(Photography by Doug Nicholson)
Losing someone you love presents a choice.
Jason Fiorotto knew he could let his grief consume him, or he could try to channel his pain into something positive.
He remembers the night in 2017 when he gathered with family and friends to choose the latter option. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife of 14 years to breast cancer just a few months earlier, Jason’s agenda that evening was clear.
“We came together to decide how we could honour Tory in the best way possible,” he remembers. “I knew we could either let grief take over us, or use it to benefit the lives of others.”
And so The Tory Day Fund was created to fulfill one of Tory’s final wishes: to bring comfort to patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Even within a world-class treatment facility like Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, Tory experienced first-hand just how gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment can be. She learned how any comfort, no matter how small, could ease the toll of treatments.
Since that night in 2017, The Tory Day Fund has raised more than $250,000 for initiatives that bring more comfort to cancer patients – including $70,000 for patients at the Odette Cancer Centre – making it one of Sunnybrook’s largest community-driven fundraising campaigns.
At the heart of it all is Tory, and the riotous laughter and limitless love that Jason says made her an extraordinary wife, mother and friend.
A tribute to Tory
Jason says the remarkable fundraising success of The Tory Day Fund is due to the ability of his family and friends to share who Tory was in the most authentic way possible.
“When we’re fundraising, our first task is making sure that people who didn’t know Tory get a sense of who she was,” he explains. “And we want to share her story in a positive way, because that is most true to her.”
For Jason, Tory always made everything better.
She could kick any party into high gear, he says. She would go to great lengths just to get a laugh out of a friend.
“She loved nothing more than just stirring it up, just bringing total lunacy into our lives,” Jason says.
It made perfect sense when one of Tory’s oldest friends suggested calling The Tory Day Fund’s signature annual fundraising event the “Night of Nonsense,” a raucous evening of silliness to raise money for a great cause.
“Of course, you can’t manufacture nonsense,” says Jason of the event-planning process. “Nonsense has to happen organically, so we make sure the night celebrates all the things Tory loved. We have a glass of bubbly at the door for everyone with pink candy floss on the rim – it was Tory’s favourite colour and whimsical, just like her.”
Tory was also a ’70s girl, raised on disco, classic rock and her favourite, Stevie Wonder. That means no Night of Nonsense is complete without a live band playing “Sir Duke” and “Superstition.”
“We want people to come for Tory, but as with most fundraising events, we know the raw emotion can wear off after the first year,” Jason says. “The fact that we’ve been even more successful in our second and third year is a testament to Tory and how she was always able to bring people together.”
Comfort and care
Tory cared deeply about others, even those she’d never met.
In the advanced stages of her disease, Jason remembers how fortunate Tory felt to have a bed to rest in while receiving her chemotherapy. She knew that this option wasn’t always available, given limited resources, and that sometimes that meant receiving treatment in a chair that didn’t recline.
“Tory wanted more people to have the opportunity of a comfortable experience, because we both knew there were a small number of beds,” Jason adds.
By 2019, The Tory Day Fund had donated 16 padded, reclining chemotherapy chairs to the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook, allowing patients to rest comfortably as they undergo treatment.
Tory also knew the difference a buddy could make, Jason says.
Back in 1997, on her first day at computer hardware company IBM, Tory had the serendipitous fortune to be randomly assigned a “work buddy” to show her around the office. It was Jason. “It became our nickname for each other,” he says. “I was her buddy, and she quickly became mine.”
Their steadfast partnership continued over the years that followed as they built a life together that eventually included their daughter, Kate. From the extraordinary highs of parenthood to the unspeakable lows of cancer, they were a team. Tory’s first day of cancer treatment echoed her first day at work so many years earlier – Jason by her side, every step of the way.
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“It was intimidating and overwhelming when we arrived for Tory’s first chemotherapy session. Nothing can prepare you for it. We wanted to change that,” Jason explains.
When Jason spoke to the Sunnybrook Foundation about ways to bring more comfort to patients with cancer, he learned the hospital was piloting a navigation program. The program would help cancer patients find their appointments, provide coffee, a snack and a chat while they waited and provide information about available community supports. With funding from The Tory Day Fund, the program was launched in November 2017 and named the Patient Buddy Program – in honour of how a boy met a girl one morning nearly two decades earlier.
Making a difference
Today, Tory’s community is fulfilling her wish in an even bigger way than she had imagined, making the cancer journey easier for thousands of patients.
Jason says life without Tory isn’t easy, but there’s still comfort – and even joy – to be found. The day the chemotherapy chairs were unveiled at the Odette Cancer Centre was one of the happiest in recent memory for Jason. They were exactly what Tory would have wanted.
“Speaking for myself, our daughter and Tory’s friends and family, I can say that if we hadn’t taken on this effort, we would not be in the positive place we are today,” Jason says. “In 10, 15, 20 years, we’ll look back at the tragedy of losing our mother, wife, sister and friend, and I think we’ll see the impact that we’ve had on thousands of cancer patients at Sunnybrook and elsewhere – the impact Tory helped us have.”