Spin Doctors


Physician-led cyclists raise millions in Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer

Story by Kerri Robins

ns-spin-doctorsWith an abundance of inspiration from his cancer patients, Dr. Jan-Willem Henning and his team of 130 riders put their mettle to the pedals on a 240-km round trip from Canada Olympic Park through the Alberta foothills to raise more than $306,000 for cancer research in this year’s Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Henning, a medical oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre (TBCC), led his team — the Tom Baker Cancer Conquerors — to join more than 1,700 riders who raised more than $7.8 million overall in the Aug. 8-9 event in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

One of his patients, Lynn Silverstone, proved a special inspiration. It was June of 2014 when the Calgary woman first heard the words “you have cancer” after a biopsy revealed a soft tissue growth in her lungs — a stage four sarcoma.

“I started a clinical cancer trial as soon as I was diagnosed because I didn’t have any other treatment options,” says the 69-year-old. In her first six weeks of treatment, her tumour shrunk about 40 per cent.

Under Henning’s care, Silverstone began therapy with weekly biologic anti-cancer injections of temsirolimus, a drug which has fewer side effects than chemotherapy and is part of Alberta Health Services (AHS) cancer clinical trials research.

Money raised in the ride supports clinical trials like this, designed to test the effectiveness of new drugs in a specific and controlled setting.

“The trial drug has dramatically improved my quality of life and far exceeded my expectations,” says Silverstone. “I’ve responded really well to it, with the cancer continually decreasing in size since I started.”

To date, the Tom Baker Cancer Conquerors have raised more than $1.1 million for clinical cancer trials since their first ride in 2012.

In dedicating his ride this year to Silverstone, Henning says beating cancer is a cause close to his heart, especially after seeing his mother survive breast cancer.

“We work hard at helping people prevent cancer, but we must continually look for new ways to treat those with the disease,” adds Henning, “and clinical cancer trials help us find new and effective drugs for treating our patients.”

Sharing the enthusiasm is Henning’s teammate, Michael Civitella, Executive Director, Operational and Facility Development at the Tom Baker.

“The money we raise is directed to clinical cancer trials at the TBCC,” adds the 61-year-old, “and sustaining our clinical trials program and advancing our work takes funding.”

The Conquerors enjoyed some friendly competition this year from team One Aim, who cycled full steam ahead in their sixth straight outing to raise more than $300,000.

The team of 110 riders — led by founder, cyclist and cancer survivor 44-year-old Dr. Nigel Brockton, a research Scientist with CancerControl Alberta, AHS — has raised a cancer-busting $1.75 million since the team’s 2010 creation.

Brockton has had two brushes with cancer. At the age of 18, after his second diagnosis with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of bone tumor, he decided to be a cancer researcher.

“I really shouldn’t be alive, but here I am 26 years later — and doing my part to support others diagnosed with cancer,” says Brockton. “I ride with an amazing group of people with so many great stories to tell.”

It’s those stories that fuel Brockton’s research and compassion for helping people with the disease. “My research focuses on why people get cancer and who is at the greatest risk of their cancer spreading,” says Brockton.

In 2014, an estimated 6,400 people were lost to cancer in Alberta, and 16,500 new cases were diagnosed, according to CancerControl Alberta.

Since 2009, The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer has raised more than $54 million for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Its mission is clear — to build a better life for Albertans facing cancer.

Also committed to the mission is Myka Osinchuk, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, who ensures donors’ dollars support earlier detection and improve the quality of life and treatment options for all Albertans.

“At the Alberta Cancer Foundation, enhancing the lives of patients and their families is at the core of everything we do,” says Osinchuk. “Funds raised through the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer have allowed the Alberta Cancer Foundation to push the pace of progress, ignite innovative research and implement leading-edge treatments.”

“As Alberta’s largest health foundation and largest non-government investor in cancer research, the Alberta Cancer Foundation is the proud fundraising partner of all 17 cancer centres in Alberta, including the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary and the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton,” says Osinchuk.

Henning and Brockton both agree that they reap huge rewards for their professional and volunteer work.

“I can bring personal understanding and compassion to cancer patients, their friends and families, because I’ve been there — I know how it feels,” says Brockton.

For Henning, the ride is a fun way to contribute to his life’s work.

“We change people’s lives through clinical cancer trials by giving them hope,” he says. “It’s a huge motivator when tackling each day with this disease.”

Silverstone says she’s living proof the trials work. “I am forever grateful to Dr. Henning for guiding my treatment. I have a new understanding and respect for cancer research that, God willing, will lead to new cures for cancer.”

For more information, please visit www.albertacancer.ca.