'Make sure today is a great day': Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Village Brewery co-founder reflects

The co-founder of one of Calgary’s favourite microbreweries is hoping to put a price on the positive energy that has always guided him through life’s challenges. It’s a cold $5 million.

Jim Button’s positive energy has always guided him. Now he hopes it will raise $5M for kids facing the disease

Jim Button, a middle-aged man with a grey beard, is outside beside his wife, Tracey, who has long brown hair. Both are wearing scarfs.
Doctors told Jim Button he had kidney cancer in 2014. But as his partner Tracey recalls, they initially thought luck was on their side. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The co-founder of one of Calgary's most well known craft breweries is hoping to put a price on the positive energy that has always guided him through life's challenges and it's a cold $5 million.

That's how much Jim Button of Village Brewery hopes to help raise for the Chair in Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology and Survivorship at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.

The idea to help children with cancer and their families better deal with the associated mental health challenges.

"It is purpose driven," said Jim, 55, who recently received a cancer diagnosis of his own, one that is terminal.

"You start doing things for others and you get way more energy out of life when you are helping others. It is as simple as that."

And that, simply, has guided Jim in life, family and business. Village gives 10 per cent of their bottom line back to the community through art, wellness, community, and music initiatives.

"I think it's going to be an imperative for all businesses in the future. If you aren't a private enterprise acting like a social enterprise, I think you will fall behind. It's a winning equation. I am frankly surprised more people don't do it, because what you get back is 10-fold what you give out," Jim said.

Jim Button's positive attitude has always impressed his partner, Tracey. Now the couple hopes they can cash it in for $5 million for mental health initiatives for the families of children with cancer. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

That positive approach was put to the test five years ago.

Doctors told him he had kidney cancer in 2014. But as his partner Tracey Button recalls, they initially thought luck was on their side.

"They removed his kidney and we felt like we'd won the lottery because we didn't require any further treatment, beyond an X-ray every six months," she said.

Their luck had run out by the third X-ray in 2016. The cancer had spread. There was no cure and Jim was told he might live only another couple of years.

"We were instructed to get our affairs in order. Nothing really prepares you for that moment. That was the beginning of the journey we are on now," Tracey explained.

So Jim doubled down on the positive outlook that has always sustained him.

'Make sure today is a great day'

"You are not promised tomorrow, so make sure today is a great day," he said.

"Things like holding a hand, going for a walk, having a laugh with your son or getting a hug from your daughter. Those things, all of a sudden become so powerful and you just start realizing that the rest is noise."

But at times, even a positive attitude needs a little push.

"There are times when you fall into the darkness," Jim said.

"That's what so great about having a partner. Twice, I have gotten depressed and it took a great partner to pull me out. There is a lot of good and a lot of reason to step away from that darkness, back into the light."

That light has grown through things like mindfulness, family and individual counselling and a psychosocial oncology group.

Jim Button, his wife, son and daughter sit on a line of boulders in a park setting.
The Button family, from left: Amanda, Tracey, Jim and Jack. (Submitted by Jim Button)

That's where the idea for the fundraiser was born.

"We jumped at the chance. There's a gap with cancer care for children," Jim said.

"A lot of the supports just fall away after you are 'cured' but there is lasting impact from your diagnosis," Tracey adds.

"Treatment often leaves a number of complications for the rest of their lives. There's more support needed in that area."

And while $5 million is far from small change, Jim says he has yet-to be-committed leads on about half of that, already.

A Hotel Arts fundraiser this week, the BANC Unbuttoned Concert, raised more than $120,000 in one night.

But it's not about leaving a legacy, Jim says.

"The only legacy that matters to me is Tracey, Jack and Amanda. They are my legacy. Our kids are by far our biggest legacy," he said.

"But it would be nice to know we left a positive footprint in the city, or the world."

With files from Monty Kruger