Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment


Volunteering as a Life Choice

October 12, 2015

At the Canary Foundation, we believe that there is something intrinsically rewarding in devoting time to a cause that is bigger than one individual person. That is why it is an honor to call this kind of work a living, and a privilege to work alongside some of the brightest minds in science and non-profit work. Time and time again we see this same passion from the people who make the Canary Challenge possible: our volunteers. Each year we see an average of 200 volunteers arrive at the Canary Challenge Bike Ride, ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty for a great cause. For some, this will be their first year volunteering. For others, volunteering runs in their blood.

Meet Nels “Pete” Pearson. A former director with the Santa Clara County Peace Officers Association, Pete has always been passionate about giving back to his community. Prior to his time in Santa Clara, Pete volunteered throughout the county of Santa Cruz working with various non-profits in his community. Pete’s commitment to giving back is something he claims is in his DNA, but like many things we can blame genetics for, cancer was also lurking in Pete’s family history.

Pete’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 54, leaving a 15 year-old Pete with a jumble of questions. Further down the road, Pete’s mother would also succumb to the disease at the age of 84. So when Pete himself was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer at the age of 53, it was his family history with cancer that was predominantly on his mind. For a person who had dedicated much of his time making sure others were safe and cared for, Pete’s diagnosis left him feeling vulnerable and alone.

Surgery and chemotherapy quickly followed upon Pete’s diagnosis to combat the cells that were attacking his body. At first, Pete’s remission had an optimistic outlook, but to Pete’s dismay, the cancer kept creeping back. Pete chose to undergo chemotherapy again for eight months to try and re-attack the cancer, which sparked a reaction causing random episodes of fainting. It was like clockwork, Pete recalls. Chemo finished by Wednesday, fainting and couch-ridden by Friday.

A month after his last chemo treatment when he and his wife were on a plane headed towards Cancun, Mexico, Pete reached a turning point. Instead of landing in Cancun, they had landed in Lubbock, Texas; Pete had fainted mid flight causing an emergency landing halfway to Cancun. At that point, Pete made a choice to undergo radiation treatments. To Pete’s relief, treatment continued without a single side affect and he returned his attention to giving back. Naturally, Pete sought out a cancer foundation to volunteer for where he believed he could make the biggest impact, disrupting and changing the fate of today’s cancer statistics. What he found was the Canary Foundation.

It’s people like Pete who embody the spirit of the Canary Foundation. Pete is a leader among our group of passionate volunteers who dedicate their time and considerable talents to making the Canary Challenge and ultimately the Canary Foundation a change agent in the scientific community.