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Health battles no stranger to Penticton hospital donors

Jennifer Stewart literally had to crawl on her knees in her fight against cancer.
Jennifer and Ray Stewart

Jennifer Stewart literally had to crawl on her knees in her fight against cancer.

Now Jennifer and husband Ray Stewart have donated $60,000 to the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation’s $20-million campaign to provide the medical equipment for the new Patient Care Tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.

The couple, who own a picturesque ranch south of White Lake, have incredible stories to tell about their lives and their individual battles with cancer.

Ray, 73, grew up in Port Arthur, Ont. (now Thunder Bay) and dropped out of school when he was 16 to work in a paper mill – earning twice as much as his friends employed at a department store.

However, he soon realized the value of a good education and went on to graduate from university with an honours bachelor of commerce degree and later a master of business administration degree from Simon Fraser University.  From humble beginnings, a successful business career would follow, including years in forestry, mining, banking and ranching.

Now retired, Ray continues to work as a business consultant. He is truly a self-made man.

“When you put pressure on (yourself), you just make life more interesting,” he remarked.

Ray wedded his high school sweetheart and they remained married for 26 years until her death in 1988.

He was later introduced by a friend to Jennifer and they have now been married for 26 years.  Ray and Jennifer built their home on 160-acre Sweet Water Ranch in 1990.

But life hasn’t been without its difficulties.

Jennifer is recovering from breast cancer and a double mastectomy earlier this year, after previous bouts with ovarian and cervical cancer, and brain surgery.

When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 15 years ago, Jennifer was told by doctors she only had a short time to live. She then agreed to undergo an experimental treatment at the B.C. Cancer Centre in Vancouver, which saw her battle her way through a regimen of drug treatments, returning home on weekends.

While recovering, she struggled to get back on her feet. Ray placed a number of chairs outside between the ranch house and the barn so she could feed their livestock.  Literally crawling the 100 feet between each chair, she slowly regained her strength.

“A lot of the time Ray couldn’t be here. He was in Toronto, so I was alone,” she recalled.

After managing to sit up on each chair, she was quickly approached by their animals and talked to them while she fed them.  It turned out to be great therapy.

“It kept me going, it really did,” she said. “No one is going to tell me to stay in bed.”

Ray, meanwhile, has experienced his own battle with prostate cancer after being diagnosed five years ago. He underwent radical prostate surgery in 2011.

Now the Stewarts are looking to help out the PRH tower campaign.

Their $60,000 donation is being made in part to honour Ray’s first wife Rita, and their sons Rod and Ray, and daughter-in-law Lesley.  Rod Stewart passed away in 2001 at age 35.

“It’s a legacy of Rita and Rod’s lives. It’s a tribute, reconfirmation and acknowledgement,” Ray Sr. said. “It’s something more than a gravestone. It’s something that’s going to last forever.”

The couple have five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Ray emphasized their donation is very important to the family, noting the hospital expansion will benefit the entire South Okanagan-Similkameen.

“I just think it’s the greatest thing that could happen,” he said. “It’s what is needed now and we’re going to need more in the future.”

Construction of the Patient Care Tower at PRH is set to begin in the spring of 2016 and be completed by late 2019.


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