Chris and Cooper Carpenter smiling.

Chris Carpenter (left) is the father of 10-year-old, two-time cancer survivor, Cooper (right). He’s riding for his son and to help bring treatment closer to home for other families.

Chris Carpenter understands how invaluable it is to have life-saving technology and treatment options close to home for patients and families during an illness.

For the father of three boys – Carter, Cooper and Derek – he knows all too well what families endure during a cancer journey. That’s because his middle son, 10-year-old Cooper, is a two-time cancer survivor. And he is Chris’s motivation for joining the fight as a 2023 BMO Ride for Cancer participant.

Today, Cooper is a happy, healthy, kind, polite and energetic kid who loves his brothers and basketball. Described by Chris as having “two speeds – sleeping or going full speed,” Cooper has come a long way since he was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — a childhood cancer of the blood and bone marrow — in 2015 and again in 2019.

The second time, Cooper’s ALL treatment was complicated by multiple health factors that saw him in and out of hospital at the IWK Health Centre for more than six months, though his journey with ALL has been much longer. “Cooper has been receiving treatment for half his life,” says Chris, noting he received three years of treatment during his first diagnosis, and was in and out of hospital for two years following his 2019 diagnosis.

“My support network allowed me to give 100 per cent”

“Having access to local expertise and care was a game-changer for our family,” says Chris, noting the quality of care Cooper received. But it was also having their support network close by that impacted them most. “Because I was surrounded by my wife, Susan, who was my rock the entire time, family, friends and a supportive workplace, I could give 100 per cent of myself to Cooper and stay focused on his care.”

Chris says that along with Cooper’s mother, Cathy, they would each spend five to six days at the hospital with Cooper, trading off for work and an opportunity to go home when needed.

“I knew I always had a safe place to land at home when I left the hospital or when Cooper got to leave for short periods. But I recognized that not every family has life-changing treatment close to home. I would see many families who didn’t have that benefit,” says Chris, noting the mental, emotional and financial strain that can cause.

At one point, Cooper’s treatment plan involved travelling to SickKids Hospital in Toronto for a special therapy — called CAR-T therapy — but in the end, he could finish treatment at home in Halifax. For their family it meant they didn’t have to endure the extra burden during an already challenging time.

A serendipitous connection

That’s why it felt serendipitous when Chris heard about this year’s BMO Ride for Cancer cause, raising funds to create Atlantic Canada’s first CAR-T therapy lab at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. This lifesaving immunotherapy is a final lifeline and potential cure for certain blood cancer patients whose cancer isn’t responding to any other treatment options. 2023 BMO Ride participants, like Chris, are on a mission to fully fund the technology and equipment within the region’s first and only CAR-T therapy lab, as well as fuel future research and clinical trials to potentially expand the use of this immunotherapy to other aggressive cancers. The lab’s establishment will mark the first time that this treatment can be both produced and administered to patients, right here at home.

“I know the potential of CAR-T therapy and how having it locally will ease the minds of families facing a cancer diagnosis. It will help alleviate some of the strain they would face if they had to leave the province to get this level of care,” says Chris.

Chris adds that having a CAR-T therapy lab in Halifax also gives him hope for the future.

“With the medical expertise in Halifax and opportunities for innovation and research, I think there’s a real, unlimited potential for change by bringing the CAR-T therapy lab to the QEII.”

And Chris will help make that a reality. On September 23, he will ride 100 kilometres alongside his good friend and Backman Vidcom colleague, Andrew Morris (who is participating in his fourth BMO Ride), as part of team Cooper’s Troopers. Their fundraising efforts have been supported by family, friends and industry colleagues, who Chris says have stepped up throughout Cooper’s journey. And this is just one more way they’re doing so.

BMO Riders, Chris Carpenter and Andrew Morris, training on a local Halifax trail

Chris pictured with his Cooper’s Troopers teammate, Andrew Morris.

While Chris and Andrew are riding in Cooper’s name, Chris acknowledges that they’ve both been impacted by cancer in many ways, including Chris’s younger sister, Wendy, who passed away 10 years ago from breast cancer.

“We are all connected to cancer in so many ways. And I believe that soon there will be a breaking point; a cure will happen eventually. So why not now? Funding cancer care and research through BMO Ride is an opportunity to potentially play a small role in helping to tip the scales.”

You can support Chris or another BMO Rider and help deliver life-saving cancer care. Fund the fight today.