Patients first/ combined forces / extending boundaries/ optimising/converting helplessness into strength/ independent

They said it couldn’t be done…

In summer 2005 two cycling friends came up with the bizarre idea of cycling up the legendary Alpe d’HuZes six times in one day. Not for fun, but for a good cause. Quickly they found a small group of fellow enthusiasts to join them in the challenge. Despite all the scepticism (‘You must be mad’ and ‘You’ll never make it’ were some of the politer comments made) they carried on training and collecting sponsors. And on 6 June 2006, at 6 minutes past 6 in the morning, it was time to prove the sceptics wrong and start what has since become an international movement. They came, they saw what was ahead of them (exhaustion, heat and cramp, but also friendship) and together they conquered and achieved their goal. All under the motto of ‘Never ever quit!’.

Some cycled with a loved one ‘behind them’, giving them the strength to carry on. And they all, whether participant, volunteer or supporter, exceeded what they had previously thought possible. For the first time ever they were able to turn the sense of hopelessness that cancer can cause into the energy and strength they needed to reach the top. By the end of that magical day almost all the cyclists had reached the summit six times. And they had raised close to four hundred thousand euros, every single euro of which went to the cancer charity KWF. Everyone was elated, but back at home found it difficult to explain exactly what had happened that day. That was when the organisers decided to make it more than just a one-off event. And the rest, as they say, is history. Tens of thousands of people are now involved, and more than a hundred million of euros have been raised.

Two years later the Alpe d’HuZes founders were looking at how best to use the money raised for The Dutch Cancer Society. Their approach was unconventional. The way it was used had to become better, faster and, above all, in the patients’ interests. At first most of the money went on seeking to improve patients’ lives, with a unique post-treatment recovery programme being set up. But more needed to be done, also elsewhere in the world. The Alpe d’HuZes team had no idea, for example, what was being done to help children with cancer in India when they were asked. This got them thinking about doing things differently, including the approach towards research. They started talking to leading scientists and reached some important conclusions: things weren’t going fast enough. There needed to be more of a focus on patients. And that was when they decided to translate the energy of Alpe d’HuZes into practice and to start to win the battle against cancer. This marked the start of Inspire2Live: an independent, international organisation in the fight against cancer.

Inspire2Live also faced quite some scepticism, and this time it was in the international arena. ‘Getting cancer under control? That’ll take at least another 50 years’. Those sorts of predictions are always safe as no-one will ever call you to account. ‘Why not in 10 years?’ was the question Inspire2Live asked to get scientists on its side and to make them want to combine forces to put the bold plan into action. Just like the 66 mad cyclists setting off up the mountain for the first time, here was another group of people who believed in the goal, irrespective of the consequences, their reputations or what other people thought of the idea. By making better use of existing knowledge, sharing information and generating new energy and fresh ideas they’re seeking to achieve a break-through in cancer research. All with one aim: getting cancer under control by 2020. Since 2011 the organisation has turned ever more into an organisation genuinely lead by patients: the Patient Advocates.

The energy that Alpe d’HuZes generates is infectious. In the early morning of 9 September 2009 (09-09-09) a few dozen Belgian and Dutch participants took on the challenge of climbing Mont Ventoux four times in a single day. Setting out before daybreak under Van Gogh-like starry skies and carrying on till sunset, many of them managed to reach the summit four times. That marked the birth of a new Inspire2Live event! Ven2-4Cancer has since grown into the biggest fundraiser in Belgium in the fight against cancer. Via Inspire2Live Alpe d’HuZes has inspired other events all around the world, from Costa Rica to Norway. Each event was different from the beginning, but all shared the same basic values and operate on a no-cost basis. The local organisations raise funds and then decide with a respected cancer charity how best to spend them. In some countries that meant bringing care levels up from scratch, applying existing knowledge and helping to improve patients’ lives. But these local organisations are also increasingly looking to contribute to Inspire2Live’s international goal.

Since 2013, the events are not a part of the organisation Inspire2Live anymore. The reason was that for a second, it seemed that the critics were right: Alpe d’HuZes came under a major media scrutiny in the Netherlands when it was published that some people working for scientific project were indeed payed at Inspire2Live. It was a story that could not be matched with the non-cost fundraising organisation. Since then the two have gone separate ways to be able to continue doing what they were good at: one at fundraising, the other chasing the boundaries of science and constantly trying to improve healthcare for cancer patients. Since then, Inspire2Live has become almost solely a Patient Advocacy organisation where people can get paid.

Nevertheless the courage and drive have stayed with us, our mission is unchanged. That’s because getting cancer under control by sharing knowledge, information and energy is ultimately the aim of every organisation, locally and worldwide. And it’s only by working together to achieve our goal that we can overcome the scepticism that can be just as fatal for an initiative as cancer can for our bodies.

Never ever quit!