Calgary woman turns terminal cancer diagnosis into a way to touch lives across the world

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Calgary woman turns terminal cancer diagnosis into a way to touch lives across the world
WATCH: With only a short time left, Dina Salivan decided to make the most of her life. As Heide Pearson reports, she’s touched the lives of people around the world – Apr 14, 2017

With only a short time left after a terminal diagnosis, Dina Salivan is making the most of her life.

In 2012, Salivan was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that spread to her bones, then her liver. Last summer, she found out the cancer had spread to her brain, and she was given six to 12 months to live.

“I had to do up my will, and I just needed to know how I could make my money most valuable and how I could, you know, make it the most far-reaching,” Salivan said.

While she’s been through a struggle and is now taking oral chemotherapy medication, Salivan isn’t letting her illness bring her down.

“I’m very happy. I am, it’s taught me a lot of lessons and I enjoy my moments more and I don’t feel sad. Sometimes I feel scared but I, I’m grateful for my life you know,” she said.  “It’s just brought me tons of joy and like I say, I think it’s keeping me alive.”

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Wanting to spread that feeling of joy, Salivan wrote a letter, sending it to all her friends and attaching a sum of money, encouraging them to “pay it forward,” to help her make the world a better place.

Sixty to 70 letters and upwards of $50,000 later, the project has reached people across the world.

“One friend was in Africa, and she gave to a school in Africa, and these little kids have never seen a camera … and she took pictures of them all on a Friday … and the kids all decorated their own frames and then they could take their pictures home to their parents who have never had a picture of them,” she said. “And it was such an amazing moment.”

Another friend gave to a family of refugees living in Calgary, by buying them all their first snowsuits for winter.

“It just brings me a lot of joy to see,” Salivan said.

Salivan’s good friend Sue Ellis took part, paying it forward to a cause she feels passionate about — new refugees in Calgary. She used her money to help a teen who had been waiting more than eight months for her donated laptop to be repaired.

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“It was like, wow this is so nice. This feels good, and I got to feel as well, like Dina said — it doesn’t have to be a big thing, it’s just: here’s a little bit of joy to your day,” Ellis said.

Ellis said the pay it forward project has changed her outlook, and says she wants to carry Salivan’s giving spirit with her through her whole life.

“She has been a mentor and an inspiration in this way and in many other ways of how she’s been dealing with her illness,” Ellis said.

“If you’re ever having a bad day, go and buy someone a coffee or do something kind, help someone with their groceries,” Salivan added.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about making the world a better place. And when you do do that for someone, you have a better day, it’s unavoidable, you see the joy in someone’s face.”

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