With a third of his 3,500-km ride from Calgary to Toronto behind him, and already well halfway towards his fund-raising target of $35,000 for myeloma research, Shane Saunderson stopped to rest his weary legs for a couple of days at the family farm near Souris.
It was a welcome change after 10 days of cycling without a support vehicle, camping out under the stars in all kinds of weather, and living on a diet of high-energy snacks – especially the ubiquitous “trucker breakfast.”
The lean and fit former farm boy picked up a guitar and sang for the audience that had gathered Aug. 16 on a stage in the town’s picturesque park.
There are two main reasons for the trek, said Saunderson.
“Money and awareness. It’s not something a lot of people know about. Since it’s a lesser known form of cancer, it doesn’t get as much recognition, publicity or funding as a lot of the others.”
Saunderson, 27, was working in London, England as a mechanical engineer last year when his 63-year-old father Vern was diagnosed with the terminal disease.
He immediately quit his job and flew back to Canada so that he could be on hand to offer support.
Some 6,000 Canadians are diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year, of which more than 95 per cent are people over the age of 45.
According to the website www.myelomacanada.ca,
the cause of the rare form of bone marrow cancer is unknown, but statistical analysis shows that it tends to affect workers in sectors that are heavily exposed to chemicals, such as farmers, petroleum and tannery workers, as well as cosmetologists.
Genetics may play a role. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to get it, and Asians the least affected, although Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks and those exposed to Agent Orange have shown higher-than-normal incidence of the disease.
Because the vast majority of people with myeloma are elderly, it is thought that susceptibility may increase with age, or may be the result of a lifelong accumulation of toxins or genetic damage, the website added.
“It can be treated, but not cured,” said Saunderson, who added that existing treatments can only be expected to drive the painful and debilitating cancer into remission, and life expectancy is typically not more than five years.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Society of Hematology suggested that there may be a link between exposure to pesticides and multiple myeloma.
In the study, blood tests of 678 men aged 30 to 74 who applied chlorinated pesticide dieldrin, fumigant carbon tetrachloride/carbon disulphide and fungicide chlorothalonil were found to be twice as likely to test positive for the antibody that indicates the early stages of multiple myeloma.
That study rang a bell for Saunderson’s father, who remembers using chlorothalonil to spray peas on his 2,000-acre farm two or three decades ago.
“It may not be 100 per cent the cause, but if could have been a contributing factor.”
Shane’s father has since retired, and sold most of the farm as he concentrates on battling the disease. He’s not jumping to conclusions as to the cause of his illness.
“He’ll admit that there’s a chance that some of the chemicals he worked with could have contributed, but at the same time it could be just an entirely coincidental thing. You never know,” he said.
“He’s got it, so we have to deal with it. It’s not a matter of pointing fingers.”
The next day, he was heading out back on the road towards Winnipeg, and planning more updates for his entertaining blog at www.prairie-pedal.comso that people can follow his travels. Those interested in donating to the cause can find information on his website, or follow the links to www.Canadahelps.org.
So far, he said, the trip has paid off in media coverage and greater public awareness for the rare form of cancer. His website has gotten 2,000 visits in the last couple weeks, and he has raised over $20,000 for research, including $5,000 from the Souris area alone. [email protected]