Return. Outcomes. Impact.

The Alberta Cancer Foundation is a different kind of cancer organization.  We raise money and invest in solutions for patients facing cancer.  Our goal is to make sure that Alberta is the most progressive place in Canada for research and treatment.  We actively manage our investments in research and care to make sure that there is a positive return.  And, we believe that the greatest returns we can provide to Albertans are parents returning to their children, people returning to their communities and Albertans returning to their lives.

It’s for these Albertans that I’ve committed to cycling in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer over the last three years. The Alberta Cancer Foundation has many different fundraising events, more than 400 across the province to be exact, and every member of our team has the opportunity to make a difference right here at home by volunteering, donating or participating. I was drawn to the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer not only because I’m an avid cyclist, but because of the immense impact the event makes each year for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. In the Ride’s six year history, more than $46 million has been raised to help us bring results to Alberta’s cancer patients faster by investing in leading-edge research, treatment and care happening in our own backyard.

Like most riders, I too was motivated to do something because someone close to me heard the words 43 Albertans hear every day: “you have cancer.” In the summer of 2011, it was my Dad who heard those three words and was receiving cancer treatment around the same time I had just accepted my role as CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. I told my Dad that we needed to focus on something positive during his cancer journey and that he should join me in the 2012 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. My Dad has now participated in three Rides alongside my husband Scott and I. My advice to him, and any rider, is to remember that you’ve already done the hard work by raising thousands of dollars for Albertans facing cancer. What you do on the Ride weekend is added value. If at any point the physical challenge becomes too hard, don’t feel too bad about taking help. The meaning is in the money you raised, the difference it makes and why you ride.

And like every rider, we accepted the additional challenge of fundraising and training for this epic event. Fortunately, we have a dedicated group of family and friends who have supported us along the way. I’ve found that the best way to fundraise is to do so the old fashioned way: ASK! By asking, you give people the opportunity to say yes. It doesn’t matter what amount— the point is that you asked.

I continue to be awe-struck by the excitement, courage and deep personal commitment of the Ride participants each year. Since I ride on the back of a tandem bike with my husband, I have the opportunity to talk to Albertans for the entire 200 kilometres—learning their stories, asking who they’re riding for, encouraging them and most of all, thanking them.  Despite the physical challenge, I am always amazed that they’re still smiling at the end of the two days and are genuinely happy to ride.

This year, I had the pleasure of meeting our oldest rider Dane, who is 84 years old. I thought it was absolutely outstanding that he raised his money like everyone else and was completely up to the challenge. What an inspiration!

I will register to ride again in 2015 to continue accelerating progress towards of our vision of a cancer- free future.  For three decades, the Alberta Cancer Foundation has been “the foundation” of progress for cancer patients in our province.  Over the past 10 years alone, cancer survival rates have increased from 56% to 64%.  This has been made possible by research that has advanced treatment and clinical care – much of it supported by the Alberta Cancer Foundation through the generosity of Albertans across the province. Although the positive outcomes we see today are promising, there’s still much work to be done. Together, with the support of events like the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, we will redefine the future for Albertans and their families facing cancer.

~By Myka Osinchuk, CEO, Alberta Cancer Foundation

Love is in the air at the Alberta RIde

 

Love is in the air this weekend at the 6th annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, as two riders will walk (ride) down the aisle and tie the knot.

This is a fitting way for Sarah Ashby and Mike Beauchamp to officially be married, as their second date was a 30 km bike ride around the Glenmore Reservoir.  It was after that little ride that Mike convinced Sarah to sign up for the big Ride.

“With little reluctance I said “sure”! We just did 30 km, what’s another 200 km?!,” says Sarah.

The couple is a part of One Aim, and regularly take part in training rides with the team. And both agree that participating in the Ride and raising money for cancer research across Alberta is an important goal, but the connection to the event is deeper.

“When you are at the event and you hear the stories, it motivates you to keep going,” says Mike. “It’s seeing everyone’s passion. It’s seeing those who have survived it, it’s motivating to keep going.”

This year Sarah’s mom was diagnosed with cancer.

“I’ll never forget that phone call,” remembers Sarah. “Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.”

Despite having to deal with her mom’s new cancer diagnosis, Sarah says this year’s ride won’t take on new meaning.

“I feel like riding before my mom was diagnosed is what made the difference in her prognosis and treatment. It is the money that I and so many others raised last year and in the previous years that will save my mom,” says Sarah. “The money I raise this year is what I hope will save the moms of the future.”

On Saturday when Mike and Sarah make their way down the aisle flanked by fellow One Aim team members, they’ll be surrounded by friends and family, including Sarah’s mom.

“It’s pretty special to share it with that group of people, they’re really more like family,” says Mike.

Sarah and Mike have come a long way since that first ride around the reservoir.

 

The A-Team cycles in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer for Calgary teen

It all started with a routine eye check in September 2013 before Adam Sorenson started back at school. The doctor noticed swelling on Adam’s optic nerve and promptly sent him for an MRI at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Next thing the Sorenson family knew, Adam was told he had a baseball sized tumour in his brain and would be scheduled for surgery later that week. The surgery went well and Adam made a quick recovery while his family anxiously awaited the biopsy results, hoping the tumour would be benign.

The news they received was not what they expected. Rebecca and Brad Sorenson heard the words every parent fears, “your son has cancer.” Thirteen-year-old Adam was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer or glioblastoma multiform (GBM). A second surgery was scheduled so they could take more of the tumour out. Once again, the surgery went well and Adam was back at home two days later without any loss of function. A month of recovery was the next step before further treatment started.

Upon return from a family trip to Hawaii, the Sorensons learned that out of four genetic tests done on Adam’s tumour, he’s come out on the wrong side of all four, with not even chemotherapy as an option. The Sorensons started researching other treatment options, many of which weren’t yet approved for pediatric patients like Adam. However, they stumbled upon a study using a ketogenic diet and radiation that showed promise. Fortunately, the Alberta Children’s Hospital had a world renowned expert on this diet that was prepared to support Adam, while the compassionate staff at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre guided Adam through his radiation treatments.

Adam’s story is nothing short of a miracle. He’s had two consecutive clean MRIs and is currently in remission. Despite his challenging situation, Adam wanted to continue making a difference for others facing cancer by cycling in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer with his family. However at 13 years old, he is just three years short of the event’s age requirement to ride. Adam’s family, including his mom, dad, Aunt Wendy, and  brother Billy will participate instead on The A-Team to raise funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation in support of biobanking. The Alberta Cancer Foundation’s investment in the Alberta Cancer Research Biorepository helps researchers answer critical questions about cancer. The biobank holds a collection of high quality specimens—DNA, tumour cells, tissue and blood samples—that are used for research into new treatment options that can bring results to patients like Adam faster. Over the last five years, the Alberta Cancer Foundation has invested $6.1 million into this priceless biobank through the support of donors and events like the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Although Adam won’t be able to ride with The A-Team at the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer this weekend, he has already supported them in a big way with Adam’s Ride that took place on July 26. Friends and family came together in the Sikome area of Calgary to cycle in a 100km training ride with him, raising more than $5,000 towards the A-Team’s fundraising goal. It’s amazing to think that just a year ago he was undergoing treatment for brain cancer and now he’s cycling 100km in one day!

Riders are in for a special treat during the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer opening ceremonies as Adam and Brad Sorenson will share their cancer journey.  While you’re cycling hundreds of kilometers this weekend, we want you to remember that you’re a hero. You’re changing the lives of Albertans facing cancer like the Sorenson family.  On behalf of Adam and his family, and the 16,000 other Albertans who will receive a cancer diagnosis this year, thank you for redefining the future of cancer in Alberta.

76 year old saddles up for breast cancer research

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His name is Hugh Ashwell and at 76 years of age, he’s philosophical about his decision to join Wild Pink Yonder, the 23-day, 500 km trail ride for breast cancer research at the Cross Cancer Institute. 

“I don’t know how many more years a guy might be able to do something like this,” said Hugh over the phone. “Sure age takes its toll, but you can defeat yourself before you even get started. That muscle that hurts when you ride; it’s going to hurt even if you don’t ride!” 

Hugh’s love of riding began 66 years ago when he first rode his neighbour’s horse. At age 22 he got his own horse – a draft - broke to harness for skidding logs. His first riding horse didn’t come along until he was 30. Still, that’s nearly a half-century of riding! 

Hugh wants to ride with Wild Pink Yonder this August and he’s now got a Tennessee Walking Horse all tuned-up and ready to go; but he doesn’t do computers so “that fundraising thing” is somewhat difficult. 

“We have opened a page for Hugh on the Alberta Cancer Foundation website,” said Wild Pink Yonder Trail Boss Jane Hurl. “If everyone would donate $10 or $20 to his ride, Hugh would have the money in a flash! And if you’re generous, he might win the prize for the most money raised!” 

Today, 43 Albertans will hear the words, “you have cancer”. Hugh Ashwell wants to help us change that. 

If you would like to help Hugh, please go to www.albertacancer.ca/ashwell 

For further information please Trail Boss Jane Hurl at jane@wildpinkyonder.com 

For details, to register to ride or to donate, visit www.wildpinkyonder.com.

From the Bar Room Stool

Head and neck cancer. Ask most people and they’ll say they don’t know what it is. That’s starting to change, though. Personal stories about this kind of cancer, told by celebrities like Michael Douglas, are making people more aware. Through these stories, we learn not only about the disease, but also about the people who live with it.

My name is Jana Rieger. I’m a researcher who has focused on studying head and neck cancer. I’m also a writer. I’d like to share my stories about research in this area over the past fifteen years. And to bring a human side to them.  

Let me begin by telling you that I’ve been a scientific writer my whole adult life. About five years ago, though, the creative writing bug bit. The desire to write fiction overtook every spare moment when I wasn’t in my lab. Quite honestly, though, my creative writing was…well…let’s just say it wasn’t going to win me any awards. So I found a mentor. One of the wisest things he said to me was, “Rieger, don’t bore me with details. Pretend we have gone out for a drink. Sit down on that bar room stool and tell me a story.”

That is what I intend to do here. Once a month, I’ll attempt to turn one of my research projects into a story. Forget the hard facts, figures, and details.  

But before I do, let me give you a little prologue.

I won’t ever forget the first patient who walked through my door. Let’s call him Ted. Ted arrived fifteen years ago. He was 45 years old. And scared. He’d just been diagnosed with cancer. It was in the back of his tongue and soft palate (the soft part of the roof of your mouth that hangs down at the back of your throat). He was told that the surgery to get rid of the cancer might affect his speech, and could affect his swallowing. He wanted to know what his chances were of those things happening.

What could I tell him?

At that point, not much. Not only was I new and green, but when I looked in scientific journals, I couldn’t find the answers there.

Why not?

For starters, the focus of most research at that time was on treatment, not outcome. I totally understood that. Of course people wanted to know about treatment and cure. But Ted, at the prime of his life, was asking me something very different. He was asking about function and survivorship.

The research that did look into function was pretty sketchy. Speech was being assessed over the phone and swallowing was being assessed by asking the patient if everything was okay. If you stick with me long enough on this bar room stool, you’ll find out, over the next few months, why that wasn’t good enough.

I made a decision the day that Ted walked into my clinic room. I was going to measure outcomes in a different way to get the answers I needed. I was going to use as much technology as possible. I didn’t want my opinions to bias the outcomes. And Ted was along for the ride. Fifteen years later, he’s still around. Once a year, he talks to the students I teach at the university. He shares personal experiences from his journey as a cancer survivor, including what it’s like to wear a prosthesis in his mouth to make his speech sound normal. The Starship Enterprise, he calls it.

I call it an obturator. It’s a prosthesis that can bring about phenomenal changes in speech for people who have an abnormal opening in the hard or soft palate. The first research story I want to share is about obturators, but you’ll have to stay tuned for it. I’ve run out of room on this page.

Until next month…

~By Guest Blogger Dr. Jana Rieger