Breast Cancer Action Quebec mourns friend and mentor Rosanne Cohen

ROSANNE COHEN 1957-2020

Tribute by Patricia Kearns, Research and Networking Adviser, Breast Cancer Action Quebec

It is with heavy hearts that we share with you the sad news that Rosanne Cohen died on July 16th, 2020. Rosanne was our friend, mentor, colleague and the first executive director of our organization. If you were lucky enough to meet her, you will not forget her.

Rosanne was a vivacious, insightful and truly warm person whose commitment to fighting toxics in our environment was deep. Her joyfulness was contagious, and it permeated all her work. No matter how serious the issue or tough the challenge, Rosanne infused the problem with her special brand of joie de vivre and the results were remarkable.

Rosanne began volunteering for Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) in 2008, joining the Speakers’ Bureau after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and received treatment for the first time.

Rosanne Cohen with Board members Deena Dlusy-Apel and Maychai Brown

She was soon invited to join the Board of Directors and, in 2010, was named our first Executive Director. She left a fulfilling career in film and television to advocate for women with breast cancer and join the fight for prevention.

Many salient BCAM moments happened under Rosanne’s leadership. A fierce advocate for young women’s voices in the safe cosmetics movement, Rosanne championed our youth project FemmeToxic alongside our then administrator, Janice Melanson.

She was a natural with our student interns and young volunteers and with her guidance, they transformed FemmeToxic into a peer-run collective. At their SOCK HOP fundraiser, Rosanne, always a kid at heart, was one of the last to leave the dance floor!

When our organization was living through a difficult financial period, Rosanne made a passionate pitch to the staff and Board proposing we use some of our diminishing funds and hire a feminist expert in youth affairs to write a grant application for our FemmeToxic project. A risky move, requiring a leap of faith, she convinced everyone that focusing on youth was the right thing to do. BCAM received the grant from Status of Women Canada which funded a two-year project to develop leadership within communities of marginalized youth, led by the new youth coordinator, Naïké Ledan.

Rosanne Cohen photo by Patrizia Pino

A few months later we were awarded a grant from the Catherine Donnelly Foundation to support Prevention and Action against Cancer and Toxicants (PACT) a project in partnership with Environmental Defence Canada (EDC). At a meeting in Toronto with Maggie MacDonald, their Toxics Program Manager, there was no stopping the flow of ideas that emerged. Rosanne’s parting words to Maggie mentioned our next meeting and somehow she included a joke about Montreal and pyjamas. Rosanne’s unique sense of humour and way of being in the world endeared her to people. Effortlessly, Rosanne forged important organizational bonds and friendships that still exist today. She was simply, the cat’s pyjamas.

In 2014, breast cancer recurred for Rosanne and she needed more treatments. So, she resigned from her position as Executive Director but stayed close. She rejoined the Board of Directors; we were fortunate and delighted to still have her input and energy. In 2016, she, and her much adored René, moved to “Sutton the Beautiful”, as she coined it, an area of Quebec they frequented for years on weekends and holidays, when their son Oliver was growing up. Rosanne being Rosanne found the progressive people there and was invited to join a slate of citizens seeking political change at the local level. In 2017, Rosanne became Councillor Cohen of District 4! When she came over for supper chez nous with Viorica, her dear friend and BCAQ’s administrator, she insisted we call her Councillor Cohen. ALL. NIGHT. LONG. We never laughed so hard.

Rosanne was a dedicated and diligent municipal politician and eventually she had to leave our Board, but she was always available for consultation, continued to be a monthly donor and said yes to our invitation to speak at our panel “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Breast Cancer but Were Afraid to Ask” in 2018.

The last time I saw Rosanne was in February 2020. She was in town for a chemotherapy treatment for indolent lymphoma which she believed she developed as a result of one of her treatments for breast cancer.

Throughout the pandemic we spoke on the phone. Her March-treatment was cancelled due to it and her April-treatment was cancelled because her white blood cell count was too low. She began to experience a lot of discomfort and pain in May and in June she was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital for tests. On the afternoon of July 16, she was moved onto the palliative ward. René and Oliver spent the afternoon and evening with her and at around nine that night the doctor called René to tell him that Rosanne had just died.

Her end came so quickly, probably the way Rosanne would have wanted it.

Rosanne was a loyal friend. We met in our twenties while working at a local repertory cinema where we both honed our love of film. They were fun, crazy times at Cinema V. We each went on to work in film and television and our paths crossed many times over the years. But the most deeply satisfying years of friendship occurred with Rosanne when we reconnected in our 40’s. She invited me to a lecture about breast cancer and I invited her to be on an advisory committee for a film I was researching about breast cancer philanthropy. One thing led to another and eventually Rosanne and I shared an office together at Breast Cancer Action Montreal. Truly some of the happiest days of my life.

If you would like to make a donation in memory of Rosanne, you can do so here.

Read what others in the BCAM family say about Rosanne…

I first met Rosanne many years ago, when she applied for a job at BCAQ (at that time, BCAM). We hired her immediately and quickly realized that she was a woman with a multitude of skills and talents. In fact, she became BCAM’s first Executive Director.

I had not been in touch with Rosanne since her move to the Eastern Townships but had heard she was quite happy about leaving the city. I’d been thinking about her recently and was planning to get in touch. Unfortunately, I didn’t know she was not well—I was very surprised and saddened to receive news of her passing. I will remember Rosanne as a caring, kind, and thoughtful person. I’m sure the BCAM/BCAQ community and others in her life feel very fortunate to have known her.

Susan Hertzberg, former BCAQ board member

I met Rosanne when she joined the BCAM speakers’ group. Our assignment was to present The Beast of Beauty at the Montreal Association for the Blind…with posters of the slides!!

The humorous phone conversations we had to try to figure out how to do this for a group of people who couldn’t see our teaching tools was the beginning of our friendship. I was taken with Rosanne before we even met. We laughed a lot, brainstorming ridiculous ideas, and eventually came up with a plan. It must have worked because no one fell asleep or walked out, and a grandfather had lots of questions about safer choices for his grandchildren.

Our bed-in to raise awareness for prevention in the John Lennon-Yoko Ono suite of the Queen Elizabeth hotel showcased so many parts of her character…her creativity, generosity, passion, and sense of fun.

Rosanne was very present when she was with you. It’s hard to imagine the world without her presence.

Carol Secter, former BCAQ board member

Rosanne graciously took me on as a BSW practicum student with BCAM’s FemmeToxic project in 2012, after another practicum fell through. She was a huge supporter of my learning and growth as a young social worker, and such a joy to be around. Rosanne’s passion for the BCAM mission was palpable and educating youth in particular. I feel incredibly grateful to have known her, and though I only knew her for a short time, the impact of her kindness and generosity lives on in my life and my work.

Hayley Darychuk, former BCAQ intern

It’s hard to put into words all that Rosanne was for me – friend, colleague, inspiration, co-conspirator, fellow traveler and so much more. Always smiling, always positive (well, almost always), and always giving. Rosanne was way too humble and contributed more to me and to BCAM/Qc than she would ever admit. But beyond this, Rosanne was lots of fun. How we laughed on our walks up the mountain or on treadmills at the Y as she vowed to get in shape. What fun we had on our trips to Tulum and to Turks and Caicos (the latter on her bucket list) or plotting how to make BCAM the go-to organization for health and the environment issues or how to convince wealthy acquaintances that their money would be well spent in donations to BCAM. She is truly missed.

Nancy Guberman, BCAQ President

Rosanne was the joy of the space, she made coming to work fun, saw the best qualities in everybody. Always had the mission to bring laughter while fighting for justice. She didn’t see these two unrelated. And then she would welcome you to her kitchen where we would have wine while plotting against the system that poisons our life.

Naïké Ledan, former Youth Project Coordinator

I remember the first Board meeting that Rosanne attended. She was so unassuming, saying she didn’t know what she could contribute to the Board, but that she was willing to try. It became clear that she had many talents and skills to offer. It wasn’t long before she became the President of the Board and then its first official Executive Director. She dove into every new project, was an idea factory, and the most encouraging person I have ever met. Rosanne made everyone involved at BCAQ feel indispensable and valued. I did some of my best work alongside her. She made me laugh, supported me when I was discouraged, and always listened with her whole, great big heart. She was unique, and I miss her.

Janice Melanson, former BCAQ Executive Administrator

“Rosanne was a warm and spirited person whom I felt instantly connected to. As soon as we started talking, I felt that Rosanne and I were instantly friends and part of something larger together, such was her ability to create a sense of solidarity and build bonds between people. We worked together on campaigns to draw attention to the relationship between breast cancer and environmental pollution, and I always admired her ability to be so outspoken, to contain anger for injustice, and at the same time share in the joy and the thrill of committing to activism. I will miss her presence and her spirit, and I am grateful to have known her. ”

Maggie MacDonald, MA, Writing and Research Services

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