ONE FAMILY’S LASTING IMPACT
How a compassionate act of care led to years of recognition and celebration
On November 21st
, 2016 the elevators at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre worked double time as the atrium filled and began to buzz. Nominated staff, excited colleagues, grateful patients and loving families gathered to celebrate the 17th
annual Gerald Kirsh Humanitarian Awards
, known around here as the Kirsh Awards.
"It's this cross-section of people that tells you what Princess Margaret means," says Joel Kirsh, the late Gerald Kirsh's son. "It's not just a place for people to come and get good cancer treatment, it's an inspiration to the people who come here and it's an inspiration to the people who support Princess Margaret."
Along with the celebrated staff, colleagues and patients, the Kirsh family arrives in strides, with immediate and extended family in tow, multiple generations present. It's evident in their interaction and compassionate faces that all seem to resemble each other, that this family's connection is strong. As is their connection to Gerald Kirsh, father to some, grandfather to others, and the hospital that treated him.
In 1998 Gerald Kirsh was a patient here at The Princess Margaret. "When eventually it became clear that it wouldn't be curable, he spent his last couple of months here," says Joel Kirsh.
"He had a great team of doctors and nurses and caregivers."
It was there during his hospitalization, that the family spoke to Gerald, at his request, about how to recognize the staff.
The idea to nominate the team for a humanitarian award came into their heads, only to find there weren't any established at that time. They wanted to change that. When Gerald passed, the family asked people to donate to The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and that formed the funds to establish and run these awards each year.
Gerald's wife, Paula, along with her children Jennifer, Jeff, Joel and their families, have continued to uphold their tradition of participating in the awards ceremony each year at The Princess Margaret. They even mark the grandchildren's coming of age by making the opening speech at the ceremony.
"Coming back every year, to see how the kind of care, the kind of work that was done for my father has continued and really grown… that was one of the unexpected pleasures of doing these awards," says Joel Kirsh. The family sees this as a tribute to Gerald and feels pride seeing the awards flourish.
"My kids have grown up understanding what this cancer centre means to medicine in general, Toronto in specific and our family very specifically," Joel Kirsh says.
They are certainly not alone in that feeling of pride. Over the years, the Kirsh Awards have become engrained in the fabric of the Cancer Centre. It is evident in the Atrium full of people, faces of anticipation, and words of support.
"It's hard work working in a Cancer Centre. Any little bit we can do to recognize that sort of dedication and to ease their work, reward and recognize is a great privilege," Joel Kirsh says.