For the past 40 years, Dr. Howard Natenshon, better known as Dr. Nate, has focused his medical expertise on the early detection of breast cancer while a radiologist at Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC) in Greenfield, Mass. There, he has a front row seat to patients struggling physically and mentally with the reality of their diagnosis. He wanted to provide them some comfort during those difficult times.
With the help of BFMC colleague Bruce Mainville, former lead technologist of nuclear medicine, Dr. Nate established the Wheeling for Healing Ride, Walk, Run fundraiser 15 years ago to benefit cancer patients at BFMC.
“He is always focused on ways that he can help and encourage others, whether they be coworkers, friends, and particularly his patients,” Bruce said about Dr. Nate.
These days, despite Dr. Nate’s own battle with lymphoma (he is currently in remission), he is as dedicated to seeing that the fundraiser keeps rolling along as he was 15 years ago. To date, more than $500,000 has been raised through Wheeling for Healing to support cancer care at BFMC. The number of riders, walkers, and runners has grown from about 50 to more than 300.
When first coming up with the idea for the event, Dr. Nate and Bruce felt strongly about keeping the fundraising dollars local. A committee was formed in 2008 to work out all the details of the fundraiser, such as creating the 10-, 25-, and 50-mile courses in Greenfield for the bike ride (plus a 5k walk for non-riders), designing the logo, coming up with sponsors, and more. Committee members also collected prizes, including creations from talented local artists and expert woodworkers, to be used as additional fundraising. Besides Dr. Nate, his wife Rosemary “Rosie” Caine, and Bruce, many staffers from the hospital participated. Most of the meetings took place at the Caine/Natenshon home, with Rosie cooking meals for the group and creating a welcoming atmosphere.
“This collective energy became way more than the sum of its parts,” she said.
Starting to lose his hair recently from his chemotherapy treatments, Dr. Nate got the idea to expand his support for Wheeling for Healing. He and his wife, and a group of close friends, held an event Sept. 18, 2021, in the Caine/Natenshon garden at which Natenshon shaved his head and sought donations for his effort. From that selfless act, additional donations to Wheeling for Healing topped $7,000. So far, money raised from Wheeling for Healing has paid for state-of-the art equipment, such as new infusion chairs for people being treated at the BFMC Oncology Unit, art therapy and yoga programs to improve healing, and even funds to support a shuttle the brings patients to and from the D’Amour Center for Cancer Care in Springfield.
“The passion and connection to the heart of the event that organizers can tap into is what has made this event so successful,” said Dr. Nate, who still works two days a week at the hospital. “Cancer is an epidemic that has touched all of our lives. Everyone knows or has lost somebody affected.”
Stay tuned for more information on the 15th anniversary of Wheeling for Healing Ride, Walk, Run to be held later this year.