Dr. Ivo Olivotto practiced saving our lives at the British Columbia Cancer Agency for thirty five years. Over that time he saw thousands of patients and I was one of them, in 1991. I remember sitting in my one-size-fits-none paper gown in a chilly examination room waiting to hear my fate. When I heard a knock on the door, Dr. Olivotto asked if he could come in. What could I say - "No?" I wanted him to go away as much as I wanted him to come in but I had breast cancer and needed help.
23 years later I have come to appreciate the courage it took to knock on all those doors year after year and day after day. Each time his hand turned the door knob he brought his enormous expertise to treat cancers but he could never know for sure if it would be enough to rescue the woman on the other side of the door.
Dr. Olivotto has now moved on to other adventures in Calgary. The Agency send off party gathered his colleagues from around the province and Canada. Many were in tears as they testified to the powerful impact he had on their lives professionally and personally.
I shamelessly begged to be allowed on the program. Dr. Olivotto is an important part of our history and I couldn't let the opportunity pass to thank him on behalf of the CBCF, and patients. Two decades ago the CBCF in BC was a fledgling organization. Our offices were in our kitchens and basements, we had little money and we organized ourselves with a few volunteers. On this shaky foundation I boldly asked Dr. Olivotto if he would be our first Medical Advisor. After I got the question out there was an extended silence and a long, hard Ivo stare. Finally he said, "You aren't going away are you!" My knees were knocking and I could hardly believe my ears when
Over time Ivo opened important doors for us. We took merciless advantage of him by asking him to speak at our events. He arranged significant introductions for us and posed challenging and difficult questions as we evolved. He pitched in. At our first big fundraiser, The Run for the Cure, Ivo signed people up and walked with his mom whom he volunteered as a volunteer. He took a chance on us and I like to think that both he and the CBCF won the lottery.
At his professional send off, no one on the formal program represented his patients. It would have been impossible and inappropriate to contact the thousands of us. Regardless, I wanted to bring his patients to the event, at least symbolically, to let him hear once again how much his work has benefitted us. My quandary was how to thank some one whose shelves are already crammed with awards? How to thank a life saver? How to find something that would be a unique symbol of our gratitude and appreciation?
I thought of the energy it took to open all those examination doors, to direct students, to work with colleagues and to generate research here and internationally. Then I imagined a doorknob, but not an ordinary doorknob. It had to symbolize courage, compassion and style. I rummaged through antique and hardware stores throughout Vancouver . Finally I found a ruby red, faceted, glass doorknob that fit the bill. It was mounted on a solid, dark wooden chevron with a practical coat hook underneath the glass knob. It was the perfect BAWWW.
The BAWWW is bigger than the Oscars. No honour and no award can ever top it's inscription, "The Best Award in the Whole Wide World." I hope that every day when he hangs up his coat, Dr. Olivotto reads the inscription and knows how much he has been appreciated by so many. From all of us who have been on the other side of those doors, a heartfelt thank you Ivo.