Meet Elise Gasbarrino, Founder of the Pink Pearl Foundation, a community-oriented organization that provides support, facilitates connections and empowers young women who are courageously overcoming the social and emotional challenges of being diagnosed with cancer. As a cancer survivor herself, we’re inspired by her fearlessness, and ability to use her personal experience to others. Here, she tells her story, gives important advice on how to support loved ones who are battling cancer and discusses her biggest career reward yet.
Congratulations on your success with the Pink Pearl Foundation! Can you share a bit about your personal story that inspired the launch?
Thank you! It is definitely a team effort. We have an amazing group of volunteers.
My personal story goes back to when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 21. While undergoing treatment, I felt certain elements were missing from my experience—a way to connect with women my age facing the same issues, and a means for us to conquer our issues together. The summer I was sick my family started a benefit for the hospital I received treatment at, Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. From there, we started to develop programming with the centre & now work with other amazing partners in cancer care.
I am so grateful for the opportunity we have to help women in our community. Cancer isn’t a journey anyone chooses, but I think Pink Pearl makes it a little easier for our participants.
In what ways has connecting with real women undergoing the same issues helped you through treatment and even today?
Well when I was undergoing treatment I didn’t have many other women to talk to, which is why Pink Pearl was born. Today facilitating the retreats and attending our events helps to me to reconnect with that time in my life and reflect. It is a great feeling knowing we can help woman that were in a similar position to myself.
Besides online, how does the foundation bring women together?
The Foundation’s main support programs are in-person, as we believe the best kind of conversation happens when you’re sitting in a room supporting each other.
Our suite of supportive programs include: Overnight & Day-long wellness retreats, Local Socials, and Family Support Days. We also provide hospitals and wellness centres across Ontario with Pink Pearl Support Packages for young women who have been recently diagnosed with cancer. Annual we offer a scholarship to one young woman enrolled in post-secondary education, who is actively involved in her community, and who is living with cancer.
Is there a reoccurring theme within each of the women’s stories?
The reoccurring theme is not so much in their story, versus their desire to share their story. Many of the women we support are simply looking for someone who will listen and relate. Our support programs are judgment-free and allow the women to open up about anything and everything they’re going through. We now include a “Tell Her Story” session at our retreats for the women to share their stories in unique ways.
What’s been the biggest personal reward from the foundation so far?
The biggest personal reward from the Foundation so far is that we have supported over 500 young women with cancer in southern Ontario in just over 4 years. We see the positive impact we have on young women, and know that we will continue to empower these women and so many more. Our work is just getting started.
What’s your best advice for those who are supporting someone who’s battling cancer?
My best advice for those supporting someone who’s battling cancer is to be positive, talk to each other, be open to the highs and lows and get the support you need so you don’t burnout. There are many organizations that provide support for the supporter as the stresses of supporting someone battling cancer can add up, and in the end it’s about positively supporting each other through ones cancer journey.
How can one support the foundation?
There are multiple ways one can support Pink Pearl Foundation: you can join us at our annual fundraising event, Black & White with a Touch of Pink, held in Toronto every April; you can host your own awareness raising and fundraising initiative anytime throughout the year; or you can make a donation that will directly support our fully-funded programming for our program participants via our website.