Princess Margaret Hospital – Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer

The_Ride_to_Conquer_Cancer_686025931
Monument Dedication Ceremony

It’s that dreaded word nobody wants to hear or have to deal with. Life would be so much easier and less stressful if it weren’t a part of life on Earth. But cancer is a devastating disease we must confront, and continue the fight because of the horrendous way it impacts on virtually every family in one way or another.

If it’s not a member of our immediate nuclear family, it may be a close or a more distant relative; perhaps a friend or colleague, but we have all been touched by the disease in one way or another.

Thankfully, there are those who continue to champion the fight in assisting the medical professionals in their quest to bring this deadly disease under control.

Now in its fifth year, the Enbridge Ride To Conquer Cancer benefits The Campbell Family Institute at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) in downtown Toronto.

Through the years, the hospital has achieved international acclaim as a global leader in the fight against cancer while delivering personalized cancer treatments.

The annual charity fundraiser was first held in 2008 in Toronto, with more than $14 million being raised and has since expanded to Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. The non-competitive ride covers 200 kilometres. Participants must raise $2,500 to secure a position in the event. Last year, about 11,000 riders in the four Canadian cities raised a total of just under $44 million for cancer research.

PMH and its research arm, the Ontario Cancer Institute, which now includes The Campbell family Cancer Research Institute and The Campbell Family Breast Cancer Research Institute, brings together an elite team of cancer researchers, scientists, clinicians and staff dedicated to conquering cancer by any means possible.

Each story is one that is filled with inspiration, dedication and love. Some have had happy endings, with cancer going into remission. Others have not had that happy ending, a stark reminder that the fight against this disease rages on.

In 2011, Enbridge became the title sponsor of The Ride, making it The Enbridge Ride To Conquer Cancer.

Just weeks prior to this year’s Ride on June 9-10, Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation staff, doctors and researchers as well as Ride participants addressed hundreds of attendees at the official monument dedication ceremony outside the front of the building on University Avenue in downtown Toronto.

“This monument is our way of thanking everyone involved with commemorating this year’s fifth annual Ride,” said Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation CEO Paul Alofs.

It was also the day when several five-year Riders received inaugural Gold Helmets.

“I’m incredibly honoured to receive a Gold Helmet for this year’s Ride,” said Chinyere Eni, who rides on a modified bike because she lost a limb to cancer as a young child. “For the last four years, I’ve taken this incredible journey because it’s a way for me to remember my nine friends who succumbed to the disease while fighting beside me. I’m thrilled to make this year my fifth.”

In the first-year out of the gate in 2008, The Ride was able to raise an incredible $14 million with 2,850 riders. The goal had been to raise $8 million with 2,000 riders, so needless to say the inaugural event was a resounding success. In 2011, $17.5 million was raised, bringing the four-year total to $63 million making it the world’s most successful cycling fundraising event.

“Princess Margaret will help lead Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the world in delivering personalized cancer medicine,” remarked Alofs. “Our definition of personalized cancer medicine is: protect, diagnose, target and support. It’s a very broad and very innovative approach. This Ride is so vital to the success of the delivery of personalized cancer medicine and every one of the riders that joins in, who jumps on the bike and trains all year to make the ride.”

One modification to the 200-km Ride is the direction some of the bike riders will travel – going from Niagara Falls to Toronto, rather than Toronto to Niagara Falls as in previous years. The cyclists ride half way to Hamilton before continuing on the journey for Day Two.

Everyone Has a Personal Story

Alofs joined the PMH Foundation as CEO in September, 2003 determined to help make a difference and join others in the fight to conquer cancer.

“Like everybody involved with our organization, it was a personal story about a family connection,” he revealed. “My mother died of cancer in November, 2002.

My brother and sisters and I looked after her at home, which was her desire for the last couple of months of her life; that experience changed us all.”

Following that, Alofs had an incredible passion to do whatever he could to help fight cancer.

It was a neighbour named John McNaughton who had been very involved with Princess Margaret and decided to talk with Alofs about The Foundation. Soon thereafter he was interviewed and chosen to lead the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.

Of course what everyone wants to have through it all is hope. Hope that one day this disease will be rendered nullified. Alofs has seen a number of positive signs to indicate progress is definitely being made with each passing day.

“We’re all hopeful but we want more than hope,” he says emphatically. “We want concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. All of us with a business background, we want to be more than hopeful. In the 1960s, one in three people who were diagnosed with cancer would survive their diagnosis. As of right now, about two out of three people who are diagnosed with cancer, survive their diagnosis.”

The hospital was founded as the Ontario Cancer Institute in 1952 by an Act of the Ontario legislature. While serving many residents of the Greater Toronto Area, it also frequently provides high-calibre treatment for people from all parts of Canada. During major health restructuring by the Harris Government in the late 1990s, Princess Margaret Hospital merged with The Toronto Hospital, which previously had been formed by the merger of the Toronto General Hospital and the Toronto Western Hospital. The new merged medical entity was then named the University Health Network, led by CEO Dr. Bob Bell.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of our rides and there have been some very important moments for me,” Dr. Bell says. “We’re all here to raise money through The Ride because the goal is to end cancer in our lifetime – that’s what this is all about. Chinyere and four other folks (Grant Mackenzie, Lawrence Zimmering, Gord Tozer, and Steve Cohen) have been people we’d like to recognize; people who have been there four years in a row and doing it this year.”

Despite being intrinsically linked, each of the hospitals has retained their original names. The commitment to personalized cancer care for each individual is a main aspect of the hospital’s tremendous reputation.

“With personalized cancer medicine in particular, which is what our whole $1 billion campaign is all about, we believe that will be the last step to get to a point where cancer is a disease that people will live with as opposed to die from,” Alofs says. “It will still be around as a chronic disease, but people won’t die from it anymore. So, that’s what conquering cancer in our lifetime is all about. The evidence is there that earlier detection and treatment and better targeting, more people are surviving their cancer now. But we’ll get from one in three, to two in three to three in three. It’s just a matter of will it be five years or 15 years.

Personalized cancer medicine will fast-track that slope of the line to get us to the point where people live with their cancer as opposed to die from it.”
An essential aspect to fundraising is to come up with innovative ideas and events that will inspire people to participate.

“At Princess Margaret we’re always really interested in finding events that bring passionate people together in some kind of physical activity, Alofs continues.

“We had a great result from our weekend in women’s cancers – which is a 60 km walk. We wanted to give people a bold challenge and had been talking for almost two years about doing a bike ride and the idea of doing a bike ride from here (Toronto) to Niagara Falls started to take shape. We put two years of planning in before we launched.”

Making the event fun and family friendly has led to the great amount of participation, which is of utmost importance to Alofs and the team of organizers.

“We always do a great deal of due diligence and we actually built this out as a brand,” he confirms. “Safety is our number one concern. In terms of operations, we figured out all the logistics of moving close to 5,000 riders over 200 kilometres and it’s been phenomenally successful.”

Thanks to the hugely successful model developed by The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, other medical facilities have taken note and jumped onboard.

“It is a real testament to all those who helped organize this, which has allowed us to loan The Ride out B.C. Cancer Foundation, Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. They’ve all raised tens of millions of dollars as well by using The Ride and using our platform and logistics. Princess Margaret continues to own The Ride but we loan it to other like-minded cancer organizations to also raise money.”

In terms of growth, a large population centre and also a great place to ride are essentials. The ride in Vancouver down to Seattle is a beautiful place to ride your bike. The Calgary-Banff loop is fantastic and Montreal to Quebec City. The routes are some of the best sightseeing in all of Canada.

“We think there could be other centres in Canada but we’re also delighted The Ride has expanded to Australia,” Alofs remarks. “This has become such a successful event that other cancer organizations around the world are studying it and we’re happy to help people who are like-minded to conquer cancer in our lifetime and loan these ideas out.”

Team Erin

Denise Dorfman leads Team Erin, one of the largest fundraising teams in support of The Princess Margaret Hospital. Denise’s sister Erin succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October, 2009 at the age of 49 after first being diagnosed in 2003. She left behind a husband and two young daughters were just 11 and 6 at the time of the original diagnosis.

Dorfman and her family are eternally grateful to The Princess Margaret Hospital for administering their personalized cancer care to Erin. Originally given just six to 18 months to live, the medical professionals at The Princess Margaret Hospital were able to extend that timeline considerably.

“That personalized cancer care gave Erin an extra five years of life,” Dorfman emotionally stated. “Five more years of hugs for her daughters; five more years of demonstrating to all of us how to embrace challenges and how to enjoy life when we can.”

Two weeks before the 2009 Ride To Conquer Cancer Erin was in the hospital, but determined to take part in the event. She did manage to get herself up and out onto her bike, riding 50 km each day.

“She crossed the finish line beaming,” noted Dorfman, her voice cracking. “It was a huge sense of achievement. Four months after that celebration, she died peacefully at home.”

During the emotionally-charged monument dedication ceremony, Dorfman proudly displayed the 2009 jersey of Team Erin while speaking at the podium, the final team to include her late sister. Team Erin continues on with Denise leading the way, and it remains a top fundraiser.

“I can’t cure cancer, but I can fundraise to help find a cure.”

Inside the Hospital

Inside the hospital are plaques, including the The Ambassador Plaque. In order for an individual to be considered a Gold Ambassador, they must raise $25,000 personally and/or have recruited 12 riders who managed to raise the minimum. For silver, it’s $10,000 raised personally or recruiting at least eight riders who reach the minimum. Bronze level is $2,500 personally and/or five riders. The Ambassador Program has been in place since the inaugural year, but 2012 is the first year of having the plaques displayed for the public to view.

The radiation centre treats about 400 people each day. Some of the machines cost up to $3 million and they are always being updated with ones having newer technology and features. A lot of the funds from The Ride is earmarked for the purchasing of the machines.

There are 130 beds dedicated to palliative care, mainly on the 18th floor. From the seventh floor and above is where the research labs can be found as part of The Campbell Family Institute, also known as the Ontario Cancer Institute, which is the research arm of the Princess Margaret Hospital. About $20 million from The Ride To Conquer Cancer has been allocated to research at The Campbell Family Institute, which has 900 workers, occupying 40 per cent of the entire building.

As the name implies, The Chemotherapy Daycare and Transfusion Centre provides chemotherapy and blood transfusions to patients in need and is most often open six days a week, including statutory holidays – with the lone exception being Christmas. And the days are long, most often going from about 8 am until past 7 pm due to the high volume of patients, which would typically be about 200 per day. Depending on the patient and their needs, treatment times can range from five minutes to 8 ½ hours.

It’s no secret that such a magnificent centre would not exist if not for the generosity of private philanthropy. It’s estimated about 75 per cent of the funds have come from this route.

Researcher Dr. Kenneth Yip is one of a number of medical professionals working tirelessly in an effort to hopefully one day eradicate this disease and find a cure.

“We have a lot of transitional type medicine research that we think will impact directly on the clinic coming out of this lab and all of it is really made possible by Foundation initiatives,” Dr. Yip states.

From Dr. Yip`s perspective, finding new drugs to help fight cancer is vitally important.

“Once we know what’s wrong we can tailor therapies to go against the particular proteins, or instructions causing the problems,” he notes. “We have huge robots that run systematically 24 hours a day, seven days a week; we just have to find the right personnel to run them, and they will systematically test 100,000 compounds a day. They are the same type of robots used to make cars.”

Outside along one of the long hallways are a number of large freezers. There’s hundreds of thousands of chemicals in each of those freezers.

“The thought is, that in one of those freezers is the chemical that’s going to stop a particular cancer protein from working. So in one of those freezers is potentially the next big drug. It’s up to us to find it.”

“People will say it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack or going on a treasure hunt,” Dr. Yip remarks. “Trying to find that one chemical that might work is a tough job. You have to sort through hundreds of thousands of chemicals, get it against the right protein and then develop that chemical into a new drug. The hope is that the chemical will eliminate all the cancer cells but spare the normal cells.”

Each of the machines requires lots of maintenance and upgrades in order for the researchers to be able to properly do their jobs. It’s the generosity of time and effort on the part of each participant in fundraisers such as The Ride To Conquer Cancer who help keep hope alive that one day mankind will conquer cancer.

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