By the summer of 2018, White Rock’s Phil Harbridge had a number of marathons under his belt – 20 to be exact.
And in all those races, he had never tripped, fallen or otherwise stumbled. Which is why a run in Palm Springs in August of that year was so odd – he tripped and broke a rib, despite landing on soft grass. Harbridge, 57 at the time, had also recently been diagnosed with anemia, and putting two and two together, he thought something might not be right.
A few months later, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a little-known and incurable blood cancer. He learned that both bone fractures and anemia were common symptoms of the disease.
“I knew about blood cancers, but not myeloma,” said Harbridge. “When you receive such news, it feels as if you’re on a path one day and the next minute you’re on an entirely different path. Life has changed.”
Now, Harbridge is working to raise money to improve access to live-saving treatments for myeloma through the inaugural White Rock Multiple Myeloma March, which is set for Oct. 22 at the bear statue – called ‘Grizlee’ – on the White Rock Promenade, on east beach near the foot of Finlay Street.
Harbridge has taken part in past Myeloma March events in Vancouver.
According to a news release from Myeloma Canada, 11 Canadians are diagnosed with the disease every day, though “few people have ever heard of it.”
“Every year, we’re getting closer to finding a cure,” said Martine Elias, executive director of Myeloma Canada.
“That’s why the funds raised at the White Rock March are so critical. They’ll help to keep myeloma research moving forward and to improve the lives of Canadians impacted by this devastating disease.”
Harbridge and his family have set a goal of raising $10,000 through their event.
A few days after his initial diagnosis in 2019, Harbridge started chemotherapy in preparation for a stem-cell transplant – a potentially life-prolonging procedure. The transplant was a success, though the process – which included driving each day from White Rock to Vancouver for treatment – took its toll on Harbridge.
“(That) July was a dark month. I was in and out of the hospital, every day, for a whole month,” he recalled.
“My wife, Kay, would drive me in and back daily for treatment, fluids and the inevitable hopeful check that the blood numbers were returning to normal – that takes time while you’re feeling the worst.”
Elias noted that Harbridge’s struggles – even going from the suburbs to Vancouver daily – highlight a problem that “50 per cent” of myeloma patients who live in rural communities face: the difficulty in accessing specialists, clinical trials and treatments.
“As a result, these patients and their families have to deal with both the traumatic impact of living with myeloma as well as the severe financial and emotional burden of having to travel to another treatment centre,” she said.
Today, Harbridge is on “maintenance therapy” and is considered to be in what the news release called “relatively stable condition.” Having resumed running, his goal this year – in which he turned 60 – is to run 12 half-marathons. So far, he has completed nine.
The White Rock Multiple Myeloma March begins at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, and will be a five-km route. For more information on the event, or to donate to the cause, visit support.myeloma.ca and click on the link for the Multiple Myeloma March, click ‘Find a City’ and then scroll until you find a link for White Rock.
So far, more than $3,400 of the $10,000 goal has been pledged.