The family with their dog, Archie (The MacDonald family)

Author: CBC – Publish date: June 10, 2024
Article originally published by CBC

Two teams’ powerful ‘why’ for being a part of Atlantic Canada’s largest cycling fundraising event

Nancy MacDonald loved to give. She was, as her good friend Mary-Kathryn Stewart says, “just the best human being we’ve ever known.”

“Her love language was food,” says her son, Ben MacDonald, 25, as his father hands over a thick cookbook entitled Loving Food. “That was how she expressed her love.” The cover features a photo of a beaming Nancy MacDonald about to blow out candles atop a sumptuous dessert. The self-published volume, filled with her family’s favourite recipes and vibrant, colourful photos of Nancy, was her kids’ way of memorializing their mother.

Loving Food,’ a cookbook filled with Nancy MacDonald’s cherished recipes (The MacDonald family)

“She always would be making muffins and taking things somewhere, and we’d always come home to something cooking,” says her daughter, Kate MacDonald, by phone from her home in Seattle, WA. “I think it’s probably one of the best mementos that we have in the family now.”

Nancy was just 56 when she died due to ovarian cancer in November 2023. Deeply adored by friends, family, and community members, Nancy touched many lives through her passion, kindness and generosity. Nancy’s sister, Beth Girard, says, “They just don’t make people like her. She was just so genuine and giving and real and fun, and she loved to laugh, and she loved life. She never took anything for granted.”

Nancy dedicated much of her time to championing game-changing causes like the BMO Ride for Cancer, hosted by the QEII Foundation, which will mark its 10th year on September 28, 2024. She participated in the event for five years, beginning even before she was diagnosed with cancer, personally fundraising over $11,000. Nancy rode as part of the Breast Friends team – a dedicated group of women who began riding and fundraising to support their friend and team creator, Laura Lee Josey, who was undergoing breast cancer treatment at the time. Through BMO Ride for Cancer, the Breast Friends team has raised nearly $100,000 to date for local cancer care at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

“My mom definitely met any challenge,” says Kate of her mother’s fundraising efforts. “She was very humbled and very honored that people wanted to support her in that cause.”

This year, Nancy’s family and friends on the Breast Friends and Conrose Cycling Club teams will be riding and raising funds in her memory. Among those riders are Mary-Kathryn and her husband, Garry Stewart, as well as Nancy’s son, Ben, and her husband, Andrew MacDonald.

left to right: Garry Stewart, Ben MacDonald, Nancy MacDonald, Andrew MacDonald, Sam Beaton at the 2022 BMO Ride for Cancer. While Nancy didn’t feel well enough to ride, “she came to the finish line two years ago and met us,” says Andrew. “She met us there and she was just so happy. She wanted to thank everyone for doing it.” (The MacDonald family)

“I think she’d be very proud,” says Andrew, of the teams’ decision to participate in her honour. “She’d rather be here doing the ride herself, that’s for sure. But she would encourage everyone to keep doing it because unfortunately, she knew that she wouldn’t be the last person to be affected by cancer.”

She wasn’t wrong—Nova Scotia has the highest cancer rates in all of Canada. But Garry Stewart, who will be riding for his seventh year with Andrew on the Conrose team (which has raised more than $198,000 over the years), says the local benefit makes the BMO Ride personally meaningful. All the funds raised through the BMO Ride stay in Atlantic Canada, funding cancer-fighting technologies and equipment that impact the care and treatment of nearly every patient who receives cancer care at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, which serves as the region’s largest and most specialized cancer centre. “The idea that the funds are raised for care here in Nova Scotia,” says Garry, “means that’s going to help our friends—someone we know.”

Since 2015, the BMO Ride community has raised over $10.3 million net, and this year’s funds will unlock a new era of cancer care by funding liquid biopsy technology at the QEII—a revolutionary non-invasive blood test that will determine if a patient’s cancer is cured, if it has returned, and, if so, how best to treat it.

“She would be so excited about that because she had so many CT scans—so many—and they’re not pleasant,” says Andrew. “To be able to potentially test through a blood screening, that would have made a huge difference to her quality of life.”

Her friends and family acknowledge Nancy will be top of mind as they cross the finish line on BMO Ride event day. According to Breast Friends teammate, Mary-Kathryn, she’ll be one of many riders thinking of her dear friend that day. “There are so many people who knew and loved Nancy and will be riding in her honour – her influence is vast.”

Mary-Kathryn Stewart and Nancy MacDonald (The MacDonald family)

As Nancy’s son, Ben, explains: “I’ll be excited to do it, and it’s going to be hard, but it always just gets put into perspective for me. This is nothing. It makes me think more about how tough she was and how strong she was to handle it with such grace.”

Ben, Nancy and Andrew MacDonald with a sign that says, ‘I’m riding for Nancy’. (The MacDonald family)

The teams’ efforts, both in fundraising and in riding, honour Nancy’s innate sense of generosity—and tie back to her love language. “No matter how sick she was, she was always the first one to make a meal for someone,” says Beth. “The BMO Ride for Cancer is just kind of like that. She was just always looking for ways to help, to give back, to be with her friends, but do something meaningful—and lead by example. She really showed that to her kids.”

“Most people don’t expect to ever go down this road that we’re down,” says Andrew. “And unfortunately, Nancy stands as a young person—a reminder that this stuff happens. So how do we prevent another family from going through this? This is one big event that you can get behind that keeps the money in the community. And if it saves a couple of families from having to go through this—then that’s awesome.”

To register or donate to BMO Ride for Cancer today, visit

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