Friday, June 8, 2012

Ride of her Life

Cancer. We’re all acquainted with it.

A monster of a disease that captures its victims, weakens them, sometimes beyond recognition, and often kills them.  We’ve all loved people who have died and people who have survived this illness. Perhaps that’s why the Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Hospital holds such power over us. Signs for it are pervasive. People who don’t normally bike to the corner store challenge themselves to do it and I’m sure you’ve donated to it at least once. I know I have on multiple occasions.

I’ve worn pins, bought plants and signed pledge forms. Half a dozen of my friends have participated in the ride. I give spare change to strangers fundraising on the street and I’ve written articles about survivors in my community newspaper who have trained for it. But nobody has moved me with their efforts as much as my friend Christina.

Christina did the Ride to Conquer Cancer for the first time last year. She was biking in memory of her childhood best friend who had died of cancer in 2008. Four days before the ride started, she was diagnosed with cancer herself and this two day journey took on a whole new meaning.  Despite the shock of her diagnosis, she participated in the ride and finished feeling strong.

A couple of months later she was admitted to the hospital for kidney cancer. After her surgery she was told that the cancer had spread, which made multiple incisions on her side necessary. It was an emotional time, but she didn’t let it hinder her spirit. She dealt with the disease with an immense amount of determination and grace. Inspired doesn’t even come close to describing how  she made me feel when I visited her in the hospital. Humbled by her strength would be more accurate.

This year Christina will be participating in all four Rides to Conquer Cancer across Canada. Less than a year after her own surgery she will be travelling the nation to ride alongside other cancer survivors and supporters.  Starting in Ontario on June 9th, continuing in British Columbia June 16th, Alberta on June 23rd and finishing up in Quebec on July 7th, she’s personally matching every donation given to her dollar for dollar.

Again, the feeling of being humbled comes over me. Not only because of Christina’s strength in participating in all four rides, but because of her generosity. She’s faced this monstrous disease through the loss of a friend and through personal illness. Instead of succumbing to loss and sadness she’s climbed on her bike and roared in its face.  Compared to her might cancer looks more mouselike than monstrous.

When she was in the hospital recovering from surgery I gave her a necklace with a wishbone charm on it in hopes that it would bring her luck during a difficult time. I was afraid of what the doctors might say after her surgery. I dreaded hearing a bad prognosis; I didn’t want to lose my friend. I felt powerless, so I relied on this symbol of luck and good fortune to carry us both through. In the end she didn’t really need it. Her own power carried her through the worst of the worst, but she still wears this charm as a symbol of friendship.

I’m not talented on a bike, so I can’t ride beside her. I’ve never had cancer, so I’ll never fully understand her, but I can write down all my well-wishes and hope for all of the luck in the world to follow her in the Ride to Conquer Cancer 2012.  If you’re participating in this year’s ride take a moment and look around you. You might see Christina riding up ahead, or maybe by your side. I hope seeing her inspires you like she’s inspired me, and you pedal faster, harder and never give up. I hope you take the challenge further next year by doing more than one ride or by raising more than the required funds. If you’re not participating in the ride, but you have cancer, I hope her story moves you to not give up hope and makes every day you fight through become easier. If you’re not participating in the ride and you don’t have cancer, but you do have the ability to give, I hope Christina’s story inspires you to donate to the next person who asks for your help in raising money for the cause.

When I first heard about her diagnosis I thought hope was all we had. People would ask me how she was doing and then follow up with “I hope she pulls through”, “I hope she’s okay” and “I hope you’ll be alright”.  We all may be hoping for someone in our lives to make it through this disease, but I want to assure you we have a survivor on our side who’s proving one ride at a time that there isn’t just hope; there’s life. She’s riding and raising money because she wants, maybe more than anyone, to actually conquer cancer for good.

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