By Charlie Senack
A Westboro man isn’t letting his stage 4 cancer diagnosis get in the way of living life and helping others.
Michael Baine walked 21 kilometres as part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend on May 16, raising more than $66,000 for cancer patients at the Ottawa Hospital — a cause close to the 72-year-old’s big heart.
Baine began the walk outside of his Westboro home, trekked toward Lisgar Road near Rideau Hall and then headed back home. He picked May 16 to mark exactly one year since his symptoms first appeared.
Last spring, after a day of training for a future hike up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Baine noticed blood in his urine. There were no other symptoms but he knew something was terribly wrong. Shortly after, he received the diagnosis of stage 4 prostate cancer.
Within the next month, multiple surgeries were scheduled, as the cancer was spreading, including to his lymph nodes and femur.
When the new year started, Baine received good news: the surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation had worked. He was in remission. Michael and his wife Deidre signed up for race weekend, a yearly tradition the active runner has rarely missed since 1978. It was to be held virtually again and participants could pick their own route and day.
But in April, after a few months in remission, Baine learned his cancer was back: It was quickly spreading through his body and had already entered his pelvis.
The father of four and grandfather of 12 decided he would still do the race, not only to prove it to himself, but also to ensure he was strong enough for the next round of treatments.
“The training is all about making me healthy enough to withstand the treatment that I have to undergo,” Baine said. “The stronger I am, the more doctors can give me to fight this terrible, aggressive cancer.”
The race was an emotional experience, said Baine, who admits he felt no pain until the race was over. Words and messages of encouragement fuelled the six-hour-long half-marathon and, when he got tired, Baine pushed his grandchildren’s stroller for balance.
“It was one of the happier moments of my life,” Baine said. “I was so happy to be surrounded by family. I had friends travel all the way from Hamilton, Ontario to cheer me on.”
Baine started his career as a teacher at St. Pius X High School, working in that role for eight years before becoming a vice principal and then, eventually, principal. He went on to work as superintendent at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, a job he retired from 14 years ago.
Since then, he’s worked as an education consultant and is passionate about key areas impacting youth, including mental health and addictions issues and homelessness. He helped set up an addictions program in schools which brings in drug counsellors from Rideauwood to both educate and counsel youth.
There was no shortage of students who came out to cheer Baine on for the May race weekend. A group of elementary students from a nearby school wrote letters of encouragement. After crossing the finish line, he returned home to a decorated house full of streamers and balloons, and was handed video messages from 21 of the students who each walked one kilometre of the marathon in their own neighbourhoods.
When he first decided to fundraise, he set a goal of $10,000. But since his story and mission has gone viral, has raised six times the initial amount (at the time of publishing) for the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.
Baine, who always looks to meet new friends, said while at the cancer centre, he hears stories of people who are much worse off than he is.
“So many people — if not the majority of people I see — are much less healthy than I am,” admits Baine. “They experience things like they can’t do another round of chemotherapy because their diabetes is acting up, or doctors don’t think they are strong enough for another surgery because of heart conditions. I didn’t have any of these qualifiers and I was lucky. I was blessed.”
Baine also said he told doctors to treat him not as a typical 72-year-old, but someone much younger. In 2019, he trekked 450 kilometres from Munich, Germany to Venice, Italy. Throughout his life, he’s hiked in the Rocky Mountains, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland and to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and to Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes.
Even challenging experiences, like rounds of chemotherapy, Baine sees as a positive. If it wasn’t for the cancer diagnosis, he said he wouldn’t have met the people he has, reconnected with old friends and seen the good in people.
The most difficult part, he said, was telling his kids — whom he’s very close with — that their dad was sick with a disease that would eventually kill him.
“I have my moments where it all gets a little overwhelming and I will have a 10-minute bad cry, but that’s only natural and, for me, rare,” said Baine. “I am just naturally positive.”
In the last year, Baine has attended 125 doctors’ appointments and he’ll now undergo a new form of oral treatment which aims to kill the cancer cells. More rounds of radiation will also take place to help with pain — a method Baine says works better than painkillers.
When asked what his future goals are, Baine said he has a lot more steps to take. And his goal of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro is still there.
“My goal is to do it next August, but I have to keep changing the date because the cancer is still there,” he said. “It’s probably a far-fetched goal because my cancer is not curable, but it’s still a goal. I will never stop having goals.”
This story appeared in the Giving section of Kitchissippi Times in the June 2021 edition.