'I feit like there was something eise I should do with my life'
CAROL ANN COLE BELIEVES in a well-ordered universe—one in which everything, no matter how awful, happens for a reason. So she has to believe something good came from the lump she found In her breast in 1992, just five days before her 76-year-old mother, Mary, also learned she had breast cancer. Otherwise, the long treatment they both endured and her mother's death 11 months later would be without purpose. And Cole might still be a high-flying vice-president at Bell Canada, Instead of finding deeper purpose as a tireless cancer crusader and fund-raiser. "I work just as hard, I get no salary and I'm forever on the road," she says, smiling from amid the clutter of her small apartment-office In a Halifax hlghrise. "But at the end of the day, I've never felt so fulfilled."
At 52, Cole—who was born in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley—has harnessed the energy, drive and ambition that took her from the typing pool to the executive ranks to now become the driving force behind the marketing of a small heart-shaped pewter pendant dedicated to her mother's memory. With $6 of its $10 price going to cancer research, she has raised more than $700,000 for that effort in just two years. In October, she received the Canadian Cancer Society's most prestigious award—The Terry Fox Citation of Honour—for her "extraordinary, heroic contribution to the fight against cancer." And every day, her Halifax mailbox overflows with warm thank-you notes from cancer survivors and the family members of victims who find comfort and hope in her brainchild. "It's people like you and your mom," wrote a Toronto woman who recently bought two Comfort Hearts In memory of a sister-in-law who died from breast cancer, "that make a difference In this world."
Cole and her mother, who were both living In Toronto at the time, fought the disease together. They took radiation treatments on the same day and bucked up each other's spirits when they Inevitably sagged. Cole eventually had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and the adjoining lymph nodes. It worked, but her mother's cancer was too far along. By the time her mother died, Cole, a single mother with one grown son, was back working as vice-president of Bell's installation and repair department. But the old drive to move up the company ladder was gone. "I was always a workaholic who loved every minute of It," she recalls. "Now, I felt like there was something else I should do with my life."
In January, 1994, she took an early retirement package and threw herself full time Into working with cancer patients. Five months later, on a visit to a Nova Scotia gift shop, she saw a shelf full of pewter Worry Hearts—designed, like worry beads, to soothe the holder during stressful times. At first, she bought 25 to pass out to cancer patients to hold while receiving treatment. Then, she thought: why not sell the pendants and use the money for cancer research? She persuaded the local manufacturer, Oceanart Pewter, to change the name and join the effort.
Next, Cole hit the sales circuit—making speeches, appearing on talk shows and doing whatever it takes to promote her shiny little hearts. So far, she has sent out almost 22,000 personal letters from her home. Her next goal: spending more time pounding on boardroom doors to get corporate support. "It's like my new life and the old one are coming together," she says. Now, If she can just convince her old business buddies to share her new passion and purpose.
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