Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 22, 2007
Cecilia Johnstone fights on for women
Alternative treatment for cervical cancer fund established in her name
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Madam Justice Cecilia Johnstone, a brave soul who fought against discrimination against women, is now being remembered for her brave battle against cervical cancer.
A new endowment fund that paves the way for doctors to research alternative treatments for cervical cancer has been named after Johnstone, who succumbed to the disease last spring at age 54.
"The purpose of the endowment fund is to raise money in my late wife's name to provide an additional resource for cancer doctors here to assist women who have cervical cancer," says John Day, Johnstone's husband, who set up the endowment with some of Johnstone's close friends.
About 1,400 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and a third of them will have their lives shortened by the disease.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation manages the Cecilia Johnstone Endowment Fund as part of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women campaign.
A brave warrior
"Cecilia was a remarkable woman of accomplishment and distinction," said Day, an Edmonton lawyer and developer. "When she was diagnosed with cancer at age 49, she tackled this challenge like any other, with voluminous energy, intensity and a will to succeed."
Johnstone's prognosis was poor from the onset, but she and her husband refused to accept that prognosis and immersed themselves in research of alternative therapies and treatments. As a result, she lived much longer than doctors predicted.
Her chosen course of treatment involved traditional methods of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, along with an alternative treatment called immune therapy, which stimulates the activation of white blood cells to recognize tumours as foreign and destroy them.
"I know we were looking for hope and had we not found an alternative therapy, quite frankly, I don't know what we would have done," Day said.
A former chair of the board of the Western Catholic Reporter and chancellor of Newman Theological College, Johnstone spent much of her legal career fighting for women's rights in a male-dominated profession. She did the same in the Church, where she advocated for equality for women on all fronts.
"Why shouldn't women be ordained?" she asked in a 1993 WCR interview. "I think it would be wonderful if we followed some of the other churches who have already done just that."
When Johnstone became provincial general of the Friars in 1993 she made history as the first woman to hold such a post in the 33-year history of the formerly male-dominated organization that raises funds for the post-graduate education of male priests and to pay the cost of operating Newman College and St. Joseph's Seminary.
Johnstone's stint with the Friars was one of many incursions into traditionally male-dominated territory. In 1990 she became the first female president of the Canadian Bar Association's Alberta branch. Later that year she became the CBA's national president, a post that has been held by only two women in the association's history.
Old boys' network
"Up until now the Canadian bar has been very much an old boys' network," she noted at the time.
In 1996 Johnstone was installed as the first female chancellor of Newman Theological College, serving in that position for many years.
"Her life was one of helping other people, particularly women," Day said. "I think she would have approved enthusiastically of a fund like this that will help other women with cervical cancer."
The endowment fund-which already has more than $235,000 in donations-will allow local medical professionals who are dealing with cancer to invite international cervical cancer researchers to speak about alternative treatments and explore innovative treatments and therapies at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, which will open in 2008.
Letter to the Editor - 02/19/07