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Cape Crusaders Take a Bite out of Cancer

August 16, 2023

Found in General,  Tour de Cure

Who needs a Batmobile? Better Outcomes 2 take to their bikes to raise funds for oral cancer research at the Tour de Cure.

“It all starts with David Bowie,” explains Joel Fransen, co-captain (with Marc Schouten and Pamela Gardner) of Better Outcomes 2, a Tour de Cure team who are well known for their Batman ensembles.

When their team founder Michele Williams, an oral medicine specialist at BC Cancer, passed away from cancer in 2015 they rode in tribute. It was incredibly emotional, says Joel, and people stepped up in a pinnacle of support, donating almost $250,000 to oral cancer research in Michele’s name.

“But the next year our team was gutted. We were down to seven riders, and three of them were new.” Even Joel, as a veteran rider and fundraiser, was having trouble inspiring his network again after the exceptional generosity they’d shown the previous year.

“To motivate people, I said, ‘If I meet my minimum, and get to $5,000 by the end of April, I’ll do the ride dressed as Ziggy Stardust.’”

It worked, and in August, Joel rode in a spiky red wig and lightning bolt jersey with space-inspired shoulder epaulets as the character created by David Bowie, who had just passed away from liver cancer.

“I got a lot of hoots and hollers, and all this attention,” and the rest of the team wanted in on it, he says. So the following year they came up with a superhero theme, intending to switch it up every year. “We were going to do Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern, but everyone just went batty for Batman, so we’ve stuck with it. It’s Batman forever now.”

Around that time Marc Schouten joined the team. In true superhero style, he and Joel and the entire Better Outcomes 2 team would come to each other’s rescue several times over the next few years.

In 2018, Marc ruptured his Achilles tendon playing tennis, and immediately sent Joel a text letting him know the bad news that he wasn’t going to be able to ride that year.

Marc Schouten gets by with a little help from his friend on a tandem bike.

“Joel messaged me back with two options: a crazy contraption that was essentially a rowing machine on top of a bicycle, which looked terrifying. The other, and the one we went with, was to ride a tandem bike. I had a pedal welded to make it into a platform for my right foot, and pedalled solely with my left foot, with Joel providing the majority of the horsepower on the back of the bike.”

Like the over-the-top outfits, this “leave no one behind” team effort garnered a lot of attention, and even more donations.

The next year, Marc would rely on his teammates yet again after his dad passed away, just a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “I wasn’t physically or emotionally ready to ride that year,” he says. “But once again Joel and my teammates carried me through and over the finish line.”

As a BC Cancer-staffed team, Better Outcomes 2, directs their funds raised to research at the British Columbia Oral Cancer Research Prevention Program (BCOCPP), which has devised the only validated method for predicting the risk of oral cancer. Oral cancer is unfortunately on the rise, no longer a disease that mainly just affects smokers, and often caught late resulting in high mortality rates.

As an endodontist, Joel and his colleagues are a first line of defence in oral cancer detection. “The tissue in your mouth turns over faster than any other in the rest of your body. It can be the canary in the coal mine if we find a lesion, in terms of cancer that has spread from elsewhere.”

Unlike the majority of the team, Marc isn’t in oral health care. He’s a financial planner, but 90% of his clients are in dentistry. So it’s a field he’s very familiar with, and as the self-proclaimed “guy who loves to put together spreadsheets” he and Pamela, the program medical director of oral oncology at BC Cancer, and Joel — “the creative one” — cover all the bases as co-captains.

Regardless of their occupations, Better Outcomes 2 ride as one — supporting each other through injuries and hard-hitting personal losses — for the same cause: To fuel better oral cancer outcomes. Besides, as their alter ego Batman put it best when asked to reveal himself: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

The Tour de Cure, presented by Wheaton Precious Metals, is B.C.’s largest cycling fundraiser powering leading cancer care innovation across the province through the BC Cancer Foundation.  Sign up to ride or volunteer this Aug. 26-27, or donate to fuel a participant or team at tourdecure.ca