Dr. Mark Johnston with Brett King and team members from team NS Strong.
Dr. Mark Johnston with Brett King and team members from team NS Strong.
Brett King and his family.
Brett King and his family.

Doubling Down on Donation Drive

Valley Businessman giving boost to summertime cycling fundraiser for childhood cancer research.

By: Carole Morris-Underhill (carole.morris-underhill@saltwire.com)

The owner of a Valley-based clinical research and psychology firm was so moved by a Hantsport’s teen’s fundraiser that he’s looking to donate thousands to help combat childhood cancer.

And, he’s challenging fellow Nova Scotians to do the same.

Mark Johnston, the owner and medical director of True North Clinical Research and True North Psychological Services, said he will match, dollar for dollar, funds raised by Brett King between July  5 and August 31.

“Rather than just donate, what I’d like to do is say “hey, if somebody else donates $1, we’ll match that dollar,” said Johnstons.

“The idea is to try to spur more people to donate.”

He’s prepared to donate up to $10,000.

Brett King, a grade 10 student at Horton High School, signed up for the Breakaway Cycling Adventure for Kids with Cancer fundraiser earlier this year. He’s doing so in memory of his mother, Heidi King, who died May 18 due to esophageal cancer. AS a child, she had successfully battled neuroblastoma.

King was invited to join Breakaway Cycling Adventure for Kids with Cancer by his Horton High School Grade 12 friend Mark Wilkie, who also lives in Hantsport. Joining them on the NS Strong team is Asa Hood, of Port Williams. Wilkie battled childhood cancer and participated in the challenge last year.

“Without that invite, none of this would have ever happened. I’m just very grateful for that,” said King, who noted that raising awareness of childhood cancer and funds for research has been cathartic as he grieves the loss of his mother – someone who was kind, caring, and always put her family and a community first.

“It’s healing,” said King. “It’s a bit of a bright light instead of everything being dark. It’s a positive.”

Johnston said it was inspiring to hear what the teens were planning to do this summer and how King was channeling his grief into positive change.

“It was Brett’s determination to do something about this that really caught my eye,” said Johnston who lives in Port Williams.

Johnston knew Heidi King – they attended Horton High School together as well as Acadia University, as she taught some of his children, as did her husband, Mike King. One of Johnston’s children told him about the summertime cycling challenge and what King was going to highlight childhood cancers. He knew he had to help.

“That’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart too because one of my kids had cancer,” said Johnston, who is a father of seven.

His son, Ewan, was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma at 15. Johnston said after receiving some “very cutting edge” immunotherapy cancer treatment, his son is now a 19-year-old who is in remission.

“It kicked his immune system into hyperdrive and his immune system attacked the melanoma and killed it. He’s been cancer-free ever since,” said Johnston.

He knows just how lucky his family is – the treatment is only effective in one-third of patients.

After receiving a Make a Wish trip in 2018 through the Children’s Wish Foundation, Johnston’s company, which has offices in New Minas, Kingston, Bridgewater, and Halifax, wanted to give back. Johnston challenged the public in 2020 to help raise funds for the foundation through a radiothon. He donated $25,000 – and by the time the fundraising campaign wrapped up, more than $76,000 for the Children’s Wish Foundation was realized.

Johnston is hoping that the public will once again rally to show its support, this time helping the teens who are trying to make a difference in the lives of children affected by cancer.

“(Brett’s) doing the right thing, trying to make the best of a bad situation. It really resonated with me,” said Johnston.

“It’s entirely because of him that we’re doing this.”

Phase 1 of the cycling challenge, which largely focuses on getting the word out to the public, runs until July 4. King has already raised more the $19,400.

Phase 2 runs between July 5 and Aug. 30 and features nine cycling challenges for the athletes to complete. These challenges include such things a cycling 100-kilometers in one ride; completing a weekend trifecta (300 km minimum); and traveling 60 km to a business that’s not local to show it some support. “

“I can’t say I have biked that much. I’m a little nervous for a few of them but we’ll make it happen together,” said King, noting that he’s grateful for Johnston’s pending donation.

“I think it’s amazing. I am just really, really excited when he contacted Dad about that. It made me feel really good that I have that much more chance to make a difference,” said King.

It’s during the second phase of the challenge that Johnston hopes there will be an uptick in donations and when his matching fund’s pledge takes effect.

Johnston said donations can be dropped off at any True North Location until August 31 or people can donate directly to the NS Strong campaign by visiting: https://p2p.on-ecause.com/breakaway-2021/team/ns-strong.