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A Day in the Life of Emmanuelle Gattuso

February 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Success Story


Emmanuelle GattusoA private express elevator glides to the 20th storey of a Cumberland Street condo, opening up to Emmanuelle Gattuso’s immaculate oasis in the sky. The stark white walls of wonder act as blank canvases for contemporary artists like Tim Whiten and Barbara Steinman, leading the way to a self-fulfilling great room. It’s 10 a.m. on a mid-January morning and a thick billow of morning fog is dampening the impact of 11 foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows, which on any given Sunday would offer an unrivalled Yorkvillian view.

What starts to feel like trespassing after-hours at an art gallery is quickly curtailed by the raucous voices of Gattuso’s poodles, which protectively ensure that not a single soul slips by. “This is James and this is Stewart,” she says, stepping out of her office. It’s not what you think. While she may have a wonderful life, the pups are actually named after magician Stewart James, whom her husband, broadcast baron Allan Slaight, deeply admires. The youthful 64-year-old is dressed in her signature print of leopard and knee-high camel boots designed by Rocco P., her favourite Italian boot maker. Her fiery hair and thick-framed Vue dc glasses reveal shades of her eccentric personality.

Her sweet smile and contagious laugh hit you like a train on a track. This rose-coloured composition, however, paints a much different picture than a decade ago, when Gattuso received a freight of bad news. “My father died in 2001, and a year later in October 2002, my best friend died of ovarian cancer. Three weeks later my mother died, and then I get word that there’s something wrong with my mammogram,” she says, adding that her sister was being treated for breast cancer at the time. The six-week long wait to find out her test results fell over the family like a dark cloud. By the time Princess Margaret Hospital oncologist Dr. David McCready called her into his office to discuss the news, she managed to convince herself that everything was fine. It wasn’t. Gattuso was told, like more than 23,000 Canadians every year, that she had breast cancer. “I was so stunned. Then [Dr. McCready] explained to me what was going to happen and the surgery and so on, and I think I was in kind of a daze, and then we got into the car and my sister called me and I said, ‘I … I …’ then I started to cry.”

That was late 2002. Luckily her cancer was detected in stage one, and her treatment plan was highly effective. Today, the grandmother of five has a slate of reasons to be happy. Reasons that go far beyond her personal health. “I feel good, I feel privileged that I can help people go through this situation in a much better way,” she says, referring to her recent philanthropic milestone. Driven to diminish the stress of patients who worriedly have to wait for breast cancer results (average of 33 days in Canada), Gattuso jumped on-board with Dr. McCready’s precedent-setting vision to create a centre that would give individuals their assessment, diagnosis and treatment recommendations in just one day. “He explained to me what he was thinking and that, you know, we have to run a pilot program first to see if it really would work and so I was excited. I thought, ‘this is incredible.’”

Over dinner one night, she informed her husband about the multi-phase project and how it would significantly change the lives of women by lessening the anxiety that coincides with not knowing. “My husband said, ‘Well what can I do to help?’ So I said, ‘Maybe you can get the ball rolling and make a donation?’ And he said, ‘Well OK, how about if I gave half?’ I said, ‘that would work!’” In addition to donating $12.5 million in 2009, the Gattuso-Slaight family began matching public donations, rallying support from friends and family and organizing events. “She’s been intimately involved with all aspects … She doesn’t do it for any personal accolades, she does it for the fact that she’s been through it and she knows people that have been through it and she thinks, ‘why can’t we do it quicker and better?’” says Dr. McCready. Her dogged efforts to meet an ambitious fundraising goal of $25 million came to a happy ending on Dec. 24, 2011, when her husband topped off the campaign with a final donation for the remaining amount. “That Christmas gift, of course, was the greatest Christmas gift ever,” she says, beaming with Stewart in her lap. The Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital is working to increase its volume to see 3,000 women and men annually in its final phase this year or next. “I feel very privileged that I can do this, and also that my husband is such a generous benefactor to many, many causes.”

Benevolence is one of the qualities that attracted Gattuso to Slaight more than two decades ago. In a circumstance of serendipity, she was introduced to him by a mutual friend, the late senator Finlay MacDonald, while working as a communications director for the Commissioner of Official Languages in Ottawa. At the time, Slaight had just acquired Standard Broadcasting Corporation Ltd., and was in Canada’s capital overseeing a television station. He possessed the entrepreneurial spirit of her father and the humanitarian heart of her mother, but it was his reaction to her independence that solidified her interest. Gattuso recalls a particular instance in the early dating stages where she had agreed to attend an event with Slaight in Toronto and had to cancel last minute due to a national project that fell on her lap. “He said ‘that’s fine, not a problem. Why don’t I come to Ottawa and you can work, and you know, we will go out to dinner or we will order in, whatever you feel like.’ He was always so easy and he always said to me, ‘I totally respect you, you have lots of responsibilities in your career and I know what it’s like.’ So that was a big thing for me.” The pair married in Martha’s Vineyard 18 years ago.

Only when asked what an average day is like is Gattuso lost for words. The packed suitcase sitting in her bedroom from a cancelled trip to Florida is tangible evidence of life’s unpredictability. Aside from waking up early, enjoying a café latte and poring through the pages of seven newspapers that get delivered to her every morning, the closest thing to pattern in her life is a Douglas Coupland piece in her hallway that features rows of coloured pencil crayons. “I don’t think there is an average day,” she says. For now, reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs and exploring personalized cancer treatments are two items on her to-do-list. “It’s one day at a time. One hour at a time.”


5 Responses to “A Day in the Life of Emmanuelle Gattuso”

  1. Donnie Jewell on January 22nd, 2013 10:12 pm

    I would Love to get in contact with Emanuelle Gattuso. My Mother passed away from cancer….Thankfully with donations like hers I had extra years with my Mother who I talked to every day and miss every day. I would appreciate to know where to send her a message.

    Thank You

    Donnie Jewell

  2. Arlene Beaudin on January 23rd, 2013 12:16 pm

    What a great thing you have done!!! I went through breast cancer in 2000 at the age of 53 and was treated next door to Princess Margaret at Mt. Sinai, it is one of the scariest experiences which we are not prepared for.
    Thank you again.

  3. Lynne on January 23rd, 2013 1:55 pm

    Do you realize that you have now doomed countless animals to cruel, horrible experiments for the sake of cancer research & that a cure was found in 1935 but was not allowed to be used because pharma would lose billions of dollars.
    You think how wonderful you are, but many animal lovers disagree vehemently.

  4. Elly De Winne on January 23rd, 2013 2:03 pm

    I just read your article about the work you do for breast cancer patience.
    What a wonderful lady you are – you really make a difference – in thousands of women’s life.

    I have a friend who just has gone through the MOST discuptive period in her life. Double mastectomy because of cancer. My heart bleeds for her and then I read about you and the work you do, for cancer patiences,this really lifts my spirits that there are people out there to help other people to help them for a better chance of live.

    May you stay healthy and know that you make a difference !

    Kind Regards,

  5. Tara on January 23rd, 2013 6:58 pm

    I am not understanding why after billions of dollars of donations to cancer “research” there is not much accountability, as in where does the money go? Also, I rarely hear about how Vitamin D is a big deterrent to breast cancer. I do not hear anything about what in the world is being sprayed in our skies, constant chemtrails (good footage on utube), I am not hearing about the cancer link in GMO foods that are poisoning us all; I am not hearing about fluoride in our water, I am not hearing about the pesticides that are assaulting us.

    Where does the money all go in cancer research —could it be that cancer is a huge, lucrative big business and in certain interest groups not in their specs to find a cure?? I have heard how the Cancer Society itself closes studies that are finding affirmative information to fight the disease. I believe there are so many alternative “cures” that are not mentioned by mainstream media and Doctors. Wake up people, don’t believe everything the Cancer interests tell you!!!

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