Rita’s Generosity Lives on: Downsview Family Hosts Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway

In fall 2008, former Downsview resident Rita Qaqish was diagnosed with breast cancer, an illness that will affect 1 in 9 women in Ontario, and the most common cancer facing women.  With the loving support of her husband Muneer and her son Matthew, Rita bravely fought this illness for 7 years until it took her life in the fall of 2015.

On October 5, 2017 the family of the late Rita Qaqish held a free Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway in her honour at Yorkgate Mall to help spread awareness about breast cancer and to urge women to get regular breast screenings through mammograms.  Participants lined up well in advance of the event to receive a free frozen turkey and vegetables, a Grocery Gift Pack Voucher (redeemable after completing a mammogram at an Ontario Breast Screening Program site), and the opportunity to speak to experts about breast cancer screening.

“My wife always put the needs of others before her own.  Our family is making this donation so that Rita’s goodwill lives on and may even help save a life.” said Muneer Qaqish.

The Qaqish family partnered up with Toronto Public Health, Durante’s No Frills, Black Creek Community Health Centre, the Humber River Hospital, Yorkgate Mall, Councillor Anthony Perruzza, and DUKE Heights BIA in the creation of the event.

“The best chance to beat breast cancer is early detection”, said Judy Murray, Manager of the Chronic Disease Program at the Black Creek Community Health Centre located in Yorkgate Mall.  Judy is also a breast cancer survivor; after her regular breast screening in 2011, an abnormality was found and she underwent fast and appropriate treatment.  She has been cancer free since.

You can book a mammogram through your family doctor, but if you are 50+ years of age, you can simply book a mammogram directly by contacting the Ontario Breast Screening Program line at 1-800-668-9304 to find the closest screening site.

The Humber River Hospital (HRH) Breast Health Centre located at 1235 Wilson Avenue (416-242-1000 ext. 63600) is one such location to book your mammogram.  “The mammogram is the gold standard for breast cancer detection”,  said Jia Inacio, Breast Health Supervisor at HRH. “Our HRH Breast Health Centre has physicians, technologists, nurses, and navigators working together to help you. Through our Direct Referral program, your imaging and diagnostic tests can all be done in one day.”

Lisa Swimmer, Manager of Chronic Disease Prevention and Injury Prevention at Toronto Public Health, recommends healthy lifestyle choices in addition to regular breast cancer screening through mammograms.  Her list of healthy choices below can reduce the chance of cancer and also improves overall health and well-being:

  • Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, choosing lower-fat foods, and having meat alternatives such as beans, peas and lentils
  • Being physically active every day
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol use

While it is recommended for women aged 50-74 to be screened every two years, Lisa mentioned women who are in a higher risk category between the ages 30-69 should have yearly mammograms.  Women are in the higher risk category if they have had breast cancer before, have family members who have had breast cancer, are a confirmed carrier of a specific genetic mutation, or have a personal history of radiation to the chest before the age of 30.

Local area Councillor Anthony Perruzza was honoured to have the event in the Downsview community, “I want to thank the Qaqish family for their tremendous act of generosity.  The strength and love of this family is a great example for all of us.”

This month, make the time to get screened for breast cancer or urge someone you care about to be screened, it may save a life.

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