Spirit of Giving


That’s why I’m riding.

Dr. Crooks is a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist at the IWK Health Centre. This year he will be riding across Canada for the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride – one of the biggest and most ambitious charity cycling events on behalf of childhood cancer in the world.

There are so many reasons for challenging myself for doing this. But I think the impetus has to come from a wonderful young patient.

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Years ago, I admitted and looked after her when she was diagnosed with, and started treatment for, Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia – the commonest childhood cancer. Even then she didn’t complain, but met the challenge head on and did what she had to do. Years later, and after a somewhat rocky road, she’s finishing her studies at university and is one of the strongest, most positive and assertive role models I’ve ever met. She took the cloud that’s leukemia, ripped it apart and kept the silver lining. That taught her so many life lessons at such an early age. Last year, she stood beside me as we welcomed the 2012 National Kids Cancer Ride to Halifax and said, “So how about doing this with me next year, Crooksy?” At that point how could I say no? And here I am.

I’m originally from the UK. When I first arrived in Canada I was immediately struck by just how BIG this country is compared with Europe. Distances are measured in hours and days, not miles or kilometres. There’s a huge amount of wilderness here – lakes and rocks and trees. Oh, and bears (one of my soft spots). So it’s hardly surprising that one of my dreams was to cross the continent – on foot!!! But here’s an opportunity to do it a different way and to do something amazing with that opportunity – something that’s very dear to my heart.

Professionally, I knew I wanted to work with kids during medical school and during my first part of postgraduate training, became fascinated with cancer and cancer therapy.   In my opinion, fun, humour and clowning around is a part of the healing process – childhood is a time of laughter, exploration and discovery. Why take away a child’s innocence and childhood just because they are dealing with some crummy disease and rotten treatments. If they love coming to see me, that makes everything so much better. And I’m not afraid to put my money where my mouth is and do something like a charity head shave, or event! Why not? It’s part of the rich tapestry of life.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

I see both sides of the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation: We all participate in the fundraising, and the events and the struggle to raise the money that is so desperately needed. And as a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, I see where that money is widely spent – to improve the quality of life and care for our kids and families, to plough into medical research to devise better treatments, but also to learn where cancers come from – after all, prevention is better than a cure.

As I said to a mother not too long ago as she had just been told her child had leukemia, “This must seem to be the worst day of your life, but I’m here to try and make it better for you.”

I wish I never have to say those words again. That’s why I’m riding.

Learn more about the Sears National Kids Cancer ride.
Support Dr. Cooks on his ride across Canada.


Colours for Cancer

Natasha McCarthy, from Mount Albion, Prince Edward Island, is the organizer of Colours for Cancer – fundraising initiative  in Montague, PEI, to raise money for pediatric cancer.

I’ll never forget the date because it was the day before my birthday. The day I heard four-year-old Autumn Newell was diagnosed with Leukemia. Autumn and my four-year-old, Samantha, were in the same dance class together. I went to school with Autumn’s Mom, Stacey, but grew closer to her the previous year through our children’s association. I remember reading her Facebook post that day.

“Worst day of our lives, please pray for our little Autumn”.

Children's Artwork available for auction.

Children’s Artwork available for auction.

I didn’t know what that meant at first but being from a small community word spread quickly that Autumn was at the IWK and was a couple days later diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and about to start the battle of her life. As a mother of two girls myself, as did many I’m sure, tears streamed down my face. I prayed for them. I sobbed uncontrollably alone in silence for the heartache, fear and helplessness her parents Stacey & Donnie must have been feeling. I could not help but think how in heaven’s name do you explain that to your child? Where would you even begin?

Since that helpless day I have watched a miracle be born. I have watched through Facebook a four-year-old little girl turn into a warrior of strength, courage, determination and positivity. A video was posted three days later of her at the IWK saying “Kick Cancer in the Butt” and that slogan has now been adopted by a community of people. We wear bracelets with her name and slogan on them in support of her fight. In every photo whether it be in a hospital bed or at home she carries a huge smile on her face. She shows bravery far beyond what any four-year-old should ever have to possess. I have told her mother Stacey on numerous occasions that she is destined to do great things WHEN she wins this fight. This battle was meant for her, because she is so strong and will show others the way!

IMGP3480I knew I wanted to do something big to help Autumn’s journey to recovery and help with such a financial burden. So I decided I would do something huge! I would shave my head in an effort to raise money, but I would tell no one and wait for a while. Help often pours out quickly at the beginning of diagnosis but I knew this family at a 2.5 year battle ahead of them and money would run out. So I waited, and it is now obvious to me there was a reason I chose to wait. Because five months later when I decided the time was right after watching how amazing she has been I knew I couldn’t only help Autumn, I needed to help other children battling cancer too. She has inspired me to be a better person – to help as many as I could and make this much bigger. So I have included the IWK’s Hematology & Oncology Department in my fundraising efforts as I know she needs them to win her fight as do & will other Children.

Colours For Cancer was an idea to involve my children in raising money and helping others. A small idea that got big very fast. On Saturday, March 9th I had 54 amazing children come to paint a canvas and donate it to be auctioned off. This Friday, March 15th from 5:30-7pm there is an Art Exhibit and Final Auction (online bidding takes place all week).

One of the many young artists.

One of the many young artists.

The children are so very excited about it and the bid’s are rolling in already with some paintings as high as $88 in just two days! Over 8,000 people have viewed the Auction Album on Facebook which is incredible. I hope to raise a substantial amount of money through this event as well as some others in the coming weeks to help the IWK. We are so very blessed to have this facility available to us in the Maritimes and it takes money to offer the services it has. I have always donated through the Telethon since having children myself but now it’s time to step it up and find bigger and better ways to donate more, because we just never know when we might need the facility ourselves.

I thank Autumn for being so amazing and inspiring me, she is a blessing and her fight will end triumphantly thanks to her courage and many others including the IWK!

For other details on fundraising efforts, please visit https://www.facebook.com/#!/FundraiserForAutumnQeiiIwk

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How innovation is born.

This article was written by Ken Cashin for the inaugural issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre. Researchers like Dr. Jason Berman are using some of the world’s most unlikely sources to find the most miraculous cures.

Zebra Fish

Zebra Fish

When it comes to medical research, inspiration can be a driving force. And, when that inspiration comes from a desire to make life better for young patients, ground breaking innovation can be born. Such is the case with Dr. Jason Berman. He is a world-leading pediatric haematologist- oncologist who runs a zebrafish research laboratory at the IWK Health Centre.

His enthusiasm and energy is contagious as he discusses his first-of-a-kind research program in Halifax with the potential to provide unique cancer drug-testing services in zebrafish to pharmaceutical companies and cancer specialists across Canada and around the world. Dr. Berman looks for such answers in zebrafish — small striped fish that are remarkably similar to humans in their genetics and cell biology. Zebrafish are gaining international recognition in their ability to help researchers better understand human diseases. By studying blood-cell development in zebrafish, Dr. Berman and his team are hoping to pinpoint the genetic changes that lead to leukemia.

Dr. Berman treats children with cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumours, as well as blood disorders like haemophilia and anemia. While many of his patients have acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and can be cured with current multi-agent chemotherapy, some suffer from more aggressive subtypes of ALL, such as T-cell disease (T-ALL), while approximately 20 per cent suffer from acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Dr. Berman’s unique research approach focuses on these more difficult-to-treat forms of leukemia, using the zebrafish model to identify and test new potential treatments. “The zebrafish is a vertebrate and shares many of the same genes with humans,” explains Dr. Berman. “Because they are fertilized externally, are transparent, and reproduce in large numbers, they are a very useful tool for studying how changes in genes affect both normal development and the abnormal development that can result in diseases like cancer.”

Dr. Berman and his team are currently testing different compounds in several cancers including: T-ALL, AML and sarcomas (common bone tumours in children) to identify new drugs or combinations that stop and reverse the abnormal cancer growth and kill the cells that start the cancer. “In 2012, most children with cancer have a very good chance of cure, but often at the significant cost of toxic treatments with lots of complications,” says Dr. Berman. “By better understanding the genetic and molecular factors underlying particular diseases using rapidly evolving technologies and innovative model systems like the zebrafish, we will be able to provide better, more personalized and targeted treatment that will result in improved outcomes and fewer side effects.”

Dr. Jason Berman

Dr. Jason Berman

Reviewed by an international panel by the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute, Dr. Berman received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Peggy Davison Clinician Scientist Award in May 2011, which provides $100,000 per year for three years to build cancer research programs. Previously held by only one other individual, funding through this prestigious award is helping Dr. Berman use the zebrafish to study white blood cell development, mast cell biology, leukemia and solid tumours. The award, he says, is a great tribute to both pediatric oncology and the zebrafish model and demonstrates the support, faith and encouragement that Cancer Care Nova Scotia has in the potential of his research program to impact the future for cancer patients. “This award enables us to attract the best and the brightest from across Canada and beyond to work with us and establish our laboratory as an international centre of research excellence, fostering the training of the next generation of leading cancer researchers right here in our province.”

He says it gives hope to children who have to endure the challenges of chemotherapy. One such child is Olivia Mason, daughter of Tammy and Barry Mason of Bedford, N.S., who has been a patient of Dr. Berman’s since being diagnosed with AML in February 2011. “We know first-hand the struggles that children endure going through intensive chemotherapy to treat AML. The current treatment is very difficult and it is heartbreaking to watch your child endure this illness and treatment,” the Masons commented through Cancer Care Nova Scotia. “Olivia is strong and determined. We know she will make it.

However, we anxiously await the day that Dr. Berman, and his team, announce that they have found an easier way to treat AML. With the Peggy Davison Award to Dr. Berman, we know that they are one step closer to that announcement.”

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.

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Raising funds for pediatric cancer

Trevor Morrissey, a Critical Care Flight Paramedic with Emergency Health Services Nova Scotia, is a national rider for the National Sears Cancer Ride, one of the biggest and most ambitious charity cycling events on behalf of childhood cancer in the world.

Trevor Morrissey at the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride

Hello my name is Trevor Morrissey.  I am national rider with the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride.  We are raising funds for pediatric cancer. We will be cycling for 17 days approximately 150 km’s a day from Vancouver to Halifax.  I got involved with this ride because my partner (Lesleigh Abbott) is a physician that is training to treat kids with cancer.  Everyday I hear her talking about different kids, some of the stories are very happy and some not so happy.  We both decided to commit to doing something together that will help the kids.  We are looking for your support to raise $25,000 each.  The great thing that this ride prides itself on the fact that 100% of the donations raised go right back to help the kids.  The IWK also benefits from the money we raise to help support oncology programs.

The National Sears Cancer Ride takes place from September 5th to September 21st.

Support Trevor as he rides from Vancouver to Halifax to raise funds for research and support programs for kids cancer.

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Helping kids cope with a tough diagnosis

11-year-old Olivia Mason says she doesn’t feel like she’s very brave. But the string of colourful beads hanging from her IV pole tells a different story.  They’re called Bravery Heart Beads, and they provide Olivia and her family with a detailed account of her unique IWK journey.

Olivia, an oncology patient, has been collecting the beads for four months and already the pretty display is nearly five-feet long. Each bead represents a treatment or procedure and Olivia can proudly explain what each one means.

“I have lots of red beads, those are for blood transfusions,” she says. “The blue dolphin is a leukemia diagnosis, the ‘B’ bead means bone marrow, these clear, white, glow-in-the-dark ones are radiation treatments and the face bead signifies hair loss, unfortunately.”

There are beads that make Olivia smile, like the “Wow” beads for special accomplishments; others make her cringe, especially the ones associated with needles. “I don’t enjoy needles but then someone will remind me I get a bead afterwards and it makes it a bit easier to just get it over with.”

Olivia’s parents, Tammy and Barry, see how their daughter has benefited from collecting the beads during what has otherwise been a frightening time. “The beads are a bit of a distraction from the scary parts of having leukemia,” says Tammy. “In fact, Olivia keeps track of how many beads are owed to her and reminds the Child Life staff every chance she gets!”

With start-up support from the IWK Auxiliary, a dedicated volunteer organization, the Bravery Heart Bead Program was introduced by the IWK’s Child Life department in early 2011.

“We’re really excited to have the program in place,” says Chantal LeBlanc, Child Life Specialist. “The beads help kids tell their stories of challenges, triumphs and strength.”

Child Life’s goal is to work with patients and families to help them manage stress and understand what’s happening to them while they are visiting the IWK. Child Life is one of the special programs funded in part by the IWK Foundation in partnership with the IWK Auxiliary and others.

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A Destination Beyond Cancer.

Hannah MacKenzie is an IWK Patient, Childhood Cancer Survivor and Coast to Coast Ambassador.  Hannah was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and received 16 months of treatment.  Today she is cancer free.

Hannah MacKenzie, Sears National Kids Cancer Ride 2010

I first learnt about the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation when I was asked to speak at the finish line of the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride two years ago. My first impression of Coast to Coast was simply amazement. Cyclists from all across Canada were riding for me, for children they didn’t even know.  I was so touched by all of these people that I jumped at the chance to speak for them again the following year.

About six months after the National Ride in September I received an email about another Coast to Coast ride that was being held right here in Atlantic Canada. The first ever! I was thrilled when the foundation asked me if I would like to attend the Tour for Kids on the Cabot Trail. This being the first Atlantic ride, there were fewer riders than usual, and even fewer volunteers. However, because there were so few of us, we all became a family. A family that all had the same dream – a destination beyond cancer.

That weekend on the Cabot Trail was one of the most inspiring weekends of my life. Coast to Coast gives 100% of the proceeds raised to both childhood cancer research and also organisations that help children with cancer, including the IWK. These riders are more than just riders, they are heroes! What they do on that bike is give children hope, they let them know that they aren’t alone in what they are going through. Someone is there for them, through the whole journey and their journey beyond cancer.

The ride isn’t like any other event I have ever experienced. It touches you in so many ways and shows you that no matter how small, every contribution towards the cause will make a difference.  Cancer doesn’t have to be seen as a negative thing. Greater things can come from this minor setback. You just have to keep moving forward.

Sears National Kids Cancer Ride
The biggest charity cycling event in the world on behalf of children with cancer. Starting on Canada’s west coast, and finishing on Canada’s east coast, the event is an epic journey of over 7,000 km. National cyclists bike from coast to coast along a well-planned route, joined by thousands of local community cyclists for shorter regional and local rides. The route visits most of Canada’s 17 pediatric cancer centres the event supports through its fundraising efforts (including the IWK Health Centre). The event has raised more than $2.5 million in the last two years.

National Inside Ride Tour
This September, 2011, we’ll be taking the Inside Ride on Tour! We’ll be travelling across Canada to raise funds and awareness for local children’s cancer charities. We’re bringing a fantastic team-building, fundraising event to key childhood cancer partners across Canada to help them engage their communities. Teams of 6 cyclists register to spin at a comfortable pace and compete for Spirit, Fundraising, Costume, and Mileage medals. We deliver fun, musical, professionally run events that define the word ‘meaningful’. Support the IWK and get involved in the Halifax event today!

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Going the distance

Veronica Baker is an Inside Ride organizer and the VP External, Dalhousie Commerce Society

Imagine a child you love so much having a condition that affects their every move – something that weighs on their minds while their friends play games, make crafts, and chatter together. Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to help that child experience some of that carefree attitude every child should have?

Halifax Inside Ride 2010

This is why the Dalhousie Commerce Society is partnering with the IWK Health Centre to host the Inside Ride this September in support of Camp Goodtime and the pediatric oncology unit at the IWK.

On September 11, Coast to Coast Against Cancer will show up in Halifax with a truck full of stationary bicycles, a DJ, awards, and tonnes of spirit. Waiting for them will be teams from across the Dalhousie campus and the Halifax community as students, alumni, and local businesses come together to raise money for this great cause in an afternoon filled with biking, cheering, music, and touching stories.

The Inside Ride is not a large time commitment – some dedication to fundraising, and one afternoon of fun – and the benefits speak for themselves. We are proud to announce that 100% of funds raised stay right here in Nova Scotia. Funds will be split between two exceptional causes: the IWK’s pediatric oncology department, and Camp Goodtime which gives children with cancer the opportunity to spend  a week at camp where they can swim, canoe, and meet new friends – great experiences that are often taken for granted.

There is still time to sign up for the 2011 Inside Ride. Find a group of six and head to www.novascotia.theinsideride.com to sign up and begin your fundraising today, and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at V.Baker@dal.ca!

Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation presents the Inside Ride, Canada’s first indoor cycling challenge and fundraising event dedicated to raising monies in support of families and children with cancer. Support will be provided where the needs are greatest, including funding of oncology camps, community support programmes, research scholarships and other areas which contribute to inspiring hope and improving prognoses for children and their families impacted by cancer.