On June 8 and 9, 2013 a few familiar faces from the Immunology department participated in the 6th Annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Over the weekend, Angie Marsh, Jordan Schwartz, Mike Wortzman, and I, along with over 5,000 other riders, cycled more than 200 km each. This marked the culmination of months of fundraising towards the collective goal of ending cancer in our lifetime. Each rider was required to raise a minimum of $2,500 and this year the Ride set a new record of $19.1 million in donations.
The unfortunate prevalence of cancer (more than 40% of Canadians will develop the disease) means that most participants have either survived cancer themselves, or been affected by the diagnosis of a loved one. This is the underlying inspiration in signing up for such an event. Jordan was riding both in memory of a lost friend and in support of a teammate; a man who while battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma for the last decade has completed every Ride to Conquer Cancer and raised nearly $80,000. Similarly, Angie recounts how several of her friends and relatives have battled the disease. Fortunately many have won their fight against cancer thanks to early detection and treatments provided at hospitals like Princess Margaret. Indeed, our ride is inspired by those lost, but also by the extraordinary courage and strength required to endure and overcome. My own motivations stem from my time working at Princess Margaret and a daily to exposure to patients and their caregivers. I saw the ride as a small, but important opportunity to contribute to the Princess Margaret community. It also happens to be an excellent reason to spend a weekend cycling around the beautiful Ontarian countryside – a thrill for any avid cyclist! Both Angie and Jordan celebrated by upgrading their bikes for the ride.it was immediately palpable that the challenge of this ride is comparatively minimal to the journey of those affected by cancer.
The ride itself was physically demanding but rewarding. We had a sore first night thanks to a grueling multi-kilometer climb up the Niagara Escarpment following 90 km of cycling. However, lining up with other riders after breakfast and coffee, it was immediately palpable that the challenge of this ride is comparatively minimal to the journey of those affected by cancer. Some participants could be seen with proud yellow flags attached to their bikes to indicate that they had beaten cancer. In comparison to that strife, a few hours on the bike does not warrant much complaining. Interspersed between the serious cyclists could be found young teenagers, grandparents, and three-time cancer survivors, and even a few intrepid tricyclists. This shared spirit was evident in the fun-natured attitude and camaraderie shared amongst all riders.
Fundraising from the ride supports The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation’s mandate to steward and distribute proceeds to associated research institutes. All money raised from several annual charity events is granted towards basic research and advanced patient care at the Ontario Cancer Institute and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. To date, the ride has directly contributed more than $54 million to the foundation. This has been a boon to the hospital’s efforts to bring about an era of personalized medicine. Several projects underway are capitalizing on recent breakthroughs in understanding cancer etiology, and are particularly focused on improving diagnostic precision to allow for tailored treatment regimes. At least a few Ride to Conquer Cancer Participants can attest that these efforts have already yielded immeasurable rewards.
During the ride, I was introduced to a cancer survivor and beneficiary of the research program supported by the event: Michael Burns. The father and cancer survivor has been captain of his family’s Ride to Conquer Cancer team for the last five years and together they have raised over $150,000. All the more impressive considering Michael had to skip the very first ride while recovering from treatment for multiple myeloma. The experimental spinal surgery and stem cell transplant he received at Princess Margaret saved his life, but also left him weak and plagued by recurring infections. Yet, with the encouragement of his sons, both five-year riders, he managed to get into shape and complete every ride thereafter.
Sharing accommodations with Michael and his family, I experienced their warm hospitality and companionship firsthand. However, a real lasting impression was made by something a little more abstract. The Burns family exuded both an appreciation of the time spent together with their father and profound gratefulness to those at Princess Margaret who helped create such moments. Their two days biking to Niagara every year is a gift: to themselves and to the doctors and researchers working to develop cancer treatments. For me, the Ride to Conquer Cancer served as a salient reminder that biomedical research is not just about the next experiment, or the next paper. Scientific pursuit has the ability to make a measurable positive impact in people’s lives, and this should serve both as a source of responsibility and pride.
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