South African born Vanessa Melman -Yakobson, received the Health
Award, for her role in leading the campaign in the identification
and promotion of the unique needs of pediatric cancer patients
and their families.
campaign to raise awareness of the issues surrounding children with
cancer began when she discovered a lump on her neck while on a visit
to South Africa in 1984 and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease
on her return to Toronto. Though only 13 years old, she was convinced that
her illness was an experience she was meant to go through, and that she
was to learn and teach others as a result.
Vanessa became actively involved with the Terry Fox Foundation, acting
as a Terry’s Team Member who traveled to schools across York Region,
raising awareness for the Foundation and delivering the message that “cancer
can be beaten”while in high school. She also initiated a drug education
group, which used drama as a teaching tool and helped lead an annual sexual
assault seminar. Her work was recognized with a Town of Markham Civic Recognition
Award. She was voted Valedictorian and received a Terry Fox Humanitarian
Award scholarship to University.
She continued to raise funds the Terry Fox Foundation as well as for other
causes while studying drama at the University of Toronto.
Upon graduation, she joined the Cott Corporation as a Client Services Manager
in their marketing group and later the Monitor Company. While there she initiated
a fundraiser for the Terry Fox Foundation which became an annual effort, even
beyond her employment at the companies.
Vanessa completed her MBA studies at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management
at Northwestern University in Chicago.
joined Procter & Gamble as an
Assistant Brand Manager upon graduation. Once
again, she recognized the opportunity to leverage the corporation for
fundraising purposes and the Terry Fox Run event
there raised $20,000 in its first year. To date, the companies where Vanessa
has initiated Terry Fox fundraising activities have raised a total of approximately
In 1994, she was invited by her oncologist, Dr. Mark Greenberg, one of the founders
of Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO), to chair a Survivor Cluster Group
to contribute to a White Paper that was being prepared for the Ontario Ministry
of Health on pediatric cancer care and control. The initiative was called the
Provincial Pediatric Oncology Working Group, and advocated on behalf of the survivor
and patient populations.
Years later, POGO approached for help with fundraising. Vanessa and her father
agreed to support these efforts and launched a campaign to secure the $2 million
required to establish the POGO Chair in Childhood Cancer Control. This goal has
been accomplished thanks to her and those of her father and the POGO Young Leadership
Fundraising Committee, which she founded and Chairs.
Today, with the support
of POGO staff and the fund raising evnts supported by corporations, foundations
and many individuals, that endowment sits at close to $3 million. What is also
of great significance is that there has been a tremendous increase in the awareness
of POGO and of the issues surrounding pediatric cancer.
is currently POGO’s Development Officer and is working to establish
the POGO Childhood Cancer Foundation which will support the Chair,
as well as
POGO’s staff symposium, and Research Unit.
Vanessa ends her autobiographical account of her experiences, entitled Survival
with, “I will survive”.
the years, she has come to recognize the value of not only surviving,
but thriving, and of striving to live life to the fullest. She also
remains passionately committed to the idea of giving back. Her goal
now, is to translate the skills learned in her graduate studies and
corporate experiences, along with her experience as a patient and survivor
of childhood cancer, to ensure that all children with cancer, and their
families, receive equal access to state-of-the-art care, and to find
ways to beat this
disease and its aftermath.
Vanessa states: “I feel blessed for having found
this point of convergence. This is the point at which my premonition - that I
must learn from my experience with Hodgkin’s Disease and teach others as
a result - comes true.”
South African Women for Women salutes Vanessa Yakobson for raising our level
of awareness of the many issues impacting children with cancer and their families
and her extraordinary fundraising efforts.