Fundraiser for Ryerson journalism alumna fighting cancer


Ryerson alumna Tamara Gignac with her husband Heath McCoy and their son. (Image courtesy of Tamara Gignac)

Seasoned and up-and-coming journalists alike are rallying together to support one of their own.

A Meet-the-Press fundraiser is expected to take place on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at a downtown bar in honour of Ryerson alumna and Calgary Herald reporter Tamara Gignac, who has cancer.

Gignac, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, ages three and seven, and former Ryersonian editor, was diagnosed with inoperable stage-four colon cancer in June. The disease has since spread to her liver and lungs. Organizers say Tuesday’s event is meant to help Gignac and her family cover child care and medical expenses.

It’s also an opportunity for journalism students to mix and mingle with professional journalists from various newsrooms in the city.

An organizer, Lori Fazari, a copy editor at the Globe and Mail and a former colleague of Gignac’s, said the fundraiser was initially conceived as an informal gathering of industry insiders.

It was her idea to extend the invitation to students. “We’re getting all these professional journalists out, (and) I thought, ‘Why don’t we combine the two and get Ryerson students to come out?’…show them what kind of community we are and show our support, and raise as much money as we can,” Fazari said.

Part of the inspiration for Meet the Press came from the annual “Cabeer” night — a juxtaposition of “career” and “beer,” recently rebranded as “Pub Talks: A Night of Networking” — which is run by the Ryerson Journalism Course Union.

Gignac said she’s “over the moon” that members of the journalism community in Toronto are coming together to show their support. “As journalists, we spend so much time dealing with bad news…it doesn’t surprise me at all that journalists want to help and want to make a difference,” she said.

“I think it’s just natural — especially to be sad to find out one of our own is going through something so tough when we’re so used to writing about it.”

Gignac was happy to learn that the event would be held at the Imperial, as she spent many nights there with her peers when she was a journalism student at Ryerson in the 1990s.

“It’s been a long time, obviously, but that was our place. That was where we always went.”

Gignac spoke enthusiastically about her time at Ryerson, especially about her stint at The Ryersonian. “We would always break stories the Toronto Star would call us about, and we were always so proud,” she said. “We’d get a call from the city reporter at the Star saying, ‘How did you find out about this?’”

It was at The Ryersonian that Gignac met her husband Heath McCoy, a fellow Ryerson journalism graduate. “He wanted to write for The Ryersonian,” she said. “So he approached me about doing some writing for me, and I thought, ‘Oh hey. Easy on the eyes.’”

When McCoy was offered a job as an entertainment reporter at the Calgary Herald, Gignac had to make a choice: stay in Toronto, her hometown, or follow McCoy. “I moved out west for love,” she said.

Gignac applied for a job at the Herald and was hired as a business reporter. She has since moved around the newsroom, working the city beat before becoming a general assignment reporter and assignment editor.

A marathon runner who considers herself a “very healthy person,” Gignac was “absolutely shocked” when she found out about her cancer. She said she hopes her story will encourage others to get tested early.

“I really want people to be aware of their bodies. If you think something’s wrong, go get checked. Don’t end up like me where I’m kind of past the point,” she said.

But Gignac remains resolute, saying, “I just feel like I’m not going to go anywhere. I want to live.”

“Please let people know that their support means so much to me and it makes me want to fight even more to stay alive, and I will,” she said. “That’s exactly what I’m doing. I don’t want anyone to pity me. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am fighting this.”

Meet the Press will run from 6 to 9 p.m on Tuesday on the second floor of the Imperial Pub. For students, tickets will be available at the door for $10. For everyone else, tickets are $20. There will be a cash-only silent auction, the proceeds of which will go to Gignac’s trust fund.

Gignac’s friends and colleagues have organized another Meet-the-Press fundraiser in Calgary that is scheduled for the same day as the Toronto event.

Those wanting to make donations or learn more about Gignac can do so online.

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