In October, it’s becoming increasingly easy to find examples of slacktivism, pinkwashing and downright shameless brand promotion that take advantage of people’s desire to do something about cancer. But beneath it all is the fact that for many of us, the need to fight back against the diseases is deeply personal. For me, it was something that killed three out of my four grandparents. This year, sadly, my father was added to the list of its victims.
We all just want to do something to stop the death and suffering cancer causes. For most, that will mean forwarding links, “liking” pages, buying pinked products and maybe making a donation to a cause. But a few others are inspired to do much, much more.
Mike Lush, a retired air traffic controller and popular musician in Eastern Ontario, is one of those who do more. In addition to his year-round work as a volunteer trainer at the Canadian Cancer Society, once a year Mike walks the historic Rideau Trail from Kingston to Ottawa to raise funds. Three-hundred-and-twenty kilometres of it. It’s a ten-day hike.
I met Mike three years ago through mutual Facebook friends. A husband-and-wife illustrator team, who are part of my professional network, are also part of the local music scene, which includes Mike. When I first learned of his walk, I was deeply impressed.
Today, Mike is starting his 6th annual Rideau Trail end-to-end hike to end cancer. Last night, I was able to catch up with him on Facebook for an interview. Read it after the break.
What originally inspired you to walk for cancer?
Mike: After watching so many loved ones fall to this disease, I decided to take some responsibility for the havoc this disease reaps. When you think about it, in this age of terrorist threats this disease has been terrorizing mankind for millennia. This disease has the entire population on edge, to one degree or another; it’s like we’re all waiting for the inevitable axe to fall. This unfortunate situation must be ended and every single person has a responsibility to do what they can against this scourge, after all it is definitely the thing most likely to kill us. So I’m a volunteer trainer at the Cancer Society year round, and once a year I dedicate ten very hard days to raising funds both for research and for support programs to enhance the lives of people living with cancer.
Why the Rideau Trail?
Mike: I retired from a thirty-two year air traffic control career in 2003 and had always threatened to walk the whole length of the Rideau Trail and three years after I retired, I finally got it together. It is an amazing foot trail that generally follows the route taken by aboriginal peoples for centuries, perhaps millennia. There is plenty to see and being a photography enthusiast, lots of great images. This year’s hike will be when the leaves are at their peak.
How do you train for such a long haul?
Mike: I don’t really train per se. I do several day hikes a year and am reasonably active but each year I pay the price for my failures in this regard. The first four days of each hike are spent struggling with blisters. Once the blisters have settled down, I get to deal with my sore muscles and joints (which the blisters took my mind off) which arise both as a result of a lack of training and by my modified gait, which I was forced to adjust during the previous four days because of the pain of the blisters. This gets all sorted out by day six or seven and the last three days are a nice walk in the woods.
I don’t train mostly because I neglect to find the time but I like to say, only partly tongue in cheek, that it gives me a chance, once a year, to experience just a fraction of the pain cancer patients have to deal with and I get to be truly alone, which is how most newly diagnosed cancer patients feel a good deal of the time. Bottom line: I do it because, like cancer, it’s hard, it hurts and it’s a journey that too often seems like it will never end.
What’s the hardest part of the journey
Mike: The trip gives me lots of time to think about why I’m doing it. It reminds me of all the loved ones taken by cancer. This is hard but at the same time it inspires me to continue. Tending to the “maladie of the moment” is hard too but I’m used to it now. I continually remind myself of the following mantra: Pain is inevitable, suffering optional.
How do you promote it?
Mike: Not particularly effectively up to now. I’ve used primarily my daughter Coralie’s network and my own. I’ve done many interviews with local papers, radio and TV but none of it has led anywhere in terms of donations. We are averaging around $4000 a year so far just through family, friends and social media networks.
Does anyone join you along the way?
Mike: I’ve been joined for a day at a time several times, but mostly I walk alone; for me that’s at least half the point of the whole exercise. It’s the only time during the year that I can have absolute solitude for ten days. Other than in the cities and towns along the route, I’ve met only six people on the trail in five years. I decided to walk the trail initially as a bit of a mid-life boot camp and only then decided to do it for a cause. Of course I would always enjoy company but don’t need any.
Do you have any sponsors?
Mike: I have many supporters but no sponsors. I cover all expenses related to the trip myself so all proceeds can go to the Canadian Cancer Society.
How much money have you raised?
Mike: I was just told the other day that the total so far is $24,000 and change, about half of that via the website.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Mike: The message I am trying to send is simple. I am taking something I was going to do anyway, and turning it into a fund-raising oppourtunity. The message is that we can all do something similar to help with their battle, be it cancer or any other noble cause. Pick something you love to do, figure out an extreme version of it and get your friends and family to sponsor you. If every Canadian raised $100 per year and threw it at this disease, it would more than ensure that no promising research ever again goes unfunded.
I’m now retired from a great career and now have the time and energy to give something back and my something is doing every single thing I can to eradicate this disease, in a phrase and I quote; “I’m sick and tired of it and I’m not gonna take it anymore”.
By the way, my whole life is not spent in this warring state of mind. I also play bass guitar for five local blues, swing and rock bands; a good balance actually.
I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of Mike today. Shortly after trailhead in Kingston, The Rideau Trail passes by my childhood home. I spent much of those years playing around its iconic triangular trail markings. Today I live near its end, in Ottawa. That journey for me would be like a sentimental journey through my own life.
If you’re as impressed as I am by Mike’s individual spirit and commitment to making a difference, I challenge you to make a donation to his cause today. Do it here.
All pictures copyright Mike Lush, taken on his 2011 walk.
Map via Rideau Info