Soccer marathon looks to raise money for liver cancer

Amidst the deluge of pink ribbons and badly grown moustaches is a Calgary man leading the charge down the pitch. His name is Mike Metcalfe, organizer of the 30 Hour Soccer Marathon — a charitable effort that looks to raise funds Nov. 4 for diagnostic equipment for Foothills Medical Centre.

 “We’ve always made it our goal to purchase diagnostic or treatment related equipment for the Foothills so we have an immediate and material impact on cancer and the Calgary community’s battle with cancer,” Metcalfe said.

For Metcalfe, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2003 and went through a gauntlet of treatment methods — including 500 hours of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and surgery — giving back to a hospital that helped him was important.

“I originally had an amazing experience at the Foothills Hospital. They were an incredible nursing team and they told me their story. I was so moved that I wanted to raise money for them,” he said.Mike Metcalfe about to kick a soccer ball. Metcalfe looks to be giving a kick to cancer Nov. 4 as part of the 30 Hour Soccer Marathon.

Photo by: Trevor Presiloski

Spearheaded by Metcalfe’s teammates on his soccer team, the idea for a soccer marathon was an easy choice.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was four years old. Before I came down with cancer and my friends decided to do this thing, Calgary soccer really didn’t have an outlet to give back to the community in any specific way. They really adopted this 110 per cent.”

Last year’s efforts resulted in producing colonoscopy equipment that medical staff say will help 4,000 patients a year and serve as a training tool for doctors from all over North America.

This year’s objective is obtaining a refrigeration unit for the storage of liver biopsies.

“The idea is that there’s really little known about liver cancer in the medical community worldwide. What that’s going to lead to is essentially the ability to identify patients most at risk for developing liver cancer and developing new treatment methods for liver cancer,” Metcalfe said.

The mortality rate for liver cancer is high. The Canadian Cancer Society website says that liver cancer is fatal in 41 per cent of the cases, compared to 21 per cent for breast and 16 per cent for prostate.

“We chose liver cancer because it is the biggest killer of all cancers right now,” said Metcalfe. We want to give it a kick to the can and hopefully this technique helps out.” It’s also new territory for him, as previous fundraising efforts have shied away from contributing money to research. “It’s very important that we’re buying material things and affecting today’s cancer patients and today’s battles. We’re kind of dangling along that fine line,” he said. “They’re using it to develop new methods in the future. It’s the closest we’ll get to quote, unquote, research.”

Mike Metcalfe poses at the Subway Soccer Centre, which will be hosting his 30 Hour Soccer Marathon Nov. 4. Efforts will go towards raising funds for a liver biobank at the Foothills Hospital.

Photo by: Trevor PresiloskiAvoiding the research black hole is one thing Metcalfe strives to avoid. “You see all these millions of dollars raised for breast and prostate cancer and it disappears into research. The flip side to that coin is that a staggering amount goes back into marketing and operating expenses.”

“I don’t have the exact stats, but a staggering percentage goes back into advertising.”

Metcalfe’s marketing budget is modest, with 5 cents of every dollar raised going into operating costs. However, not all charities can claim the same. The Toronto Star website says that one in six Canadian charities were spending more money on operating expenses than charitable endeavours.

Lee Elliott, chief communications officer of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, says that not all cancer-related charities have a narrow focus.

“We do balance our initiatives for all kinds of cancer. With things like the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, every single participant decides where they want the money to go. We work very hard so we meet donor needs.”

Beyond helping cancer patients with their treatment, there is also another positive side effect that comes with the soccer marathon.

“A lot of the participants are registering for the first time in co-ed leagues,” said Pearl Doupe, executive director for the Calgary United Soccer Association.

“It’s very informal, so we see a lot of families coming in and playing and signing up afterwards,” she said.

Metcalfe is happy with both promoting cancer awareness and getting people involved with playing soccer.

“We really use it as a tool to promote the sport as well as raise awareness for cancer. We really try to promote the event to everybody.”

tpresiloski@cjournal.ca