Handcycling fundraiser for new chemo chairs celebrates cancer care close to home

Handcycling fundraiser for new chemo chairs celebrates cancer care close to home

Handcycling fundraiser for new chemo chairs celebrates cancer care close to home

Care close to home, comfortable chemo chairs, and connection with others can make a big difference for those undergoing cancer treatment — all things Cyndy McLean understands well from firsthand experience. And that’s exactly what she hopes her upcoming fundraiser, 10x21: Cycling 4 Chemo Chairs, will help bring to those in our communities who’ve had a cancer experience of their own.

In 2018, at the age of only 48, Cyndy never expected to be diagnosed with cancer. But while recovering from surgery for another medical condition, Cyndy found a lump that ultimately led her healthcare team to diagnose her with metastatic colon cancer. Only three weeks after she was discharged from Freeport, where she had recovered from the initial surgery, Cyndy was admitted to Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre in Hamilton for colon and liver resection surgeries. 

Follow-up tests revealed additional tumours in Cyndy’s liver, and she was referred to Grand River Regional Cancer Centre, beginning chemotherapy in March 2019 on her 49th birthday. Over the 10 months that followed, Cyndy underwent a total of 21 rounds of chemo, luckily finishing treatment in January 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was on active surveillance, monitoring her cancer while not in treatment, for just over three years until February 2023, when her surgeon at Jurvainski noted that one lesion on her liver had doubled in size, leading Cyndy to have to undergo another liver resection in April 2023. 

Following her cancer diagnosis and during treatment, exercise took on a new role for Cyndy, going from a simple outlet for recreation and enjoyment to one that supported the many different aspects of her health and well-being. She credits exercise with helping her, mentally and physically, through the challenges she faced during that time. 

“All through my chemo care and then after my chemo, I was trying to be as active as I possibly could. I think that was kind of my approach to that time: just do everything I can the best I can,” Cyndy reflects, adding that it’s how she believed she could give herself the best chance at recovery. And handcycling, in particular, was one of the things that helped Cyndy stay active during and after treatment. 

A handcycle is an adaptive cycle with three wheels that the rider powers using their arms and upper body. It’s an activity Cyndy first took up a couple years after she became a paraplegic in 2003 following an accident that left her with a spinal cord injury. As an avid marathon runner prior to the accident, she had been seeking something to replace the role running used to have in her life and discovered handcycling, which turned out to be the next best thing. 

“I’ve really come to love it,” Cyndy says about handcycling. “It gives me a lot of independence. I cycle almost every day, and a lot of times that’s by myself and that’s of choice — it’s lovely. But equally, I can go out with other people and so it’s a fun sport.” 

And while handcycling can’t replace Cyndy’s love of running, it has continued to have an important role in her life throughout the years since. In addition to supporting her mental wellness and helping her rebuild her strength following cancer treatment, it also allowed her and her partner to stay connected with friends during the pandemic when they began to ride sections of the G2G Rail Trail together during the summer of 2020. Now, handcycling is helping Cyndy put the wheels in motion to raise funds for essential equipment at Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. 

Between September 9 and September 30, Cyndy will embark on 10 rides of 21 kilometres each in 10 local communities to support local cancer care — a play on the 21 rounds of chemotherapy she received over 10 months of treatment at Grand River. The fundraiser, 10x21: Cycling 4 Chemo Chairs, will raise money for new chemotherapy chairs at the Cancer Centre and present opportunities to highlight the cancer stories of local ambassadors from each of the communities she cycles in.

“I thought that there’d be real value in having other people, particularly people who live in those other communities, share their own experiences with cancer care,” Cyndy explains. “Whether that be a personal experience or whether it be sharing the story of a friend or loved one, I like the idea that we’re honouring many more people, [and] we’re showcasing a real connection back to the community that they live in.”

Celebrating these local stories and the ability to receive care close to home are also an important aspect of 10x21: Cycling 4 Chemo Chairs. As a Guelph resident, Cyndy appreciates living in a place where patients can access leading cancer care locally. The Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program serves patients in Waterloo Region and Wellington and Grey Counties with the help of seven partner hospitals, and Grand River Regional Cancer Centre is the program’s main site and primary partner. Cyndy will be cycling in 10 local communities — Guelph, Fergus, Elora, Elmira, Milbank/Linwood, North Perth, Waterloo, Cambridge, and Kitchener — all of which are served by this important regional program. 

“It really hits home because I have a friend whose sister is currently getting cancer care, and she has to drive three hours from her home,” Cyndy says. “I’m gutted by the fact that she has to do that and how draining and expensive all those things are. But [I also appreciate] the fact that I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to do that.”

The Regional Cancer Program serves a population of more than 1.2 million individuals in our communities, and the Cancer Centre’s chemo suite treats between 70 and 100 patients daily. Each treatment chair is used a number of times every day, and with the support of generous donors and fundraisers, like Cyndy, new chemotherapy chairs will offer patients greater comfort and functionality while also addressing the ergonomic needs of the nurses who deliver this important type of cancer treatment. 

Despite the many challenges she has faced, Cyndy is determined to make a difference for local cancer patients, one ride at a time. Grateful for her health and to be able to do something to give back, Cyndy hopes 10x21: Cycling 4 Chemo Chairs will, “honour the Hospital and the people who cared for me … [as well as] all the people who are getting chemo or have had chemo, or a variety of services, that just don’t have the health to be able to go out and ride.”

To make a donation in support of Cyndy’s ride or to learn more about becoming a community ambassador, please visit cycling4chemochairs.ca.