by Jonathan van Bilsen
My legs are still a bit sore from completing the Port Perry Pedals event a few weeks ago, but I am very glad I was able to participate. More than 200 people on bicycles came out, and raised over $53,000 for cancer research in Durham Region. The brainchild behind the event is Marc Gibbons, who will be the first to tell you, he is part of a team, but in reality, without his tireless effort, there would be no event.
Marc, and his wife Lauren, along with their two girls, moved to Port Perry a few years ago, and have been very instrumental in giving a great deal to the community.
Born in Ottawa, both his parents worked in education. During Marc’s high school years, he was a very active sports enthusiast, and was involved in competitive kayak racing, as well as competitive skiing.
While growing up, Marc’s passion was music, and upon graduating from high school, he moved to Montreal and attended McGill, where he excelled in music. Marc graduated with a Bachelor of Music and a Master’s of Music performance. His minor, during undergrad, was in music technology, which gave him great insight into computers.
Marc played the oboe and his education prepared him to play professionally with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet of Canada, and as principal oboe of the Niagara Symphony. He came to Southern Ontario by way of the Brott Music Festival and the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. It was at the festival Marc met his future wife, Lauren.
The concert scene was great but life as a starving artist was not for Marc. On top of freelancing and taking orchestral auditions across North America, he was also teaching the oboe, at St. Michael’s College School, and coaching their ski team.
In his effort to determine where life would lead him, Marc decided to return to school and receive a formal education in coding, something he had kept up throughout his life. He began building advertising and social networking platforms from the ground up. One of his early projects was backed by, supermodel and television personality, Tyra Banks, as part of America’s Next Top Model. “That promotion was certainly helpful in the popularity of the application,” Marc explained.
In 2019, Marc was suffering from a cold and a sore neck, which turned into a small lump. He went to the local urgent care clinic, and was referred to a surgeon who performed the biopsy. Marc would soon learn he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was immediately sent to the Durham Regional Cancer Centre, one of Canada’s foremost cancer treatment facilities.
A CT and a PET scan showed several other tumours, including one, wrapped around his heart, measuring 13 cm. The prescribed treatment consisted of chemotherapy, followed by radiation. The first session is always the most difficult, as each body reacts differently to the process. Marc underwent two cycles of frontline therapy, each consisting of two treatments, over 28 days.
Unfortunately, the response was not what was expected which meant switching to an escalated regimen. The new treatment plan was rigorous and Marc would go on to complete four cycles, but not before the pandemic broke out halfway through.
Marc worked from home, set his own schedule, and was able to work during the entire process. His treatment was not interrupted by the pandemic, which is very remarkable. “I developed a profound appreciation for the people in the healthcare system.” As a gesture of gratefulness, Marc created a number of signs with hearts on them, and along with his kids, lined them up along the hospital street. “That led to people in the neighbourhood banging pots and pans at 7:30 p.m., every night, which kicked off the thankfulness for first responders.”
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2021. Marc and his two daughters were walking through Palmer Park, when his oldest noticed a man, playing loud music from a speaker, at the end of the pier-step, out onto the lake. The temperature was mild and the ice was thin, so the man fell through and was calling for help.
Marc ran to his aid and, along with another person, managed to pull him out. The reason for the story is, in doing so, Marc hurt his back and shoulder and the pain did not go away. He began experiencing new symptoms during the holiday season, and his next CT scan showed, the cancer had returned. A biopsy was performed and confirmed a relapse of Hodgkin’s disease. His spinal cord and bone marrow biopsies came back negative, but salvage therapy began immediately. “It was nasty,” Marc explained. “But the morning after the first chemo treatment, all the back and shoulder pain disappeared.”
After completing 3 cycles (another 6 treatments), he was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital for high-dose chemotherapyand a stem cell transplant, before being transferred back to Oshawa for recovery. He would be in the hospital, in isolation, for almost a month.
Marc used this time and opportunity to re-invent himself. “I decided to read a book, something I hadn’t done since university,” He said. “I decided to give up alcohol.” Marc continued, “I ended up doing so many things which were out of character, and which provided an interesting opportunity to determine what I wanted out of life.” His haematologist at PMH warned him, he would likely be bed ridden for the first three months after discharge. Not Marc; on his eighth day out, he completed a 100 km bike ride. After a clean PET scan, in September 2022, he would start a new 16-cycle course of immunotherapy which ended in August 2023. He was delighted to take the new CT scanner in Port Perry for a spin last week. Best of all, his results confirm he is in total remission.
Today, Marc Gibbons lives his life in the present. His priority is his family, and exercise is in the forefront of his activity. “I eat healthy and keep my emotions as positive as possible.” His commitment to Port Perry is amazing, as shown by the Port Perry Pedals event.
I was impressed at the positive attitude and great outlook Marc possesses. I did not know him well, prior to his illness, but the new version, or Marc 2.0, as he puts it, is a great champion in an endless fight against cancer.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.