days, and I didn’t have much to tell them,” she says.
Because research hadn’t yet impacted survival rates for many cancers, many donors felt a cure was impossible and insisted their donations go to equipment investments rather than research efforts. This changed as the years passed and research efforts both in Alberta and elsewhere had enough time to bear fruit. “Now there are so many amazing therapies and immunotherapies. It just takes a long time,” Weller says.
Not surprisingly, Weller doesn’t measure her accomplishments by the many millions of dollars she has helped raise over the years. More gratifying, she says, has been working with talented teams of people toward a cause she believes in, and seeing huge changes to cancer treatment and patient outcomes. While one in two people will now get cancer in their lifetime, a number that has doubled during her career, “there’s never been a more promising time in cancer research,” she says.
Weller is now experiencing treatment improvements first-hand after discovering a lump in her breast two years ago. Following her diagnosis, she found herself being treated by clinicians she knew through her work as a fundraiser. She just recently made the difficult choice to step down from her post to continue her healing, though she will still volunteer with the Foundation, where her impact has been profound.
“No one has played a more significant role in the great successes in fundraising for the Foundation and in particular for the Cross Cancer Institute than Jane Weller,” says Bob Bentley, past chair and long-time supporter of the Foundation. “Highly respected by staff and donors for her passion and devotion, Jane became the heart and soul of the Cross. She has left an enduring legacy at the Foundation.”
Weller says her own circumstances make her think of the late Frank Sojonky, a well-known philanthropist, grateful patient and Foundation fundraiser whose signature line to potential donors to the Alberta Cancer Foundation was, “You never know, the life you help save could be your own.”
“I’m just so thankful now,” says Weller, “because obviously I’m on the receiving end.”