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Chris McPhee, a Toronto paramedic, has seen the professional and personal side of cancer. He sees cancer patients and their families in the back of his ambulance on a weekly basis. But he also knows firsthand what it’s like to watch loved ones be taken to the hospital for a cancer-related reason.

In 2016, Chris lost his mom to breast cancer, which had spread to her brain. Nine years earlier, his mother-in-law died of uterine cancer. And when Chris’s brother was only 14, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but thankfully now is cancer-free.

Chris is Team Captain of Paramedics for a Cure, which has raised over $507,626 since they started participating in The Ride, an accomplishment that Chris is so proud of. He shares with the rest of our Ride community why participating as a team comes with multiple benefits.

I have three reasons why riding on a team with people in my field is beneficial…

One: There is camaraderie amongst people who have shared similar circumstances. For us, the paramedics and frontline cancer fighters, we can relate to what cancer patients are going through. We know what it’s like to enter the home of a family where a cancer patient has fallen ill and have to deal with the patient and family’s concerns. As a team, when we get together to train and fundraise, it is a fun and social event that allows us to share our feelings about dealing with cancer and gives us more motivation to participate in The Ride.

Two: Pride and team spirit. As we ride, train and fundraise together, there is a sense of belonging and pride. This sense of belonging and pride relates to the fact that each team member is accountable to fellow team Riders, and therefore we motivate and mentor all Riders on the team to do their best.

Three: We fundraise together. We plan multiple events that benefit all members of our team and help all team Riders reach their goals. For example, throughout the months of May and June, we work with Toronto EMS to fundraise directly within our community, selling yellow epaulettes for $20 to paramedics to wear for the month of June in supporting cancer awareness. Proceeds will go to The Ride.

Our team, Paramedics for a Cure, fundraises and trains together all year round. We have literally made The Ride to Conquer Cancer a yearlong experience. The more than 200-kilometre event in June has become a reunion and a celebration of our training and fundraising efforts over the year. Come the finish line, and we will get ready to do it all over again next year!

Samantha Cockburn is participating in The Ride to Conquer Cancer to honour her father, Don Cockburn, a dedicated Ride participant himself. For nearly a decade, Don battled cancer and underwent treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Sadly, Don passed away on November 7, 2016. However, Samantha will continue to ride to support The Princess Margaret, the centre that gave her more memories with her father than she ever thought she could have.

In her own words, this daughter and Rider shares her father’s cancer care experience at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Who in your life received treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre?

My dad, Don Cockburn, received treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for almost 10 years. He, like me, supported The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Can you describe how you felt when you first heard the cancer diagnosis?

As a family, we were quite shocked. Dad was very young to be diagnosed with colon cancer, as he was only in his 40s. When I was much younger, my mom had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s MALT lymphoma, so I was no stranger to the word cancer, and I was also no stranger to everything that came with that word: chemo, radiation, feeling tired all the time, no hair, vomiting and small appetites.

I knew that my mom was able to get through it with our help, but I wondered how my dad would do. He was very business-oriented and always on the go; it would be a huge lifestyle change, so I was scared for him.

Can you describe what the treatment process was like?

Dad dealt with chemo in a way that no one else I know has dealt with it. He scheduled his chemo as if it was a business meeting. Always Thursdays, bright and early, always as fast as possible, and if he had it his way, ALWAYS with his favourite nurse in one of his favourite chairs—Manny, Orange 24.

He had treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for so many years [that] he learned all of the insider tips. Arrive 30 minutes before they say so you can get a good number. Park in the lot across the street and you get the early bird nine-dollar rate. Have your health card ready and know who to ask the questions (receptionists will always have your answer).

To him, the chemotherapy process was not a sentence but rather a scheduled meeting, one that he did not like to attend but enjoyed the company when he was there.

Beyond the cancer care received, what was it like at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre?

I have spent much time in and out of hospitals in my life due to my parents’ illnesses. My mom received her radiation treatment at Sunnybrook, another phenomenal care centre, and also in Orillia in a room with about six chemo chairs.

Safe to say, transitioning from that to the amazingly developed Princess Margaret Cancer Centre world was an eye opener for me. The first time my grandma came with me to my dad’s treatment, she asked me if The Princess Margaret was a hotel before it was a hospital because it was so open and bright—a feeling you do not get in many hospitals.

My dad also spent some time on the 16th floor at The Princess Margaret. Until last year, I had never ventured past the fourth floor. Discovering the beautiful glass flower garden and the outdoor patio was quite a treat. The staff was always helpful and willing to give directions when you had taken a wrong turn. The Princess Margaret has found the art of bringing joy into sadness, allowing for you to have moments of peace in a heart-wrenching place.

Did you develop any special relationships with the medical staff at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre?

Being the businessman that my dad was, he was all about punctuality. He was always on time, he expected his nurses to get him in on time and he expected to leave on time—a formal business transaction with a few drugs mixed in. I think that this attitude towards chemo made many of the nurses fond of him. Who doesn’t love a patient who is always early and ready to jump up and go when you give the okay?

Dad developed a very special relationship with his nurse, Manny; I think it really should be called a friendship. He always looked forward to seeing Manny because he trusted his opinions and thoroughly enjoyed their conversations. Manny understood Dad’s need to remain in control of his chemo and allowed him to continue his business meeting type treatments for the almost five years that he was his nurse.

Unfortunately, as most nurses do, Manny moved to another floor at The Princess Margaret, and dad was left on Thursday mornings without his friend. That’s when Rosie and Marina came in. They had seen dad there for many years, always said hello and understood his schedule. They made sure that even though Manny was gone, this routine would stay. These two women, along with all of the other nursing staff, made dad’s treatment life a little bit easier.

Dad had a break from chemotherapy for about one year. In this time he started off quite healthy, but by the end he had become ill again. Seeing the nurses’ reactions of watching dad come in every other week and seeing the changes in him was quite difficult. They always ran over to give him a kind hello. Sometimes hugs were needed, as they watched the man they had followed and treated for eight years disappear due to a disease that could no longer be controlled.

At one of the last treatments I took dad to, we were waiting for his treatment to start and about four nurses had come over to say hello, check on him and make sure everything was running smoothly. They were many of his “original girls.”

He turned and said to me, “I don’t understand why they all fuss over me and want to care for me. I’m just another patient.” In that moment, I realized that he had no understanding of how truly remarkable he was, so I made sure to give him my explanation. I asked him if he understood how amazing it was to watch the same patient with a stage IV cancer walk through the door every two or three weeks for almost a decade. It doesn’t happen; that is not a part of the normal cancer world. He was a direct reflection to them of how their care and what they are doing makes a difference. Every two weeks, he proved to the nurses that modern medicine is unbelievable. It makes perfect sense to me that those nurses wanted to care for him. I know that I would want the same.

What would you say of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s bedside manner?

The bedside manner at The Princess Margaret was remarkable. The nurses were incredibly attentive and always kind. They were efficient but also took time to explain everything to their patients. They always followed proper procedure and protocol but made it a humanistic experience, not robotic.

How has Princess Margaret Cancer Centre affected your life?

The Princess Margaret gave me 10 years with my dad that I never would have had. It gave me high school and university graduation, many trips and family dinners. The Princess Margaret allowed me to have millions of memories with my dad that would not have existed without their exemplary care.

Would you recommend Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to others going through the same situation?

I would without hesitation recommend The Princess Margaret to anyone going though this situation, and I already have. It is so incredible to have one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world located so close to home, and I am so fortunate to say that The Princess Margaret changed my life.

Gear Up Day is an annual Ride celebration of what we can accomplish when we come together to conquer cancer in our lifetime.

Rider Catherine Belanger has experienced firsthand how this disease can impact lives, but side by side with her sister, she is determined to make a difference for cancer patients and their families across Ontario.

My sister Valerie and I completed our first Enbridge® Ride to Conquer Cancer® benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in memory of our father, Mario, who passed away on February 14, 2016 after a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer. He was only 57.

Four days later, my aunt Diane, my dad’s sister, succumbed to brain cancer. She suffered from the disease for nearly two years.

For my sister and I, The Ride has become one of the best ways to remember our father and aunt while raising funds to support those who have dedicated their lives to eradicating cancer.

Cycling was a huge part of my dad’s life as well, and I now share this passion. Though he enjoyed mountain biking and I am more of a road biker, completing The Ride is a tribute to the man who showed me the joys of life on two wheels.

Completing The Ride last year gave me hope that all the funds raised will help conquer cancer in our lifetime. It’s easy to feel helpless when you watch the people you love slowly wither away because of something so relentless. The Ride serves as a reminder that there is something we can do to fight back, and my sister and I are committed to gearing up and crossing the finish line once again!

For Gear Up Day, I am asking everyone to join me in this challenge. Two days of cycling may be hard on our backsides, but it’s nothing compared to the journeys cancer patients and their families face every day. Who’s with me?

 

Tyler Puley is Team Captain of #TEALPOWER and rides to remember his late fiancée, Alison Salinas.

Alison underwent treatment for cervical cancer at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and had hoped to ride. She sadly was never able to.

In his own words, Tyler shares Alison’s cancer care experience at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Can you describe how you felt when you first heard Alison’s cancer diagnosis?

Tough question… How is one expected to feel once you hear this tragic news about someone you care so deeply about? I was in silent shock. Those words—“tumor” and “cancer”—are words you’ll never think you’ll hear in your lifetime. It took awhile to sink in, and once it did, we knew the only option we had was to fight. Ali fought hard right from the very first day she received her diagnosis.

Can you describe what the treatment process was like?

The treatment process in Ali’s case was a long one, but we always felt we were given as much information as was available. If we ever had questions or wanted advice on our own findings, the expert doctors at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were always there to answer our questions. Once we found out surgery wasn’t an option, we had to move fast. Brachytherapy, paired with small doses of targeted radiation, was the treatment suggested. At the end of eight months, we got the prognosis every patient dreams of hearing: no signs of cancer.

It wasn’t until four or five months later when we found out her cancer had returned, and that’s when life got very real. We were told chemotherapy was the only treatment option, and if it worked, Ali would be a candidate for phase one immunotherapy. Treatment was long and hard on Ali. Every three weeks she got the largest dose her poor little body could handle, and when she started to feel better, the cycle started all over again. Each time, I took her to The Princess Margaret and took her home. For me, as the primary caregiver, this was the hardest and most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I do everything I can with #TEALPOWER so that others—patients, caregivers and their families—never have to go through that experience. One day… It will happen.

Beyond the cancer care received, what was it like at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre?

The people at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre are absolutely amazing! In my opinion, nurses in particular have a thankless job, and I want to call them out specifically and thank them for doing what they do day in and day out.

Did you develop any special relationships with the medical staff at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre?

I certainly did and still have close relationships to this day. Our doctors, Dr. Fyles and Dr. Butler, were amazing people. Dr. Butler especially played such an important role and really went above and beyond during our entire journey. He gave me his personal cell number and encouraged me to call anytime I had any questions keeping me up at night. All the amazing nurses and admin made us feel comfortable.

Lastly, the entire team at the Foundation are incredible at what they do. We forged a strong relationship when Alison wanted to share her story, and I’m still working closely with Paul, Steve and Ramona to this day!

What would you say of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s bedside manner?

Professional, caring and helpful.

As the primary caregiver, I spent hours, days and weeks at The Princess Margaret, and they always made both Ali and myself feel welcomed and as comfortable as possible.

What has life been like since treatment?

Well, unfortunately treatment wasn’t successful in my story. Alison lost her battle after two years of fighting, so it’s been an adjustment. Her positivity, courage and bravery throughout the entire process changed my approach towards life. If someone so young and so positive was able to battle cancer with a smile on her face, I am determined to continue the legacy she started with #TEALPOWER to empower, educate and help raise funds for cervical cancer research so that one day we’ll be able to conquer the disease.

How has Princess Margaret Cancer Centre affected your life?

As strange as it may sound, my experience at The Princess Margaret has left a positive impact on my life. Spending two years of my life attending appointments, talking to doctors, hearing good and bad news… I view life in a different way. All the hard working people at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre help to save lives each day, and that is a challenge I have accepted. I want to help by leveraging my skills any way I can.

Would you recommend Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to others going through the same situation?

Yes. I am a very passionate advocate of The Princess Margaret! Although our story has a sad ending, it was because of the treatment options available that I was able to spend more amazing time with Alison, and we were able to start a movement that continues to impact lives to this day through #TEALPOWER.

 

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