Today we rode in memory of Taissa. I had honour this morning of reading her dedication, and as a little twist, I asked Taissa’s mom Ulana to be a part of the ceremony. Ulana is a two time national rider (2010 and 2015), and she is one of the main reasons I rode in 2017, and ride again today. I met Ulana during the Hero Ride, a cancer ride that ran from King City to Collingwood for several years, and her story and those of other national riders I met inspired me to finally take the plunge and now there is no looking back. As we began our dedication, I connected up a video chat with Ulana so she could be part of the dedication circle that she participated in so many times over her two years of riding in the NKCR.
Most of us have a lifetime to make our dreams come true and we are blessed with the luxury of good health and the precious gift of time. Others, however, do not share this good fortune. There are many children who, at a very tender age, face the harsh reality of a high risk, life-threatening illness. For parents, a diagnosis brings feelings of overwhelm and helplessness which are beyond comprehension.
Towards the end of my pregnancy I was told that there were potential problems. It was hard for me to accept the possibility of any complications while on my journey to motherhood. I believed that the life I was carrying had a resilient life force. However, six hours after the birth of my first born daughter Taissa, the doctors told us that her prognosis was poor and that she would never walk or talk. I recognized at that time, that life’s first battle for my little one had begun. Whatever she had to face, I knew we would do it together.
Defying the doctors, Taissa quickly grew up walking, talking, running and dancing, skiing, skating, laughing and loving. However, in April of 2000, at the age of 12, Taissa was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a parent’s worst nightmare had become my reality.
Bearing witness to Taissa’s necessary treatments during the many hours spent at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, I prayed that she did not fully comprehend what was happening around her. As she endured chemotherapy and all the necessary, but painful, pokes and prods, I hoped and prayed that Taissa could maintain her somewhat feisty yet carefree spirit. I knew that she innocently understood that I would stand by her side as she fought the battle for, and of, her life. Although there were numerous miracles along the way that served to restore Taissa’s energy and revitalize her spirit, sadly, they did not last.
Taissa’s graduation day was Thursday, March 29, 2001 at the tender age of 13.
I learned a lot from my daughter Taissa, as did my family and friends. While Taissa bravely accepted every challenge that came her way, she never lost touch with her new-found companions: hope, strength, courage and determination. For her, learning was so much more difficult than for other children her age. She had to work hard to learn. Taissa was a fighter, not only for herself, but for others as well. She brought genuine comfort to other children going through similar cancer treatments at the oncology unit of Sick Kids. She had a relentless passion for life and people and an intense sensitivity to animals. She spoke and read in two languages, she excelled at gymnastics, and she marveled at the great outdoors. One of her greatest accomplishments was to claim the status of an unbeatable tic-tac-toe player and Nintendo Mario Brother Duck Hunt champion. But most importantly, she continually exhibited incredible inner strength, perseverance and tenacity in the face of considerable adversity.
Today, I am left with a treasure full of memories that are all so very precious. Taissa’s spark in life will forever shine brightly in the hearts of those who had the honour of knowing her. I am grateful for the 13 years I had to love and nurture her and to share in her unique spirit.
After the dedication we got out on the road. We had some hills today that challenged us, but reading about my friend’s child who “graduated” from her cancer was far harder than any of the hills we had to conquer today. After a little time reflecting and feeling a bit emotional, I settled down to the job at hand with my team and returned a little to my normal self.
We rode today from Vernon to Revelstoke, which is mostly up, but for the most part gently so. We managed the ride as a team well and stuck together on the climbs, the descents and the flatter sections. Along the way we met Team 1 Captain Paul’s mom in Enderby, which was emotional for Paul and an opportunity to poke a little fun, and also have some great big hugs (a NKCR favorite). The day itself was beautiful, ending in Revelstoke, with sun and warm, but not too hot weather all the way. The scenery is spectacular, and there were plenty of opportunities for great pics along the way:
Tomorrow will be another day where we learn a story about a child who has, or is, battling cancer, and we will have yet another reason to get out on the road and tell people #whyweride. You CAN help battle childhood cancer by donating at richmeesters.nationalkidscancerride.com.