Lives Lived

Leanne Coppen

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Beautiful, courageous mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend, smart and witty writer, inspirational blogger. Born Dec. 2, 1971, in Toronto. Died April 27 in Toronto of metastatic breast cancer, aged 38.

"I don't focus on the pain and all the bad stuff, because … well, there's just so much, and it would distract me from all the good and beautiful things in my life."

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That's what Leanne Coppen said to a friend just six days before she died. These words capture who she was and the philosophy that defined her life.

To say that Leanne was a social connector is accurate, but misses the essential point. For Leanne loved a lot of people. Being part of her circle of friends and beloved family - as large as that circle was - meant membership in something akin to a club to which all felt privileged to have membership.

Leanne's genius was in showing us that, contrary to popular wisdom, the best clubs are not exclusive, but inclusive. A woman with many rare gifts, Leanne's rarest was for bringing together people from all walks of life who might otherwise never have met. Each and every person who belonged to her club was better not only for knowing Leanne, but for knowing all the people she knew. And, of course, they still are.

One of two children of Jann and Hugh Coppen, Leanne always had an enquiring, creative mind. A born entertainer, she wrote stories and acted from a young age. At 12, she was short-listed for casting as Anne of Green Gables in the CBC miniseries, and she lent her voice talent to the Ewoks TV series.

An Ontario Scholar and high-school valedictorian, Leanne obtained an honours BA in English from Huron College at the University of Western Ontario in London. This launched her successful career as a writer at public-relations firms, then as a freelancer in business communications.

In a life full of happy days, Leanne's happiest was in May, 2006, when her daughter, Georgia, was born to her and her husband, Axel Dhermilly.

Less than two years later, Leanne was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer. In the ensuing years, as she struggled with the reality of her fate, Georgia was foremost in her thoughts: "Oh, my baby," she wrote months before her death, "I just want to see you grow."

In October, 2008, a lifelong friend invited Leanne to share her journey in a blog for Chatelaine magazine. The ensuing contribution, Living with Breast Cancer (on her website at www.canceriscrap.com), crackled with raw honesty, passion, hope, insight and a mischievous sense of humour. Like the woman behind it, the blog proved immensely popular.

Those who knew Leanne know this: She celebrated everything she was given in life. But as much as she was given, she always reached down and gave back more.

Ultimately, she even taught us how to die: with undying hope, unstinting passion and fierce love to the very last second.



By Hugh Coppen, Leanne's father, and Greg Bolton and Diane Terrana, Leanne's friends.