Melissa Young and Michelle Connors are sisters and Riders in this year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal. The two share a lot in common – their love of the outdoors, passion for travel and dedication to family. Although sisters can sometimes grow apart over the years with busy lifestyles and schedules, family is like the North Star – always bringing you home, no matter how that changes over time.

“We’re both really busy – I go camping on the weekends and Michelle is busy with her family so we live fairly separate lives day-to-day. Last year, training for this event gave us something to do together and a common goal to work towards,” says Melissa.

“It was nice to go for a ride then come back and have a barbecue and a glass of wine together,” added Michelle.

This will be Melissa’s fifth year riding on the QEII Foundation’s host organization team. Melissa has worked at the QEII Foundation for over two decades and her passion for philanthropy has always shined bright in her Ride fundraising efforts. Melissa has been on a personal health and fitness journey for several years, so taking part in Ride was an easy fit into her active lifestyle. “When I started with Ride in 2016, I was 39, on the cusp of turning 40. That was my big motivation, to try to get myself in better shape as I moved into my forties,” says Melissa.

In 2020, Michelle joined because that’s what sisters do. Your main shtick as a sister is support and that’s exactly why Michelle got involved. “I guess I didn’t really decide to join,” shares Michelle. “I was just saying I had a bicycle and my sister said, well, congratulations, I just signed you up and you’re riding with me.” Michelle and Melissa both laugh in the way only sisters do.

Not only were Melissa and Michelle eager to hop in the saddle as a way to get fit and spend time together, but the cause was also an inspiration.

“It was all about getting healthy and giving back to a cause that really gave us the gift of time,” says Melissa. “I have always ridden for our mom. She was stage four breast cancer and metastatic, and now we are about to celebrate her twelve years as a cancer survivor at the end of May. It feels like a miracle that she’s still here with us today.”

When Michelle and Melissa’s mom, Flo, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, they started to mentally prepare themselves – they didn’t know how much time they had left with her. Now twelve years later, the sisters are grateful for their mom’s care team at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and eager to give back so that other families can receive the same world-class care.

“I’ve had my mother with me for 12 years beyond what we imagined possible because of the team at the QEII. She had a fantastic oncologist, whom she still sees to this day, amazing nurses – nothing but the greatest care. I want to give back because there could be other families in the same situation as ours,” says Melissa. “Whatever we can do to make sure we get the best equipment, technology and care here at home, I think that’s what we need to do.”

Funds raised this year will bring the QEII one step closer to introducing new state-of-the-art genetic sequencing technology to analyze the genes of thousands of tumour samples each year. Better outcomes, fewer side effects, access to new therapies or clinical trials are all benefits this technology will bring to cancer patients, here at home. It can even spare patients from unnecessary treatments. This technology will be a game-changer for those patients facing late-stage cancers.

As a Ride veteran, Melissa has incredible expertise in fundraising and consistently knocks her goal out-of-the-park by using creative fundraising strategies to engage her network.

“Some might find it daunting to raise the $1,000 minimum, but it’s all about finding innovative ways to raise the funds. I got creative last summer with my friends at the campground and did a 100 Square Sale where people could buy a square for $20 and when all squares were sold, and funds were collected, I drew for the winning number using a random number generator. The person who purchased the square with the winning number won 50 per cent of the earnings and I was able to hit my goal,” explains Melissa. Learn more about this fundraising strategy and how to do it yourself here.

With over 1,300 Riders registered for this year’s event, the buzz is building and many community members are jumping in to support the cause. Riders, families, and businesses big and small are working together to raise funds to bring new genetic sequencing technology home to the QEII. Twig & Twine Floristry is one small, local business that is supporting the cause this Mother’s Day by selling gorgeous Mother’s Day bouquets, with $1.00 from each order coming back to support a Rider in the event. An incredible $164 was raised and the beautiful bouquets were a sell-out – a testament to the jaw-dropping florals and strong community support for the cause.

As Mother’s Day approaches, many of us think about how grateful we are for our moms and mother figures in our lives. Melissa and Michelle are especially filled with gratitude during this time as they celebrate Mother’s Day and their mom’s twelve years as a survivor. The sisters feel lucky to be able to participate in this event and feel that it’s a win-win. Getting outside in nature, having the benefits of physical activity, spending time together, and raising funds for a cause close to their hearts.

 


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.

The Feenstras are an adventurous family. They spend weekends soaking up the sun – biking, hiking, and in the warmer months, camping off the grid – piling the essentials into a canoe and paddling to a remote island to sleep under the stars.

“When I first met Andrew, I was riding a bike from Canadian Tire. That did not go over very well,” his partner, Tracey, jokes.

As owner of Cyclesmith, bikes are sort of in Andrew’s DNA – and a love for cycling has extended to Tracey and their two kids, Adyson, 10, and Carter, 4.

When they caught wind of Ride for Cancer a few years back, it was a no-brainer to get involved. This year will be Adyson’s second ride – a trooper, among the youngest Riders on the trail.

“The local element is super important,” Andrew says, “funds raised stay here in Atlantic Canada for Atlantic Canadians.”

“And I think the equipment they’re purchasing is amazing,” Tracey adds, “for early diagnosis and less invasive treatments,” she says. “My thought is for our kids. It’ll be here if we need it, but for them – you know, whether they face breast or cervical or prostate cancer in the future.”

This year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal will fund genetic sequencing technology for the QEII Health Sciences Centre. DNA sequencers analyze genes to assess what treatments will work for an individual and help to create personalized care plans.

The technology can even spare patients from unnecessary treatments – a life-changing impact – especially for late-stage cancers.

Both Tracey and Andrew have been touched by cancer, most recently having lost Andrew’s mom in May 2020. This year, they will honour her as a family on the trail, along with Tracey’s dad, who passed away when she was just twenty five.

“I was living away in Florida at the time. He went into the hospital not knowing what was wrong. He had thought a gallstone was causing him so much stomach pain and sickness,” she recalls.

Tracey traveled home after he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. The cancer spread to his liver, and fourteen months later, he passed away.

“He was fifty three years old. Losing him was really difficult,” Tracey says, “my dad and I were very close.”

Tracey’s mom is a survivor of the same type of cancer – she had surgery to remove it a month before Adyson was born. Among other cancer survivors in the family are Andrew’s two sisters – both having faced breast cancer.

The prevalence of cancer in Atlantic Canadians – with one in two facing a diagnosis in their life time – is more than a stat for the Feenstras, its lived experience and part of their story. It’s why they ride.

And when it comes to event day experience, Andrew spoke accolades.

“Everything is best-in-class. That’s why the event raised one million net last year. That’s why it’s gone from one hundred to one thousand riders in six years. It’s an amazing event and also a community doing incredible things.”

Cyclesmith has become an integral community partner for Ride, helping to ensure the event’s success year-over-year.

While the Ride has hit capacity to safely execute the in-person experience for 2021, a virtual rider experience is open to all. To learn more or sponsor a rider visit yourrideforcancer.ca/donate.

 


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.

 

Evolve Fitness Owners, Matt and Mitch Benvie, have been in a ‘friendly’ competition their entire lives – although Matt is quick to point out that he had the initial victory in life of being born 11 minutes earlier than Mitch.

As identical twins, the brothers and co-business owners thrive in a competitive environment, but share an aligned vision on and joint commitment to health and fitness, and giving back to one’s community. The dynamic duo were presented with an opportunity in 2020 for Evolve Fitness to join Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal.

And like everything the two get involved with, they dove in with full commitment and enthusiasm. Last year, Evolve Fitness recruited the event’s largest Ride for Cancer team to date with 151 team members who raised an incredible $175,378.

Ride for Cancer is such a meaningful event and with our large client base, the cause really hits home for many. It just felt very special, especially during a pandemic,” shares Matt. “Many of clients are like family to us. They align with our values and our mission, and when they see us getting involved with something, it makes it a lot easier for them to get on board too”.

And with Ride being a physical event, Mitch adds “it gives our clients a little something extra to work towards”.

Back again this year, Evolve Fitness have their sights set on an even larger team, with a bigger fundraising goal. Their initial goal was to recruit 200 team members and raise over $200,000. With such ambitious goals, the brothers brought back Team Matt and Team Mitch and now have over 276 Riders on their team and a new goal to raise $300,000.

Team Matt vs Team Mitch has deep rooted history, dating back to 2013 when they expanded Evolve Fitness to add a second gym. By challenging their clients to choose Team Matt or Team Mitch, the brothers foster an energetic, inspiring rivalry.

“We turn to competition to get people excited. Not only are they representing their team, they are representing Ride for Cancer,” explains Matt.

This year, both Matt and Mitch are featured in Ride for Cancer’s ‘faces of the fight’ marketing campaign. When asked which word they wanted put on their face with make-up, the choice was easy.

“Inspire. That’s my word,” says Mitch. “Anyone can inspire anyone else. The amount of clients who come into Evolve Fitness, overcome diversity and transform their lives, is truly amazing. They inspire me every day to do better.”

Matt sports the word passion. “Our entire business is driven by passion. Passion is giving everything you’ve got to something. We are all in and passionate about our clients, our community, our business, and now with Ride for Cancer. It is an event I will likely do for the rest of my life and we will proudly use it to inspire others.”

This year in particular, Matt and Mitch are extra passionate and inspired, as the cause hits close to home. With a young person in their life recently diagnosed with cancer, this year’s ride will be that much more personal for them.

“You can do everything right in your life, with health and wellness, and still be hit with something like a cancer diagnosis. You can’t always avoid it,” says Matt. “If cancer has touched your life, raising some money, while being part of a team, is a good journey to take. And knowing where the money is going, and staying local is a big part for me”.

Funds raised this year will bring the QEII Health Sciences Centre one step closer to introducing new state-of-the-art genetic sequencing technology to analyze the genes of thousands of tumour samples each year. With over 200 different types of cancer, and no two tumours or diagnoses alike, now more than ever there is a need to identify the most targeted and effective treatments.

Better outcomes, fewer side effects, access to a new therapy or clinical trial are all benefits this technology will bring to cancer patients. It can even spare patients from unnecessary treatments. This is a game-changer for those patients facing late-stage cancers.

As pre-COVID avid travelers and concert goers who are grounded in their home province for the time being, the brothers are fully focused on their business and their clients, having recently re-vamped their fitness programs for the virtual space.

They both hit the gym by 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. to train clients and write business content and the busy day unfolds, still making time to play some sports and have some ‘friendly’ games of ping pong. They both have been studying Spanish since the pandemic started, so that when travel is a safe option again, they are ready to immerse themselves in the countries they will visit.

Both share how much their job and their clients mean to them. “I love my job. It is a complete pleasure because of the clients we have,” says Matt. A feeling echoed by Mitch, “Not a lot of people can truly say they love their job”.

With over 276 riders on the Evolve Fitness team, the push is on. And the split between Team Matt and Team Mitch is heating up and the team as a whole has already raised an incredible $39,850 for the cause.

With just other five months until event day happening on October 2, Mitch is greatly looking forward to the team comradery of the day. “The event is unbelievable. And it is an investment in your own health, for your fitness now and for health care in the future.”

This weekend, you can make an impact with Matt & Mitch and East Coast Lifestyle founder, Alex MacLean by joining a FREE virtual workout in support of Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal! For every person who attends the free workout, FIVE DOLLARS will be donated up to $10,000 to the cause to help transform cancer care, here at home.

When: Saturday, May 1, at 10:00AM
Where: From the comfort of your home
Who: All ages and fitness levels welcome.
Equipment needed: None

There will also be over $10,000 in prizes drawn live during the event!

CLICK HERE TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT

 


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.

Odette Merchant’s Ride for Cancer journey started in the Netherlands – a country known for its cycling. In 2014, Odette and her family took a trip to enjoy everything the Netherlands had to offer, including bike rentals to see the sites and enjoy the outdoors. This experience had a great impact on Odette, who found complete joy in the experience.

“Before I even returned home to Halifax, I told my family I wanted to get a bike,” says Odette.

Little did she know, it would be a very special bike. Shortly after her trip, Odette was strolling through her neighbourhood during Halifax’s Curbside Give Away Weekend.

“A lady, who I didn’t know, was putting a bike at the end of her driveway as I went by so I stopped and asked if she was selling the bike,” remembers Odette. “She said that she was giving it away and I thought that was so kind.”

It was an older model but in Odette’s eyes, it was like a shiny new bike. Her husband got the bike in peak riding condition and added a beautiful wicker basket. Odette headed out on the trails to enjoy her new prized possession. The local trails became a weekly destination for riding with a friend.

The following spring, Nova Scotia Community College – where Odette works as a manager – invited their staff to an information session about joining the college’s team in the Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal.

“I thought, someone had been so kind to me by giving me the bike that I get so much pleasure from, that I would try to pay that generosity forward and do something good for our community,” says Odette.

Odette quickly joined the NSCC Trailblazers team, training and fundraising for cancer care in Nova Scotia. And she’s continued to do so every year since.

In October 2019, Odette’s connection to the Ride for Cancer became even stronger. Shortly after completing the 2019 ride, Odette was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I never, ever imagined that I was going to become so personally connected to this event and to the community of riders who were all doing so much for cancer care,” says Odette.

Exercise is an important part of many cancer treatment plans and Odette had her special bike to carry her through this journey. Being able to train for the next Ride provided Odette with the motivation she needed to keep going, even on the challenging days.

“I got back on my bike as soon as I was able to and I was determined that I was going to be feeling strong enough to participate again,” says Odette. “The outpouring of support and encouragement from my family and friends and from my team was so positive. They helped me pedal!”

Shortly after Odette started chemotherapy and later, radiation treatments, at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, COVID-19 arrived in Nova Scotia. Odette is quick to point out that, despite the challenges of the pandemic and the quick pivots in health care, her care team worked incredibly hard to keep her safe and informed, and showed exceptional compassion throughout her journey.

In October 2020 – a year after her cancer diagnosis and just weeks after completing her final treatment – Odette completed her fifth Ride for Cancer.

“Ride day was a huge day of celebration for me. I had done the ride for so many years before and then it became even more personal when I had my own cancer journey. I was very, very grateful at the end of last year. Crossing the finish line was emotional.”

One of the things Odette loves about the event, she says, is that it’s for everyone – a fun ride where you don’t need to be an athlete to participate. Odette is also drawn into the atmosphere of the day.

“Ride day is awesome but the build up to ride day is really fun too. We always enjoy our training rides and our fundraising activities. It just takes a little bit of effort and the impact on our community is so profound,” she says.

Today, Odette is feeling really good and is back to work. Already registered for the 2021 Ride for Cancer, Odette’s story doesn’t end there.

Recently, her bike went missing when it fell off her bike carrier while she and her friend were driving on the Bedford Highway. When they went back to look for it, they couldn’t find it. While bikes are replaceable, Odette and her bike had quite a journey together and getting it back would mean the world to her.

“I went online and posted on Kijiji and Facebook and said my bike was missing,” explains Odette.

Her post was shared many times and she received dozens of kind messages from people she didn’t even know, wishing her luck in finding her bike. Then, in a twist of nothing short of fate, someone posted on their own social media that they had found a bike. Many people recognized the bike as Odette’s; shortly thereafter, she and her bike were reunited.

“It’s amazing to have my bike back,” says Odette with a smile. “But what stands out to me is the support I received from the community – the same support that inspired me to do Ride for Cancer the first time.”

 


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.

Erin Thibault is a Paediatric registered nurse, high-performance AquaBike/ triathlete and triathlon coach in Halifax.

Erin has competed around the world in places like New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and all over the States and Canada. Currently, Erin has her sights set overseas with hopes to compete at the 2021 World Triathlon Multisport Championships in Almere-Amsterdam, the Netherlands this September.

“I am planning on taking part in the AquaBike long course, which is a 4-kilometre open-water swim followed by a 180-kilometre bike. But with COVID – who knows if the competition will still be held,” Erin explains. With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic in terms of travel, Erin is choosing to find purpose in what she can plan for – making a positive impact here at home.

Erin will be taking part in this year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal in the 160-killometre road route, starting in Bayers Lake, riding to Chester, and taking the picturesque Aspotogan loop along the beautiful coast of the South Shore before riding back to Halifax.

“I chose the word PURPOSE across my face to represent finding a new purpose with not being able to travel and compete. My purpose is to use what I do as an athlete to bring awareness, raise funds and rally the community around the great needs in cancer care locally,” says Erin.

Funds raised will bring the QEII Health Sciences Centre one step closer to introducing new state-of-the-art genetic sequencing technology to analyze the genes of thousands of tumour samples each year. Better outcomes, fewer side effects, access to a new therapy or clinical trial are all benefits this technology will bring to cancer patients, here at home. It can even spare patients from unnecessary treatments. This is a game-changer for those patients facing late-stage cancers.

Erin works at the IWK Health Centre as an OR nurse and often works with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, “I work with kids when they’re getting their port-a-cath inserted or taken out,” says Erin. “Days the port comes out are always party days for us.” Port-a-caths are sometimes used to give intravenous chemotherapy, and other drugs to cancer patients.

“Everybody knows at least somebody that has either had cancer or dealt with it in relation to a close family member or friend. There’s always a connection there. That’s why I’m riding this year. I also like having something to train for – I always like to have a goal I’m working towards. Training for this ride will keep me active and give me another outlet for my energy.”

Erin has been active for as long as she can remember. She got into swimming at a young age, encouraged to become a strong swimmer by her family because her grandfather had tragically drowned. She fell in love with the sport and went on to teach swimming lessons and become a lifeguard.

One Canada Day, Erin watched athletes compete in a triathlon around Lake Banook in Dartmouth and thought to herself, “I could do this.” Erin challenged herself and started to train. To start, Erin took part in a team triathlon with a couple of friends. Erin did the bike portion, “Our goal was simply to finish and we did, with a better result than we anticipated. That was the last race of the season, so then my goal became to train over the winter to do my first race by myself the next summer.”

Erin successfully competed that following summer and after a few years in the sport, she made it her goal to qualify for the triathlon World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand in 2012. She reached that goal and placed third in her age category. An incredible accomplishment.

“That’s where my passion for travelling and sport really started – and my obsession with always looking for the next adventure and challenge. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, travelled to Africa, skydiving in New Zealand and repelling – I was finding my purpose in all sorts of different things. Now that travel and adventure are looking a little different, this event will serve as my next challenge and thing to look forward to.”

Erin is building her team to take part in this year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal, inspiring others to join the fight against cancer for patients and families in Atlantic Canada – but also for something positive to do for your own wellbeing.

“It’s a great thing to feel like you’re doing something for other people that also brings value to your own life,” says Erin. “You’re raising awareness, you’re contributing to better cancer care for our local hospital, and you’re becoming a part of a new community. There are so many positives – there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Whether its community, friends, a healthy lifestyle or a new challenge, we could all use something to look forward to right now.”

Taking place on October 2, 2021, Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal will see hundreds of participants, inclusive of veteran cyclists like Erin, and recreational and rookie riders, riding their choice of distance options via the Rum Runners Trail or by the road – a safe distance apart. You can support Riders like Erin now by donating to this year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal at yourrideforcancer.ca/sponsor


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.

For exercise physiologist, personal trainer and lifetime athlete, Joy Chiekwe, the hand-painted word ‘strong’ is a fitting choice to wear across her face with pride.

Much of Joy’s life has centered around sports, movement and goal-setting. These longtime passions have evolved from years spent playing competitive basketball and ultimate frisbee to now helping patients maintain or improve strength following cancer treatment.

As a clinical exercise physiologist, Joy uses exercise as a form of medicine to prevent and manage chronic disease, as well as help those living with and healing from life-changing conditions, like cancer.

An area of pride is Joy’s work with the ACCESS (Activating Cancer Communities through an Exercise Strategy for Survivors) program, where she works with cancer patients and survivors at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and across the Maritimes.

“A big part of my role is working with individuals to understand their cancer journey, their treatments and experience, and how we can incorporate movement and activity into their day-to-day,” says Joy.

The 12-week exercise program includes aerobics, cardio and resistance training, depending on a patient’s unique needs.

According to Joy, for some, it can be as simple as patients’ getting their daily steps in or using the floor or living room chair to maintain muscle and functional strength.

“The survival rate for cancer patients is continually increasing and improving, but the adverse effects from treatments are not,” says Joy. “Our ultimate goal is to help patients better cope with their treatments, reduce their time in hospital and improve their overall experience.”

Joy and the ACCESS team are fierce advocates for the role exercise and physical activity can play in the continuum of cancer care.

For Joy, her role has also introduced her to “some of the most inspiring people” she’s met.

“When you start in this field, you may have an automatic perception that these are folks who are incredibly frail and really struggling,” says Joy. “While that’s certainly the case for some, there’s also a lot of strength and a lot of hope in the people you get to meet and work with every day.”

The best days on the job are those when patients share that they’ve regained a sense of control.

“When it comes to cancer, there’s so much that’s out of your control,” Joy describes. “To see a patient’s eyes light up when they realize they can still do certain things or when they’ve reached a certain goal…it’s incredibly rewarding.”

A reason to ride

For second-time rider, Joy, her reason for participating in this year’s Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal is simple.

“I’m doing it for our patients,” says Joy. “For the individuals I’ve met and worked with and those I’ll continue to see right up until Ride day – in a way – it’s showing them that I’m here fighting for them too.”

So, if hopping on her bike and pushing herself to succeed can show some solidarity – while also impacting local cancer care at home – it’s a challenge she’ll happily undertake with pride.

As part of that challenge, Joy says she has big plans for her 2021 Ride.

Her goals include training for her 75-kilometre distance, raising as much funds as she can, and recruiting an all-star squad for her team, Black Wellness Co-Operative.

The team name reflects a newly formed group of Black health and wellness professionals in Nova Scotia – including Joy – who are committed to providing expertise, knowledge and training to underserved communities.

“I’m excited to ride and support a cause that so many of us are touched by,” says Joy. “I have friends who’ve been impacted by cancer and it’s really come to light how important this type of event can be.”

Taking place on October 2, 2021, Ride for Cancer powered by BMO Bank of Montreal will see hundreds of participants riding their choice of distance via the Rum Runners Trail or by the road – a safe distance apart. You can support Joy’s team by clicking here!


 

Rider Stories are presented by:

Our Ride Community is comprised of inspiring advocates, warriors, survivors and fighters. This community is the reason we ride, to make an impact on cancer care for them and for future generations. As a proud sponsor of Ride for Cancer, AstraZeneca helps share these stories and inspires our community to continue the fight against cancer.