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World Cancer Day

Angela Olano

Gail Shantz began her 47 year career as a nurse at Grand River Hospital after completing her nursing training onsite, where the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre currently operates.

In speaking about her 47 years of service, Gail boasts about how lucky she was to have had the chance to work on almost every single floor, from being on the IV team to working with medical imaging. Her tenure, and no doubt friendly nature, led Gail to view the hospital as her home away from home. “I used to walk in the door and think this is my second home”, Gail recalls, smiling and laughing while she reminisced.

About a year from her retirement however, in September 2019, Gail discovered inflamed lymph nodes in her neck, which she initially thought “were nothing.” However, with her training and years of experience, she knew better than to let them be, and subsequently scheduled an appointment to have them checked out.

After a biopsy, Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself back ‘at home’, but - for the first time in 47 years - on the other side of the needle. 

Although shaken, Gail confidently explains that she quickly realized that if she had to have cancer, she felt incredibly lucky to be where she was. Through her cancer journey, her life as a staff member and as a cancer patient continually overlapped, creating a sense of comfort and home. Her room as a patient was her old nurse’s residence, her nurse training started in the old pavilion where now her cancer treatments currently take place. 

She had come full circle and so did many meaningful relationships she forged. Gail shared a story of a past patient undergoing cancer treatment years ago who Gail comforted at length during a procedure. The patient turned out to be a friend of a friend, and then years later, through a series of ‘six-degrees-of’ this same former patient (and breast cancer survivor!) reached out to Gail upon the news of her own diagnosis. They couldn’t be closer. “She helped me through my cancer journey, walked me through her scars and surgeries, gave me books to read, and became my support system.” 

The level of care within the Cancer Centre however is something that resonated the most with Gail. “It was one of the most incredible experiences, everyone was so wonderful- like a well-oiled machine. It made me proud to say I worked at this hospital.”  She went on to joke, “being an old nurse I thought I would be much more critical, but I couldn’t find anything to be critical of!”

In recovery and receiving maintenance treatments, Gail now spends much of her (well-deserved!) retirement at her cottage and (for the moment) video chatting with her grandson who was born last summer. And just yesterday, Gail interviewed to volunteer administering COVID-19 vaccinations in our local clinic. The embodiment of #careneverstops.

Looking to support our Regional Cancer Centre this World Cancer Day? There are lots of way contribute:

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7 comments


  • I worked with Gail in medical imaging and she was fantastic to work with. Gail was kind and caring, had a good sense of humour and was extremely competent! I loved working with her!

    Beth Burkhart on

  • Gail is an inspiration to all she has worked along side. A truly caring individual who is so full of love and laughter. She knows her craft and practices it exceptionally. Throughout this difficult journey she has keeped that smile and strengh of character. Wishing you a long, happy, healthy retirement .❤

    Anne Kuhl on

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