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The Pink Pearl Foundation’s events team includes Ashleigh Meilach, left, Emma Toth and Courtney McNamara.

The donor: Elise Gasbarrino

The gift: Founding the Pink Pearl Foundation

The reason: To fund support programs for young women diagnosed with cancer

Elise Gasbarrino was on a student co-op program in Ottawa 10 years ago when she developed sharp pains in her abdomen. She returned home to Thorold, Ont., and medical tests revealed she had ovarian cancer.

Ms. Gasbarrino, who was 21 years old at the time, underwent surgery to remove a tumour, as well as chemotherapy.

"It was a very difficult time made easier by family and friends," recalled Ms. Gasbarrino, who is cancer-free and works as an account executive for Burberry in Toronto and New York.

During her treatments and recovery, Ms. Gasbarrino noticed that there were few support services for women her age. That led her to establish the Pink Pearl Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds in-hospital programs, retreats and scholarships for women between the ages of 18 and 40 who have been diagnosed with cancer. So far, the group has raised $185,000 in total.

Ms. Gasbarrino said she chose the name because pink pearls are strong and feminine. The foundation, she added, "has been amazing. It's definitely the coolest thing I've ever done."

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