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“I’m curing cancer. What do you do?”

Those are not my words. Those are the words of Ian Lawson Van Toch. He used to say that to challenge his friends. Ian was a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Computing. He was about to begin graduate studies in Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto when he died tragically in 2007. Ian had been interning in the field of cancer research when he died of heart disease at 22. He had found his passion, to help find the cure for cancer.
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I never knew Ian, but I met his father, John two years ago on a bike ride. As we rode along the bike path next to the river in Montreal, John told me about his son and the Ian Lawson Van Toch Cancer Informatics Fund that was established to continue his legacy. The Team Ian Ride, a cycling event from Kingston to Montreal that has raised over $130,000 so far, helps to support this fund. The ultimate goal of the fund is to provide opportunities for other young scientists like Ian to experience the same thrill of discovering their passion as Ian did and to help them launch their careers in the field of cancer informatics.
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I had wanted to do the Team Ian Ride since I met John and he told me about it, but last year I had committed to the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer and I was not sure I could raise the funds to do both. This year I was only planning to do the Enbridge Ride and I was asked again if I would like to participate in Ian’s Ride, I hesitated again and then said, “YES!”

I said yes because I realized that not doing it because I had to raise another $1000 was a lame excuse. I said yes because I saw the difference that our fundraising for Enbridge had made and that I could help to contribute to the $60,000 that Ian’s Ride is targeting this year. I said yes because I love to be with people who have a similar vision of life that I do; where there is nothing that is impossible and giving and caring are core values. I said yes because I was touched by the story of Ian and what that boy wanted to do and the passion that his family had to carry that dream on.

I met the rest of the family, Jane, Ian’s mother and Andrea, Ian’s sister, last weekend. The Team was out spinning on a street corner in front of one of the sponsors of the Team Ian Ride, the Royal Bank of Canada, where we collected donations. We asked and begged, we rode our bikes, we made bubbles for kids, we told the story of why we were doing this, we stopped passerby’s and people in cars stopped at red lights, we laughed and then at the end of it all I almost cried. Almost because there is great joy in what we are doing, but there is some sadness in this story.

Team Ian Spin-a-Thon 2014

Team Ian Spin-a-Thon 2014

When I first met Jane, our conversation was more about passing off the donations and thanking her for an egg salad sandwich. Then at the end as we were packing up I stopped Jane and asked her how it was to do this, and did it help with her loss. As the crew around us cleaned up we talked and I thought I would hear about what it was to have lost her son but what I heard was the strength and hope she has found in what they are doing together as a family to raise money so that other kids may not only help in the search for a cure for cancer, but that they may find their passion in life as Ian had done. I heard what an outgoing and kind and caring kid Ian was but I also saw a determination in Jane to carry on his legacy, the same determination that I first heard from John when I met him.

I am honoured to be taking part in this ride with 27 others and a team of volunteers who understand not only why this is important but also what small grass roots organizations can do and how their generosity may affect change. It shows me that we need to be ready to be generous and caring in all that we do. It shows me once again, that when we have the opportunity to give, we will, and in giving there is hope for a better future.

If you would like to sponsor me and donate to the Team Ian Ride: Click Here

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How will you be generous today?

Tomorrow I will get on my bike and ride to Quebec City to raise money for cancer care and research. I am riding with a few thousand others in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. It is like so many big charity events that we see these days where we need to raise a minimum amount to participate and through corporate donations and individual sponsorship large amounts of money are raised. This event takes place in four provinces in Canada and raises millions. It is called charity. But I don’t want to write about charity, I want to write about generosity.

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Charity is being moved to give and generosity is being moved to change.

This is not the first time I am doing this ride, I did this ride last year when I joined a team called, Hope & Gratitude. The team was started by a man named Rob Callard, a cancer survivor himself. I joined the team because I lost a very close friend to cancer and my friend had done a ride and somehow it seemed fitting to do this.

Rob & I at last year's ride.

Rob & I at last year’s ride.

Rob had made a post on FaceBook asking if anyone wanted to join and I remember reading the post and wanting to but not sure I could. I didn’t have a bike, I hadn’t really ridden a bike since I had a Peugeot 10 speed 30 years ago, and on top of that I had to raise $2500 to participate. What was making me hesitate though wasn’t any of that.

In Being Generous, One Becomes Generous.

What is it that makes most of us uncomfortable when we are presented with the opportunity to give, to being generous? As people, we are asked to give on a daily basis and in a charity situation we are being asked to make a difference in our communities, to overcome our fears and to make change. In this process we are forced to push ourselves beyond what we may think we are capable of doing. Yet true generosity is generative, it allows for change, for opportunity and it may go so far as being transformative. It goes far beyond charity.

I grew up in a family where giving and charity were done quietly and without the need for recognition. After working for so many years in an industry where profit and recognition was the norm I was shown a different vision, where the idea of your name on a hospital wing or in the newspaper became the goal. There seemed to have to be a reward for any giving done and somehow that did not seem right to me. Yet I saw the benefits of what power and influence could do to raise money. In the end, it was always at the grass roots level that I saw true generosity.

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Generous acts, will allow for generous responses.

This year to raise money there haven been spin-a-thons and bake sales, movie nights and workout events, and then just plain old asking for donations, in person, by e-mail and of course on Facebook. This year our team Hope & Gratitude has over 20 riders many of which I will only meet tomorrow. I enlisted one friend to ride with me last year and two more this year. What I have seen and heard from them and from the other riders in our training rides is always the same. They are amazed at the response from those they asked to sponsor them, they have been touched by the stories of those who were lost to cancer, and they were sometimes uncomfortable by the show of gratitude for what they are doing. They loved the hugs and thank-you’s that were bestowed on them and yet all that anyone has done is to be generous.

People give what they can to charity; we are generous with what is important to us.

There is one thing that I have learned in all my years of charity, we all want to give. I believe that it is innate in ourselves; we just need to be given the chance. That is what charity allows for, if we truly understand what it is to be generous.

In the end, the Enbridge Ride we will do tomorrow will raise millions of dollars and it will make a difference and allow much needed funding for research and patient care, but what we all achieved through our generous acts has no measure. The friend that was allowed to tell her story of losing her sister and sharing her loss, the child that baked cookies to help her mother raise $20, the co-worker that helped plan a mini fundraising event, the gift of knowing that we allowed someone to give has no value.

When we give because we want to make a difference we allow for the possibility to make change and our actions will have far greater consequences than any money donated to charity. It is not that money does not matter; it is to remember to put love into our giving. I say that generosity is not really optional and we must not do it now and then. It is when we do it on a daily basis that we will see it’s transformative power. I repeat: How will you be generous today?

If you would like to support my ride to benefit the Segal Cancer Centre at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, click here.

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