The Ride of My Life

The following are selected excerpts from The Ride of My Life, a memoir written by Gerry Pencer, and published after his death, in 1999. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Trust. Please click here to purchase The Ride Of My Life, Gerry Pencer’s inspirational autobiography.

“I hear the hum of the drill, but I don’t feel a thing as it enters the left side of my head, just above my ear. I’m lying here, on my back, on the operating table about to undergo a craniotomy to have my malignant brain tumor removed. This is one of the most difficult surgeries there is, and I’m going to be awake through the whole thing, which, you’ve got to believe me, isn’t my idea. Actually, I expected to be a lot more afraid than I am. Anybody who knows me would think I’d be totally terrified right now. But I’m not the least bit frightened. My head is strapped into a harness to keep it stationary. I feel completely helpless, which I don’t like one bit…

I’m lying here thinking about thirty things at once, which is typical. I’m thinking about my family and friends in the waiting room. My beautiful wife, Nancy, and our kids, Stacey, Holly, and Clarke, and Stacey’s husband, David Cynamon, whom I love like a son. My brothers Sam and Bill, and their families are there too. So are Nancy’s mother and her brothers and their wives. I’ve had many lives. My Toronto life, when I turned Cott into a comet. My Calgary life, when I turned a Honda dealership into Financial Trustco Capital Ltd., a $2-billion financial conglomerate. My life in Montreal, where I turned one gumball machine into the largest institutional caterer in the city. I’m thinking about how I got here. How I’ve been down before. How I’ve always beat the odds. And how I’m going to pull it off again this time. If my life has taught me anything, it’s that what may seem to be the worst tragedy or mistake can turn out to have positive implications…

One thing that has become apparent is how separate all the various treatments are. I had my radiation therapy and then my stereotactical therapy, but there wasn’t any integration…

That’s when the idea of setting up a foundation to deal with brain tumors came to me. It was a quick decision. But it felt right. I want this to be the best-funded center of its kind. I don’t like half measures. My career has been built around being an innovator, never giving up, making things happen, being a catalyst for change, a change maker. I want to bring that to the foundation. My approach has always been to turn a negative into a positive…

I want to have medicine, social work, nursing, clinical trials, medical imaging, and psychiatry under one roof. We want to support everything from basic research to more complex research such as gene therapy as well as patient care and clinical aspects… It’s important to me that our facility is a place that’s friendly to patients. I don’t want it to look like a hospital…We want patient care to be the top priority... I also want to offer hope… I’m so convinced that I want to make a difference to people.”

Excerpts from the Epilogue
by Nancy Pencer
“Our strongest commitment to Gerry’s memory was to fulfill his vision of establishing a Center of Excellence at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. It was with enormous pride and satisfaction that The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Tumor Centre officially opened its doors to patients and families on November 18, 1998. Gerry’s dream was to raise awareness about brain tumors and to raise funds on behalf of The Centre. Hanging in the conference room are the boxing gloves that Gerry wore to the Cott 1997 annual meeting. They are there to inspire patients in their fight against the disease that has brought them to The Centre.

The Centre is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of patients and their families who live everyday with brain tumors. The success of The Center can be measured by the positive impact that it has had on those who have come in for treatment, support, education, or just to take a look around. The Brain Trust and Centre advisory boards include Gerry’s family, his close friends and many of Toronto’s pre-eminent cancer researchers.

Some might think that Gerry’s roller coaster ride came to a halting stop on the day that he died, but for us, his family and those who were fortunate enough to know Gerry, he’ll always be with us. He would encourage us to hang on, enjoy the thrill of the ride, and never give up. Gerry wanted his legacy to be the inspiration that others can take, not from the way he died, but from the way he lived. We won’t ever forget you, Gerry. Rest in peace my love.”

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