I first entered the world of childhood cancer in 2000, as counsellor at Camp Trillium. I was inspired by the resilience of the kids, the strength of their parents and the feeling of community that can only be fostered when others truly know what you’re going through. Every day, I’d hop into the cold lake and turn blue teaching swimming lessons to the kiddos. Our team would stay up all night making props and costumes for programs the next day. We knew that this week was often the only break all year that these families would get from their time at the hospital, and we wanted to make it awesome.
I continued my work with Trillium through my undergrad and med school programs while at McMaster. In 2010 I moved to Halifax to do pediatric residency, and then to Toronto in 2013 to train as a pediatric oncologist. During this time I was able to travel and work with kids with cancer in Cameroon, Malawi and Central America.
I also had the chance to volunteer as the Camp Doctor at Camp Oochigeas. All of these experiences reminded me just how much value that supportive programs – both within and outside the hospital – bring to families affected by childhood cancer in Canada.
Since becoming an oncologist, I’ve been so privileged to get to walk the cancer journey with so many kids and families. I was able to care for Adam Fedosoff (who has touched so many) during his second bone marrow transplant, and be inspired by his dream to ride NKCR himself when he got out of the hospital. I shared the journey with Anya Martinez and her family through 8 years of relapsing leukemia, two bone marrow transplants and three times through CART therapy – only to listen to her record a song and give $2000 of the profits to my Tour for Kids Ride so “all kids with cancer can go to camp”. I get to watch the relief flood over parents’ faces when I tell them the cancer is in remission, and pre-schoolers learn to walk again after their cancer that was pushing on their spine responded to treatment. But, as the Medical Director of the AfterCare program, I also get to see the surviving cancer isn’t the end of the story. So many survivors are left with life-long impacts of their therapies and so ongoing care and programs are necessary.
While Adam inspired me to ride, Dr. Bruce Crooks pushed me into it. As a three-time National cyclist, friend and mentor, he insisted I upgrade from my commuting tank with a basket to a road bike and ride Tour for Kids with him three years ago. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I love the feeling of sunshine on my back, and watching the scenery race by on a gorgeous day outside. That said, with the lifelong affliction of a face that turns into a tomato within three minutes of any exercise, please be reassured when you see me cycling that I am having more fun than I appear, and I’m in fact, not about to have a heart attack – I hope 😉
So, this year has culminated into me taking on the National Ride. I am riding to support all the organizations that receive funding from Coast to Coast – organizations that I’ve seen make such a difference to our families – the Children’s Hospitals (including mine!), the cancer camps (including Triilium and Ooch), the advocacy and support organizations (POGO for example), research funding through the C17, and the list goes on. I am riding for our families – the ones who lost kids, who are still supporting childhood cancer survivors, and the ones that we are facing a brand new diagnosis. I am also riding for my Dad who passed away after his own second cancer relapse this past year. I got to hear the words I often say: ‘his cancer is now incurable’… so I am riding in the hope that one day we’ll never have to say or hear those words again.