Money raised by the Pearsons (through donations and the rodeo)
2009: $102, 992
2010: $42,750 (as of Oct. 26, 2010)
Photos by Kori Sych
When Catherine Pearson passed away from cancer in 2009, it came as a shock not only for her husband and three children, but the entire community.
In the small community of Springbank, where the couple raised their family, Catherine played an active part. The physiotherapist calmed the nerves of new parents in prenatal classes for nearly two decades. When the couple’s three children were small, she made regular cameos at their school, helping with hot dog lunch days and other school events.
Sometimes, Catherine even made classroom appearances. “All the kids remembered her because she did the birthing educational class in Grade 7. They called her ‘the sex lady,’” recalls her husband Rob Pearson.
On top of that, Catherine served as director of her local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and helped out in her horse riding association. With so many community activities, Catherine touched thousands of lives in her 62 years.
“She left a legacy,” says Pearson.
Catherine passed away on April 11, 2009, from sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that accounts for only one per cent of all adult cancers diagnosed in North America (that’s about 1,000 to 1,200 cases in Canada each year). The disease affects bones, cartilage and any soft tissue in the body.
Catherine had a type of soft-tissue sarcoma (leiomyosarcoma). Only when she had unrelated surgery to remove uterine fibroids did doctors discover a tumour. Although Catherine had two bouts of chemotherapy, there wasn’t much doctors could do at such a late stage. She passed away just four months after her sarcoma diagnosis and, like many people with the disease, didn’t feel any pain or discomfort from it until the end.
Stunned by Catherine’s death, Pearson and their children, Leah, Kyla and Stephen, wanted to do something to keep her legacy alive and, just as importantly, help prevent other families from going through what they had.
Pearson began contacting a number of cancer organizations, which eventually led him to the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Just months after his wife’s passing, he established the Catherine M. Pearson Research Fund. Stephen came up with the idea of hosting a charity rodeo to raise funds.
“Cathy was a big fan of the Stampede and she liked horses,” says Pearson. It seemed like “a great tribute, as well as a way to fundraise that was a bit different from the usual things.”
In September 2009, the family organized the first Catherine Pearson Charity Rodeo at the Wild Wild West Event Centre, near Calaway Park. Rodeo highlights included wild-horse (bareback) races, bull and cow rides (“The only difference between cows and bulls, is that cows don’t chase you,” says Pearson) and a goat dressing, in which teams of three attempt to put a t-shirt on a goat (with mixed results).
The event raised more than $40,000 the first year and close to the same amount in September 2010.
In addition to the rodeos, Pearson approaches companies and wealthy individuals in the community who have the means to make large donations. He has also invested some of his own money. “I’ve been hoping to show this is a significant effort – not a flash-in-the-pan,” he explains.
Donations from the second rodeo and private donations are still being calculated by the Alberta Cancer Foundation. However, as of Oct. 26, the Pearsons had raised a little more than $145,000 in less than two years.
But Pearson is far from satisfied. He says many family memorials raise a few thousand dollars before fading away. “I want to raise $1.5 million,” he says. This is the amount he needs to set up an endowment that would fund a sarcoma research fellowship at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“The endowed fellowship will ensure annual funding for sarcoma research in perpetuity,” says Alberta Cancer Foundation senior development officer Marianne Bernardino. “The Pearson family will leave a lasting impact on sarcoma research in Alberta.”
At the moment, the Pearson family has raised more money for sarcoma research than any other family in the province and the largest donation to date for sarcoma research. The $1.5-million research fellowship would be the first of its kind in Alberta.
To find out more about the Catherine Pearson Charity Rodeo, check out www.pearsonrodeo.com.