Alberta Cancer Foundation

Reason to Ride

Dr. Jan-Willem Henning isn’t the type of guy who settles for just good enough. A husband, father, friend-to-many, triathlete and medical oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre (TBCC), Dr. Henning habitually sets lofty goals.

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He was instrumental in assembling a dream team of 26 riders last year called the Tom Baker Cancer Conquerors – playing on the cancer centre’s acronym. They raised $100,000 that went to fund such initiatives as the Clinical Research Unit at the centre.

“Clinical trials are a huge source of optimism,” says Gwyn Bebb, medical director of the Clinical Trials Unit at the TBCC. “They provide hope that better treatments will be developed for future patients diagnosed with cancer.”

Henning agrees that a focus on clinical trials will help advance research and it will provide even better care for patients.

“We are so fortunate that all the money will be directed to patients undergoing treatment at the TBCC while participating on a clinical trial,” Henning says. “That gives patients the opportunity of more and potentially better options of treatment, but in the big picture bringing us one step closer in finding the cure.”

The 2012 TBCC team Henning amassed included friends, family and co-workers. “We knew from the beginning of this endeavour that we needed to think big,” says Henning, which meant that establishing a team wouldn’t necessarily be about finding the most experienced riders. “We needed people with exposure and connections to the community,” says Henning, pointing to his colleague and team co-captain Michael Civitella, executive director of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Henning asked Civitella to be co-captain only a few months after assembling the Conquerors to help inspire more event interest, team members – and the overall goal – more donation support.

Civitella, a self-professed “biking rookie” says his first practice ride was in 2012. “It was 30 or 40 hard kilometres. Boy was I sore the next day,” he says, his face hiding nothing of what his body felt last summer.

Along with his wife Dianna, Civitella pushed through the pain of that first ride and the two have since become biking enthusiasts. “Our goal was not to just ride for a year and let it go; we are building a team that will go on for a long time,” he says.

The 2013 TBCC team is definitely building on last year’s successes. More than 70 riders are part of the team with an increased fundraising goal of $250,000. “We were approached by EFW Radiology indicating that their team wanted to join us and ride under our banner,” Henning explains. “Ultimately, they share our sentiment of raising and keeping our money here at the TBCC.”

That partnership led to Dr. Carla Wallace, a neuro-radiologist from EFW, bringing her EFW team of more than 20 riders to join TBCC in March 2013. Wallace also became the Conquerors’ third co-captain.

The team’s significant boost for an overall fundraising goal became much more attainable last fall when the Calgary Italian Bakery dontated $50,000 to the Conquerors. It was the company’s 50th anniversary and due to the owner’s family member receiving treatment at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the special and large donation seemed fitting. “Supporting the clinical trials program was something they really liked since it was a way to bring the latest treatments to people currently dealing with cancer,” Civitella says.

The benefits of being involved in the ride are plentiful, says Civitella. “Instead of sitting around a table discussing this, I’m involved, training, motivating and raising money for this incredible cause.” He adds that his increased stamina, endurance and new-found friendships have also contributed to the allure of the ride.

When event day comes, Henning, Civitella and Wallace will mount their bikes and lead their team, an impressive 70-strong, through Alberta’s mountain landscape. As they ride, it’ll be a time to reflect on the reasons they chose to be a part of such a challenge. For Henning, he dedicates the upcoming ride to his patients and, while his efforts will be focused on them, he’ll ride along the highway with thousands of like-minded individuals who have also raised money for an incredible cause.

Some of those like-minded individuals make up the smaller, but still impactful, Team Cross Cancer Institute. The 2012 crew raised more than $37,000 with just 12 members. Let’s see what 2013’s event brings for all the registered teams.

FIND OUT MORE: The 2013 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer will take place June 22-23. Visit conquercancer.ca for more information about last-minute registration possibilities, how to donate or how to prepare for next year’s event.