Last chance

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 52, No. 7, September 2010, page(s) 349 Editorials
David R. Richardson, MD

I’m not a fan of cancer (or the Canucks either if I think about it). However, both of these have a way of affecting my life. The Canucks I can’t do anything about (can anyone?) but I chose the Ride to Conquer Cancer as my fundraiser this year. This is a 2-day supported 250 km bicycle ride from Vancouver to Seattle.

Vascular disease remains the number one cause of mortality in North America, but often its victims are older and have lived a life of inactivity, overeating, and smoking. 

I don’t think any other disease leaves the legacy of sorrow that cancer does. Its victims are often young healthy people in the prime of their lives. Their suffering and that of their families and friends is often beyond my comprehension. 

It is these stories of suffering that were shared during the ride that will stay with me forever. Despite my outwardly sarcastic and often insensitive exterior, I am a “feeler,” and I wasn’t on the ride for very long before I began to tear up. 

As we were gathered at the start in the Guildford Mall parking lot, four cancer survivors accompanied a riderless bike up the middle of the crowd. This bike represented all those who couldn’t take part as they were currently fighting or had succumbed to this horrible disease. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. 

This event is most amazing not for the bicycle riding, but for the more than 2000 people who bonded together, each affected by cancer in some way. 

I met a father who had recently lost his infant son, a mother who had traveled from Alberta to support her son suffering from a brain stem tumor, a man who had lost his leg to childhood cancer bravely riding in memory of his father, and so many more.

Cancer survivors proudly ride with a yellow flag on their bicycles. On the second day I was riding beside a young man with such a flag who shared his story with me. He had moved from Australia and was training for an Ironman marathon when he began to experience overwhelming fatigue. He was found to be dangerously anemic due to advanced colon cancer. He had wanted to do the ride last year but remained too ill from his chemo to participate. 

This year his major sponsors offered to double their donations if he was the first cancer survivor to finish. Not only did he accomplish this goal, but he was met by his mother and sister who had traveled secretly from Australia to celebrate his ride. More tears.

On the first day I noticed that a young man riding beside me was clearly a huge cycling fan. He was decked out in the complete Garmin Transitions team uniform. (Garmin is an American professional cycling team based in Europe.) 

This young man had all the gear—jersey, shorts, helmet, shoe covers, even the team bike. Wait a second, his name is stenciled on his bike. You moron—that’s because he is on the team. Amazed at my stupidity (I know none of you are) I listened to his story. 

Not chosen for the Tour de France squad, he had come back to BC to compete in some of the local pro races, but mostly to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer in honor of his brother, who died last year of a brain tumor. He even got a tattoo after his brother’s death to remind him that you never know what’s going to happen in life, so enjoy what you are doing and do it well. He had this tattoo placed on his inner left forearm so that it is ever-present when he races his bike.

These stories and many more have moved me to do my part to fight this disease, because as the tattoo reminded me, you never know when it is going to be your LAST CHANCE.