Battling Cancer and Letting Go of a Muskoka Dream Home


Huntsville couple battles breast cancer, starts a business and transitions to a smaller home.

Our Homes Muskoka Mid-Summer 2017A version of this article originally appeared in the Mid-Summer 2017 issue of   OUR HOMES Parry Sound Muskoka Huntsville Haliburton, p.62. Find local businesses in our Muskoka directory. 

Living amongst the forest, rock and lakes of Muskoka was David and Joanne McLean's long-held dream. It was a dream well planned, with great care taken to secure the perfect location and to craft the ideal home. It would be a gathering place for friends and family. It was to be their forever home. That was, until faced with a new and greater challenge: a life-changing diagnosis.
As executive coaches in leadership, helping others navigate change, they faced a sudden diagnosis of cancer, forcing upon them the greatest change of their lives, compelling them to consider the advice they had offered so many before. Coaching themselves, they saw the virtues of changing course and, as a result, are letting go of their dream home and focusing on a new dream.
“About 15 years ago we envisioned wanting to live in a community where you could have an active lifestyle and we narrowed in on Huntsville,” recalls David. “Ten years ago we found a property we fell in love with.”
They purchased the five-acre property with 204 feet of private natural frontage on Fairy Lake and, for the first four years, summered in what was originally the cottage of Margaret Young, granddaughter of a founding settler. By 2011, David and Joanne were ready to build their new home. “We designed it and I was the general contractor,” explains David, who has long had a passion for architecture and design.
The four-bedroom, four-bathroom bungalow features a sunny four-season Muskoka room and a chef’s kitchen with granite countertops from Ciot. The space was designed for entertaining, boasting a 10-by-five-foot island in the open-concept living and dining area. Pinnacle Property Maintenance nurtures the well-treed, five-acre property where Marshall Well Drilling tapped an ample water supply. Dwight Garden Centre helps keep the landscape natural and thriving.
Once the new house was built and the grounds landscaped, the dream was realized. Life was good.
“Then, three-and-a-half years ago, shortly after we moved up here, we were dealt a surprise in our life,” David says with gentle candour. “My beautiful bride was diagnosed with cancer.” A year later, in January 2015, Joanne was re-diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. A period of recalibrating followed, of figuring out what the diagnosis meant, and how it would impact them. “Business-wise we had a lot of conversations about our lifestyle – it was a lot of travel and we just decided we don’t want to do that anymore. We wanted to spend our time together,” explains Joanne.
Wanting to continue their leadership work, in the fall of 2016, they bought Soapstones Natural Skincare, a Muskoka-based company that manufactures and sells natural skincare products. “Our business has a strong focus on social responsibility, which we see as a vehicle for us to continue our work in the area of leadership,” Joanne explains. “So we have dedicated five per cent of our profits to support youth leadership initiatives, not only in our own communities, but across communities.”
“Given this new journey in our lives, we have found ourselves in the place where we’re going to sell the Haverland property,” explains Joanne. When the McLeans first sat down with Megan McLeod, a broker with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, to discuss selling, they felt a bond.
“I’m going to be helping them see this through,” says Megan. “It’s not just about selling a house. It’s about helping them transition into the next phase of their lives together and finding the right buyer for this home.” Megan describes the floor plan as perfect from a living and entertaining perspective. “The room sizes are large but still comfortable and intimate. Lots of windows, high ceilings, with some beautiful timber frame accents.” Touches of Canadiana furnishings and décor by Urban Rustic Living owner Tary Roossien divide the living, dining room and kitchen into intimate alcoves, while maintaining the room’s open concept.
“It’s a sanctuary really,” says Joanne. “It’s like a getaway. There’s a very long laneway to get into the property so it’s peaceful and private. You have a 180-degree view of the lake from the windows across the front, which always serves to remind us how fortunate we have been to have been in this place.”