Justin Cole’s Breast Cancer Story

This is a story about bravery and strength, about sacrifice, and about love and compassion – all the powerful characteristics Justin Cole associates with his mom.

And frankly, it’s a story the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end wishes he didn’t have to tell at all…

Cole lost his mother to breast cancer 20 years ago – on April 26, 1999, to be exact – after a courageous battle with the disease. But while her passing was crushing and confusing to Cole, then just nine years-old, it’s the circumstances surrounding her passing that resonate with him more and more each day.

His mother, Victoria, was pregnant when she was first diagnosed with cancer and opted to forego the chemotherapy to ensure the baby wouldn’t be affected.

“She had the make the decision for herself or for her second son at the time,” began Cole, choosing to open up about his mother to help promote the Blue Bombers’ annual Pink game, October 29th vs. Ottawa, in support of the fight against breast cancer.


“And he was born a healthy and happy baby.”

After giving birth, Cole’s mother then began to undergo her treatments. But as millions know, cancer can be vicious and it plays no favourites. And what happened next forever changed Cole’s life.

Justin Cole

“We all visited her the day before she was supposed to get released,” he said. “I had been there a couple of times when she had been in and out and wasn’t really aware of the situation because I was so young.

“We’d hang out there and have sleepovers, but it was always that she was coming home. Then the next day I went to my grandma’s house thinking I was going to get to hang out with my mother and they told me she had passed the night before she was getting released from the hospital.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how to handle it,” continued Cole. “I didn’t know what to show, what was OK to show, how to react… be angry, sad. They told me one thing and then something completely different happened. To be told your mom is coming home to you’re never going to see her again… it’s not good for anyone to see, let alone a young child.”


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women and the second leading cause of death from cancer among women in this country. It affects one in nine Canadian women during their lifetime. But the fight continues as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation reports that breast cancer mortality rates have decreased by 44 percent since peaking in 1986, and the five-year survival rate is now 88 per cent.

Justin Cole

Cole’s grandmother, who became the most influential female voice in his life after his mother’s death, twice beat breast cancer before she passed away five years ago. Cole got the chance to speak to his grandmother before her passing and, as a 24-year-old, was better prepared to handle the news.

Losing a mother at age nine, however, changes a person.

“They don’t really tell you a whole lot when you are younger,” said Cole. “I found out more as I got older and was better able to handle it and conceptualize what had really happened and why it happened.

“It’s something that affects so many women and obviously she didn’t feel she wanted to tell her young son at the time. You don’t want your children worrying about that.

“I just wanted to be strong for my family. Everyone’s worried about how you are going to handle it and what can they do. If you have a good support system, that kind of helps through the tough time, especially at the beginning. And then as you get older and get in touch with your emotions, you handle it in different ways.”

Tatoo-3There isn’t a day that goes by in which Cole isn’t reminded of his mother. He wears a pink breast cancer bracelet on his wrist and has tattoos on his arms honouring both his mother and grandmother and also featuring the breast cancer ribbon, the word ‘Forever’ and an image of a lion.

His mother’s maiden name was Lyons and he refers to the two most important women in his life as lionesses.

“I can’t even put into words the amount of respect and love and compassion that she showed,” said Cole. “And strength and her fight in her battle that millions or hundreds of thousands of women go through every day that rocks their families. “But again, being a strong woman in the family, being the one who can handle what not a lot of people can handle or the decisions that you may not understand at the time but has the greater good or the best thing for their family in mind…

I’ll never fully comprehend that. But as I get older I do understand a little bit of where it came from. That’s just the woman she always was and tried to raise me to be as well.

“I remember my mom every day,” added Cole. “I try to talk to her every day. Before the game I say a little prayer for my mom and tell her I’m going to make her proud.”



When: Saturday, October 29th vs. Ottawa REDBLACKS, 3 p.m.

FYI: The Bombers have donated 100 tickets to breast cancer survivors and their families through the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and will honour survivors on the field before the game.

Tickets: Fans who would like to support the cause can purchase tickets using the promo code PINK, and a portion of their sale will be donated to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Fans can purchase tickets to the game here.

Note: Volunteers will be selling Blue Bombers toques featuring a pink accent in the concourse on game day. Proceeds from those sales will go to support the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in Manitoba.