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Keeping Pace to Pay it Forward

April 29, 2024

Built more like a linebacker — and with a full beard that could easily have him passing as a third sibling of the NFL’s of-the-moment Kelce brothers — Richard Wasylynchuk admits some people are surprised to learn this May will mark his 11th BMO Vancouver Marathon.

“I was doing a speed dating ‘get to know your coworkers’ exercise and was talking with one guy. He looked at me and said, ‘You do not look like somebody that runs marathons.”

But then Richard isn’t your typical long-distance runner. “I think there is a lot of personal satisfaction in running a marathon, but in my case I really view it as paying it forward,” he says of the $10,000 he’s raised as a charity runner for the BC Cancer Foundation.

Richard’s mom Arlene was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma less than a year after he was born. “She battled that for the first eight years of my life,” he says.

After recovering she fulfilled a dream of becoming an artist, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Alberta. Her colourful yet calm Canadian landscapes are now displayed in public and private collections around the world.

Unfortunately in 2012, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Arlene passed away. Her sister had lost her life to the disease 10 years prior. As did her brother, just a few years after Arlene. It was at an appointment for his mom that Richard learned he too may have an inherited risk.

“We were talking about potential treatment and whether surgery was viable, and then the doctor turned to me and said, ‘Well, we need to talk about you because the odds are not in your favour.’”

Richard’s doctor referred him to the Hereditary Cancer Program at BC Cancer. He’s since tested negative for the gene mutation that would put him at an increased risk of pancreatic cancer but is currently enrolled in a clinical study following the screening journey of people at high risk of familial disease.

After losing his mom, Richard trained with a renewed focus — “Being healthy, active and fit is probably the best thing you can do to combat cancer,” — and with an added goal of reaching the finish line to fuel better cancer outcomes.

Difficult to detect at an early stage and resistant to treatment once advanced, pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. Life expectancy for 75% of patients is only one year past diagnosis. But as BC Cancer continues to investigate genomic characteristics of the disease, promising discoveries are being made that are leading to more effective treatments.

Richard and his mom Arlene.

A decade ago there was just one standard test for pancreatic cancer, today there are 10 different diagnostic tools available. Thanks to donor support, BC Cancer is an international leader in pancreatic cancer research and care with a groundbreaking Rapid Access Clinic — designed to reduce the duration between diagnosis and treatment in a disease where time is of the essence.

Richard isn’t sure which requires more stamina, asking family and friends to donate for over a decade or running the required 42.2 km each year. But he’ll continue to do both, he says.

“With my family’s history and myself potentially needing cancer care services one day, I want to make sure I give back and support the work being done at BC Cancer.”

Donate today to help Richard improve outcomes for the 80,000 people in B.C. facing cancer or sign up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon RUN4HOPE to raise funds for the BC Cancer Foundation in honour of someone you love.