By: Colleen Biondi
When Denis Gaulin married his young bride, Joyce, in 1956, he had hopes and dreams for their future in Edmonton. Gaulin got a job in sales and marketing with Willis Oil Tool Company, and, after 25 years, moved to Nutron Manufacturing, which was later acquired by Cooper Cameron. Joyce was a homemaker, hiker, a self-taught crafter and the primary caregiver for their four children. “She was our rock,” says Gaulin.
Life was good, but took an unexpected twist in 1988. Joyce was diagnosed with polycythemia, a cancer in which the body overproduces red blood cells. The treatment (hydroxyurea, a chemotherapy drug) helped manage the condition, but increased the risk for other blood cancers. Unfortunately, she developed leukemia in the summer of 2002. After several rounds of transfusions, platelet treatments and chemotherapy at the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI), Joyce died on Christmas Eve at the age of 68.
“Christmas was her favourite time of year,” says Gaulin. “We didn’t look at it as a bad thing. She was serene with all her family by her side.”
Since Joyce’s death, Gaulin has donated to the Alberta Cancer Foundation in a unique way. He contributes annually on her birthday (Nov. 5) and on their wedding anniversary (June 16). He also gives in honour of each of his grown children, grandchildren and six great grandchildren on their birthdays in memory of Joyce. His total donation over 20 years is estimated to be $20,000, with monies targeted to the CCI.
This donation schedule has become increasingly poignant over time — in 2004, his brother, Cam, died of prostate cancer. In 2006, his brother, Andy, died of brain cancer and, in 2017, June Skibin, a close family friend, died of pancreatic cancer.
From 2010 to 2019, Gaulin also gave the gift of time — transporting people in his vehicle to and from chemotherapy and radiation appointments at the CCI through the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wheels of Hope program. “I got to know them quite well,” he says. “I really enjoyed it and felt like I was giving back to the facility for the care and respect they gave to Joyce and our family.”
Since 2006, he has lived with his daughter, Michelle, and her husband, Jack, both certified fitness trainers and owners of Ageless Fitness and Health. The couple has on-site facilities adjacent to their home. They do one-on-one training with people who have health conditions, like cancer, or are preparing for or recovering from joint surgery. Gaulin trained there prior to recent hip and knee replacements. “As a result, I had no problems,” he says. “I blew right through the surgeries.”
He continues to exercise daily and walks in the neighbourhood when the weather suits.
In his spare time, Gaulin loves to travel. He has been to California for winter holidays and visited family in Boise, Idaho, his son Marty’s family in St. John’s, N.L., son Myles’ family in Penticton, B.C., and lots of time with son Mark in Edmonton. He also visits with family in Red Deer and frequently communicates with family in Ontario. Last summer, he went hiking in Banff and Jasper. Gaulin, now 87, knows donations are making a difference to cancer care — treatments are now less toxic than in Joyce’s day and outcomes are more promising.
“It is a small thing I am doing, but I know it is beneficial,” he says. “I am healthy and able to contribute this way. How fortunate am I?”