Pink Pearl empowers young women battling cancer

Organizers and participants of the Pink Pearl Foundation weekend retreat gather at the White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa for a group photo. Jennifer Chornley/Special to the Advance

Organizers and participants of the Pink Pearl Foundation weekend retreat gather at the White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa for a group photo. Jennifer Chornley/Special to the Advance

Jennifer Chornley

Sepcial to the Advance

It was a weekend of empowerment and support for 20 young women who have faced or are facing the challenges of battling cancer.


The Pink Pearl Foundation held its annual fall retreat at the White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, for a weekend with emphasis placed on taking care of the whole person through activity and open dialogue in an intimate and supportive environment.

Elise Gasbarrino, founder of the Pink Pearl Foundation, says, “These retreats provide an atmosphere where the women can take time for themselves, pause in life and reflect while inspiring others who are have fought the cancer battle also.”

The retreats were developed into a format that would provide peer-to-peer support in an intimate surrounding, with three important components.

First is something for the participant, focusing on inner reflection and setting aside much deserved time for participant to break from everyday life and to focus on where they are and where they would like to be.

Second is something for the Pink Pearl organization, a guest speaker that opens up dialogue and educates about various topics, such as making healthier food choices or financial management.

This year’s guest speaker was Marci Shea-Perry, executive director with Camp Trillium, who focused on her own cancer experience.

Finally, something is given to participant to create - a memo they can take home. This year’s workshop was to create worry dolls.

Also, Heather Sinardo, peer-to-peer co-ordinator at the provincial division of the Canadian Cancer Society, made a brief presentation at the workshop.

The retreat participants provided valuable insight for Sinardo on how to create supportive web content for younger adults facing cancer, including workplace issues, relationships, intimacy, how to talk to children and educating caregivers and loved ones.

Also, to engage the younger adults, one participant suggested featuring more stories and experiences in the age groups from 18 to 35.

Sinardo also reminded the group there is a peer-to-peer support initiative where a young patient would be partnered with a peer that is age appropriate.

The Pink Pearl Foundation is a Niagara-born concept, as Gasbarrino is a Thorold native.

What started out as a simple dinner and dance in support of Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre 10 years ago, before the Walker Cancer Centre in St. Catharines, expanded into a foundation after two years.

It now provides in-hospital support packages and ask-the-expert sessions at various centres and hospitals in Hamilton St. Catharines, Brantford and Mississauga.

“When I was diagnosed with my illness at 21, I was surprised to find the lack of supportive resources available for someone my age and specifically targeted to women,” Gasbarrino said.

“As far as I knew at the time, there had not been a foundation like this established anywhere in Canada, especially for a niche market geared towards women between the ages of 18 to 40, which was my motivation to grow the concept.”

The idea of the Pink Pearl Foundation is to complement existing programs that may not have the expendable resources to focus on young women, working with organizations such as Wellspring Niagara and the Canadian Cancer Society.

“It is comprised solely of volunteers with an established advisory board. It’s a collaborative effort - we do what the woman want to see,” says Gasbarrino.

For more information, upcoming fund-raising events and inspirational stories, please visit


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