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30 Pounds for 30km

Sean and Capt Niles at the finish line of a previous Ruck for a Cure charity event (Courtesy of Capt Niles)

Ruck For a Cure charity aims to raise $30,000 for RVH cancer treatment

Captain Aaron Niles was attending university to earn his degree in journalism when a terminal battle with cancer struck his now 13-year-old brother Sean and shook his family.

Sean was only in the care of the Niles family for a few months when the symptoms of his infantile acute lymphoblastic leukemia began; a cancer of the bones and blood that specifically affects infants.

Taken in for treatment at SickKids Hospital in downtown Toronto, the goal was for the percentage of cancerous blood cells in Sean’s body to drop from two per cent to zero, allowing for a successful bone marrow transplant.

After three years of attempting various treatments, doctors and nurses gave Sean 30 days to live. The Niles family was devastated.

“It was obviously a very arduous journey,” Capt Niles said. “At the time I was doing University for journalism and I’ll be honest, my grades suffered for that one, but I don’t really care. My focus was on my family”.

Brothers Sean and Capt Aaron Niles standing together (Courtesy of Capt Niles)

Two days later, the doctors offered Sean an experimental form of chemotherapy that was being tested in the United States.

“While we grew closer and closer to him, even at the time, even though he wasn’t part of the family officially, we knew full well that he was in the family,” Capt Niles said. “We made that decision to adopt him, knowing that there was that possibly that he wouldn’t even be with us for a long time. That the treatment might not work and that he might pass on, but we knew that it’s the right thing to do. He was part of our family and we wanted to make it official and luckily, thanks to all the efforts of the doctors and nurses, he’s still part of the family.”

After giving the doctors permission to try the treatment, Sean’s percentage of cancer cells had dropped down to zero and the bone marrow transplant that followed was a success.

Once Capt Niles finished his trade training and became a Public Affairs Officer with the RCAF, he pitched his idea for a 30-pound ruck from 16 Wing to the Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre; a 30km journey to represent the 30 days that Sean was given to live.

A ruck is a military style backpack which holds weight or equipment if used in the field. The idea behind the ruck is to have Capt Niles and his family help share the burden that was placed on Sean at such a young age by physically carrying it together in the form of a ruck.

“I think it’s definitely had an effect on how I look at life,” Capt Niles said. “That’s one of those things where we sometimes associate strength with either the physical strength of someone who’s able to carry a lot of weight or who’s strong, but there’s also emotional strength.”

“Realizing that someone so young, who had to go through the toughest thing that I can ever imagine, one of those painful processes, where every day he’s getting various needles stuck in him. Things that were essentially poison to his body that help try and fight that cancer and he took it so strongly. Even though he’s young and I’m supposed to be the older brother that’s there for him, I realized that he was the strongest person there. He was stronger than I was.”

The Ruck for a Cure charity event begins on Friday, 8 September at 16 Wing HQ and will end between 1430 hrs and 1500 hrs at the Royal Victoria Hospital for a cheque presentation.

This year’s goal is to raise $30,000 for patient care at the Cancer Centre and donations can be made at the RVH Ruck for a Cure page.

By: Caleb Hooper