Emmanuelle Gattuso

Emmanuelle GattusoEmmanuelle Gattuso knows what it feels like to hear the words ‘You have cancer’, and, fortunately, for others who hear those words, she has made it a personal priority to improve cancer care for Canadians.

Every three minutes a Canadian receives a cancer diagnosis, and last year, it is estimated that over 75,000 died of the disease in this country. With statistics like these, it is easy to see that anyone who can effect positive change for cancer patients would be considered a hero.

Emmanuelle and her husband, Allan Slaight, began their philanthropic support of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre with a donation of $1.5 million in 2001 which was used to create the first academic chair for breast surgical oncology in Canada, currently held by Dr. David McCready. Shortly thereafter, Emmanuelle was diagnosed with breast cancer herself and went from philanthropist to cancer patient overnight.

In her drive and determination to effect positive change for cancer patients, she and Allan made the decision to donate $20 million in order to turn a pilot project of Dr. McCready’s into a fully-funded clinic that allows women with suspicions of breast cancer to come to the centre, complete all tests and receive their diagnosis in a single day. By re-considering traditional procedures, taking advantage of new technology, and challenging the status quo, the breast team successfully realigned all the necessary resources to create a more efficient model for the patient, physician, radiologist and pathologist—the entire team involved in the diagnostic procedure. Given that the average wait time for a breast cancer diagnosis in Ontario was 37 days, this clinic, named in her honour, will allow 1,500 women each year to receive their diagnosis and treatment plan and avoid weeks of anxious waiting.

“I think that when Emmanuelle saw the opportunity to support Dr. McCready's dream, as a breast cancer survivor, she recognized the power that this centre would provide. For me, it alleviated the long wait times, gave me an immediate plan, some semblance of control, and the ability to move into treatment more quickly,” explains Kate Mlodzik, also a breast cancer survivor and a huge ambassador for the Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre (GRDC).

Lessons learned at the GRDC are currently being put into place for lung, pancreatic and prostate cancers as well.

In January 2013, Emmanuelle and Allan gave a huge lift to The Princess Margaret’s Billion Dollar Challenge in support of personalized cancer medicine with a historic donation of $50 million. This contribution is being used to create a ‘superfund’ that will allow the cancer centre leaders to attract the world’s brightest minds to come to University Avenue in Toronto and dedicate their energy and expertise to conquering cancer.

When presenting their $50 million gift, Emmanuelle talked about why she and her husband have confidence investing in The Princess Margaret. “We believe in the leadership of Princess Margaret, and we know that the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is best equipped to be a world leader in the field of personalized cancer medicine.”

Like many philanthropists today, Emmanuelle is very involved in the projects that she is funding. She expects results, and isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions when progress isn’t to her liking.

Before becoming a full-time philanthropist, Emmanuelle had a very successful career in media and public relations. She ran her own communications consultation firm, produced a number of award-winning TV programs, was Press Attaché for the Commissioner of Official Languages in Ottawa, and held senior roles with The Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

Emmanuelle also co-founded Canadian Women in Communications, a national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women’s issues and their participation in the communications sector.

In 2012 Emmanuelle and Allan were named Philanthropists of the Year by the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and in April 2013, Emmanuelle was named a Woman of Action by the Israel Cancer Research Fund. Reviewed: October 2013