National Kids Cancer Ride

Day 12. St Catharine’s to Toronto Sickkids. Emotional Overload

Well, I think I am at a loss for words. I really don’t know where to begin. Today is a big day for Ontario. The Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation is kind of Toronto-centric (well, that’s where it started and that’s where a lot of riders engage with it), and so, it’s a biggie. Team 1 rides from Barrie, through Vaughan, and Team 2 rides from St Catharines, via Hamilton. We pick up riders along the way, and meet up in Etobicoke, for the final ride to Sickkids. Everyone has their own story about why they are here. I’m not sure I have my own story: I have pieces of othe peoples’ and I am a part of so many others. As Rochelle said “you’re a storyteller”.

There were so many pieces of tomorrow that choked me up, and broke me:

When we set off and the Van Dyck family and Ulana (my wheel sister) and Trevor (my wheel brother) joined us to ride out.

When we arrived at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton. We were greeted by Matteo and his mom, Fi, who told their story, and by 4 of my colleagues – Carol, Stacey, Adam and Anthony. It’s usually me making the speeches and being all noble and dignified. Now I’m there on the other side seeing them do what I do, tell the stories and welcome everyone. I’m someone else. Someone being hailed as a hero and a champion for riding my bike and telling people about kids cancer… That’s so messed up. Yet I see the passion, the dedication and the gratitude in their eyes for what we are doing. And it breaks me apart. That must be what I look like from the other side. And again, it breaks me apart. I’m a mess again. Matteo’s story is big. Huge. Complicated, yet sadly familiar. I’ve seen it before. Too many times, yet it cuts deep. Matteo shed tears as his mom told his story. And we instantly responded to comfort and reassure that this was OK. Matteo’s story is a success story. At least as far as his leukaemia is concerned. But his treatment will leave long-lasting scars. And that’s not acceptable. We tried to help, delivering beanie babies that were give to us, a token that each rider carried with them. But it’s a small token. As far as we see, but can make a kid smile. I left with a big lump in my throat and a rock in my heart. But with a smile to know that my friends and colleagues share my passion and will give their hearts to care for these kids.

We paused in Burlington for lunch, and support from the Sears store there before hearing to Sherway Park. Sears struggled this year and couldn’t engage as they had done. But the Associates in the store continued to believe. And they delivered to us out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s how this journey affects people. This is another emotional roller coaster as we meet up with Team 1 – the first time we have seen them since Winnipeg, and the last time we will see them until we meet in Halifax. Too many hugs, too many tears, and too short a time. Riders, volunteers, friends, patients, parents, strangers and those who put you on a fricking pedestal. Why they do that I can’t understand, but for them it’s so important that we do this. To show that someone out there cares and is trying to change the world.

The rollercoaster takes off again. All too soon we are headed out in a huge group with a police escort down Lakeshore Boulevard and into Toronto Centre. It’s an amazing experience that you can’t describe. Thundering down the road, with people whom we don’t know and never will, cheering us on without ever knowing what we are doing… or why.

All too soon, I’m at the front of the peloton. Headed up University Avenue, when at the side of the road, a tiny figure, on her tiny bike peddles frantically up the road in front of us. We catch up and it’s Ivy – one of my patients from Halifax, who’s now in Toronto being cared for at Sickkids. We ride into the hospital entrance together – she made it and I nearly fell off into the bushes!!!!! But OMG, she restores my faith in the future. She wants to do this every year until she can do the Ride itself. I hope we can give her the chance to do so.

Once again, we hear stories of hope and progress. Sickkids is amazing – a powerhouse of research and innovation in Canada and the world, whole we use, and support to help us lead the way and make the next advances. Yes we work together, But we need them, just as they need us. We heard from Owen, who is pioneering leukaemia research by volunteering for experimental treatments that would’ve been unheard of 10 years ago. And we hear from another of my colleagues, Jim, who leads the unit, and has such passion and vision for breaking the normal and stretching the boundaries of what is possible, making the impossible possible. And unlike me right now, his modesty is palpable. He speaks and then vanishes from view to carry on, allowing someone else to soak up the limelight and play merry hell with my emotions.

All too soon it’s goodbye time. We pile into the RVs to shuttle for  showers and food, in the home of Carlo and Fiona, who are both passionate bough tis cause, devoting hours and weeks of their lives to this. So we can feel human again, rather than superheroes. It’s over for another year. It’s an experience you saviour and want to go on forever. But it won’t last, and all it leaves are memories, images, photographs and smiles. Oh, and tears. Tears for the kids who make it through and thrive and grow. Tears for the kids who don’t make it and become memories and stories for so many. Yet they remain fixed in our hearts and minds, no less real for not being physically here. They stay with their families. They stay with the doctors and nurses. And they stay with us too. And despite not being “here” they still have the capacity to make us smile, laugh and cry at eh oddest moments. Because they can.

Oh, and I’m sorry, Allison, for breaking you for the third and fourth time today. Payback will be such a bitch, I’m sure.

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