Enduring friendship inspires cancer-research fund

Dianne and Irving Kipnes remember Rachel Mandel with matched gift

Laura Vega - 15 September 2019

Lynn and Stephen Mandel don't remember exactly when their friendship began with Dianne and Irving Kipnes, but they know it spans decades. Together, they have shared joy and grief. Their close bond of mutual appreciation and support was immortalized with a gift to propel blood cancer research in memory of Lynn and Stephen's late daughter, Rachel.

Friendship and inspiration

"Irv sponsored a team in the Jewish baseball league, and from there we got to know each other," said Stephen, reminiscing with a laugh about their time playing together. "Eventually he encouraged me to get involved in the community. Irv was instrumental in me getting involved in politics and philanthropy. He's always thought that nobody should wander through life and not give back… . Dianne is the same. They're two peas in a pod. They care about giving and they care about people."

The friendship progressed into trips together and joint philanthropic initiatives-the Mandels are passionate about supporting the arts and the Kipneses contribute to a wide variety of causes in Edmonton.

"Whenever we asked them to join us for something, there was never a time they said they couldn't do it," said Lynn. "They do things they really believe in and encourage everyone in their own capacity to do something good for others."

Lynn and Dianne text each other daily and the couples enjoy a weekly brunch date that has become a cherished tradition, at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club. The Mandels say they especially drew strength from those regular gatherings during one of their most difficult times―throughout their daughter Rachel's cancer journey.

Facing loss and searching for answers

Rachel Mandel had a close relationship with her parents Lynn and Stephen. A doctor of optometry, she was described by those who knew her as a joyful, compassionate woman with a passion for science. In 2015, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that develops in blood cells of the lymphatic system. Rachel was very involved in the process of researching about her treatment and acted as an advocate for her own health.

Despite Rachel's determination, the illness progressed and she passed away in 2017, survived by husband Mike Tighe and their son, Chase.

The Mandels remember how vital Dianne and Irving's support was to them during that time.

"They were there to support us all the way," said Lynn. "We still had breakfast every Sunday back then, and sometimes Rachel, Mike and Chase would come. Irv and Dianne were just there for anything. Everything. And you don't really have to ask them. Some people say, 'If there's anything I can do for you, let me know.' When you're in trauma, you don't know what you need. But Irv and Dianne don't ask, they just do."

"Dianne is just a wise soul," added Stephen. "She would give solace and help. They were always helping in many ways as friends would do. They both cared a great deal."

Giving hope: The Rachel Mandel Lymphoma and Blood Cancers Research Fund

After seeing what Rachel and other friends went through facing blood cancers, Dianne and Irving wanted to take their support further and help find better treatment options. The Dianne and Irving Kipnes Foundation donated $1-million for the establishment of the Dr. Rachel Mandel Lymphoma and Blood Cancers Research Fund with the guidance of the late Richard Fedorak, then dean at the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. The Alberta Cancer Foundation generously matched the Kipnes gift to bring the fund total to $2-million.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, approximately 8,300 Canadians are diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma every year.

Dianne recalls Rachel's illness as a very difficult time.

"We thought that she was going to be OK. But when there was a relapse, it became obvious very quickly that it was not going well... . It makes you feel so helpless when you realize that there's nothing you can do, but when you can at least fund research and encourage people to think about what can be done, you feel that you can help those in the future who might be facing the same challenge. It will be an enduring memorial to an indomitable spirit," said Dianne.

Honouring Rachel's scientific mind, the fund will support and inspire trainees at the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta (CRINA) pursuing innovative research projects related to diagnosis, treatment and prevention of lymphoma and blood cancers.

Touched by the gesture, Lynn and Stephen describe the memorial gift with one word: meaningful.

"The fund will not only support well-established researchers, but also the younger ones who probably need the support the most as they start their careers. We deeply appreciate that Irv and Dianne and the Alberta Cancer Foundation have created this research fund in Rachel's name. It is incredibly meaningful for us.