Deb (McLean) Lentz




Life and Work

Deb McLean was born on May 5, 1951 in Camrose, Alberta, to Max and Lois McLean. She made Camrose her home until the age of 18 when she left to pursue higher education. Deb and her three brothers, Wynn, Shane and Gordon, were highly encouraged by their parents to continue their studies. The McLeans felt keenly that their children should have post-secondary education.

The McLeans were dedicated volunteers and involved with many community groups. From a young age, Deb and her brothers were called upon to help their parents in community service. Being raised in the McLean home instilled in her the desire to give back to the community. This spirit of giving has been a large factor in Deb's life. She loves to volunteer and feels rejuvenated when she is doing service work. Deb and her brothers and their wives are all close. Any occasion is a cause to gather together and celebrate as a family.

Deb was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18. She would not allow the disease to become a stumbling block. From the beginning, she was convinced it would not return. She was young and felt invincible and she went ahead with her plans to become a nurse. After surgery, Deb commenced training at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary. In 1972, with her Nursing Diploma in hand, she went on to St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver where she enrolled in a post-graduate program in Intensive Care. Her specialty was Cardiac Care and Multiple Trauma. After completing her training, she went to work in the Intensive Care Unit at Rockyview Hospital in Calgary.

In 1974, Deb was married and in 1975 moved to Wetaskiwin. She was hired by the Wetaskiwin General Hospital to help set up the Intensive Care Unit. Her only child, Robbyn was born in 1977. The following year the cancer recurred. In spite of that, in 1979, she succeeded in obtaining her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from the University of Alberta.

A career in Genetics at the Wetaskiwin Health Unit was waiting in the wings. In 1979, Deb began work at the Public Health Unit. She joined the unit as one of only two Genetics Outreach Nurses hired in Alberta. It was the beginning of a vocation that would become an overriding passion and span almost thirty years and beyond. As a Genetic Counselor, her work involves pre-natal work and screening for predisposition to cancer or genetic diseases, such as Huntington's Disease and Muscular Dystrophy. She has been a “forerunner” on the Provincial Government committee involved in the planning of the Alberta Hereditary Disease Program. She has been very involved in the Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors group.

Over the years, Deb has been very active in this community providing education and support in the area of family violence and abuse. She was part of the first group of Victim Services volunteers that were trained locally and she served with the Victim Services Unit in Wetaskiwin for three years.

In 1984, the disease reared its ugly head again. Deb decided that though she continued to struggle in her battles with cancer, she would not live her life focused on being a cancer patient. She retained her constructive mindset by helping others who were experiencing the pain of living with cancer and families of people who were dying of the disease. Deb has done a huge amount of public speaking for the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. Her commitment has led her to develop and provide training programs for volunteers working with people living with cancer and their families. She has delivered numerous workshops to help school groups and caregivers - anyone affected by cancer that needs support and guidance. Deb's daughter Robbyn thinks her mother is the eternal optimist because of her positive attitude. To Deb, the glass is always "half full", never half empty.

Along with her wonderful family, Deb has a raft of great friends and supporters. Out of this faction, came Steve Ashworth, a local teacher and film-maker. In 1997, he produced a film documentary based on Deb’s journey with cancer, called “Angel on My Shoulder”. A gala event was held in Wetaskiwin by Communities Against Cancer to premier the release of the video. About $60,000 was raised at the gala held March 6. 1998. The proceeds were donated to Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute (Alberta Cancer Foundation).

Deb has been a member of, and held offices in, many community organizations. She has served on the community level and beyond. In 1992, Deb received the Abe Miller Memorial Trophy for Nurse of the Year, for her outstanding contribution to nursing in Alberta. She was nominated by her co-workers at the Wetoka Health Unit and chosen from a field of 4 nominees. Soon after she was presented the Peacepipe Toastmasters’ Communication & Leadership Award for 1992-93.

In May of 1996, she was presented with the Terry Fox Citation of Honour, in recognition of the tremendous volunteer work she has done for cancer as well her outstanding courage in her own battle against the disease. It is the highest award bestowed by the Canadian Cancer Society. The award was presented by Betty Fox, Terry’s mother, who said her son’s dream is alive and well because of people like Deb Lentz.

In October, 1999, Deb realized her dream of having a cancer resource library at the Wetaskiwin Hospital. With joint funding from the Canadian Cancer Society of Wetaskiwin and the Crossroads Health Region (at the time), the Hoskins Cancer Library was established as part of the hospital library. Deb and Nettie Carr, Library Technician, were instrumental in seeing the cancer library become a reality. Using the Cross Cancer Patient Library in Edmonton as a model, Deb and Nettie found out what type of material was needed to provide resource information. The Hoskins Library is funded by public donations. With these funds, up-to-date pamphlets and books are purchased.

Deb has been a life-long member of the United Church. She taught Sunday School from a young age and has sat on the Church Board. She has served on many committees and is presently Chair of the Pastoral Care Committee. Always one to look to the future, Deb is presently involved with organizing two workshops through Pastoral Care. Significantly, the workshops are titled "Bereavement and Loss" and "Caring for the Caregiver". In her journey, Deb has experienced what it means to experience bereavement and loss. She has lost both of her parents to cancer. For the last six months of her mother Lois' life, Deb assumed the role of caregiver.

Because of her love of volunteering and her commitment to helping others, Deb has volunteered with many local organizations. She is a past-member of the Wetaskiwin Hospital Auxiliary, Santa's Anonymous and has worked with the Family Resource Centre dealing with family violence. In tribute to her tremendous dedication, on February 10, 2003 she was awarded the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal. The award is bestowed on those persons who have made a significant contribution to Canada, to their community or to their fellow Canadians.

As a volunteer, it seems Deb’s energy is boundless. Never one to restrict her volunteer activities, she has gone beyond her community and has been involved with various fundraisers in Edmonton, including the Alberta Cancer Foundation "Weekend to End Breast Cancer". This event is in its second year and both years she has been involved. For the past 10 years, she has been in the "CIBC Run for the Cure" with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. She also assists with "Relay for Life" with the Canadian Cancer Society in Camrose and Edmonton.

Deb volunteered regularly at the Cross Cancer Clinic until two years ago. She also volunteers at Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton. Since 1998 Deb has volunteered every year at Kids Cancer Camp through the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta with 3 to 6 year old cancer patients. She is also very involved with Sorrentino’s Compassion House whose mission is to provide sanctuary and support to breast cancer patients.

By always looking positively at what her future might hold, Deb keeps herself available to new opportunities to celebrate in her life. She tries to find humour in the grimmest of situations. Her first grandchild, Max, was born in July of 2003. At the time of the birth, Deb was very ill and had no hair because she was in treatment. She was inspired to comment that the baby seemed delighted that he had more hair than his grandma when he was born. Deb was thrilled to become a grandma again when her granddaughter, Ophelia was born in August, 2007.

Deb maintains an active lifestyle and enjoys cycling, rollerblading and skiing.

Though her primary role in life has always been as a mother, Deb continues to love the work she does in counseling people with genetic diseases and their families. She has been working in genetics exclusively since 1979 and even now has a self-confessed fascination and passion for her profession.

To describe this remarkable lady, adjectives like courageous, caring, dynamic, inspiring, humourous, energetic, enthusiastic, dedicated come to mind. All of these qualities along with a profound spirituality and faith, have helped Deb Lentz to take a difficult personal situation and turn it into an opportunity to help people.

Compiled in 2007.


Compiled by: Gloria Baker

Sources: Robbyn Erickson, Nettie Carr, Judi Olson, Carol Blair, Wynn McLean, Shane McLean, Gordie McLean, Deb Huber, Barb Olsen, City of Wetaskiwin Archives