Ten Years? Seriously?
Welcome to my Ride Page!
I am excited to be participating in my 11th Ride to Conquer Cancer - nine to Seattle, one in Toronto and this year's ride to our new destination, Hope. Most of you probably landed here from a link in one of the emails I have been pestering you with and know all that you need to know. Please click on the "Donate" button above
The Horny Goats have raised $4.2 million since this Ride began and will have another strong year in 2018. I am very proud to be a part of that group.
But most of all, I am sincerely so humbled and grateful to all of you for your donations.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
p.s. For those of you new to these pages, the background to my involvement with cancer research - which is now just over 19 years - can be found below.
In 1995 Pam and I moved to Vancouver from Montreal. We got married the following year and our son Alex was born in the fall of 1997. Eighteen months later, our daughter Samantha was close to being born when Pam developed some neurological symptoms. First, she noticed her handwriting was getting “messy.” Then there was some occasional and slight slurring of speech. The symptoms progressed and perhaps a week or two before the due date Pam was admitted to hospital as a precaution. She had double vision, the slurred speech became more pronounced and it was hard to sort out what might be pregnancy related and what might not be. Otherwise she was perfectly fine.
After Samantha was born, the doctors kept Pam in hospital for a few days to waiting for an MRI of her brain. Her neurological symptoms deepened and she started having trouble with her balance. That following Friday an MRI revealed Pam had a brain tumour. On Monday morning we met a neurosurgeon. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of now a 19 year association with Dr. Brian Toyota and the BC Cancer Foundation and Agency. Brian saw Pam on the Monday morning and immediately admitted her to VGH for surgery early the following morning. Samantha was now eleven days old. I remember it like yesterday when Brian said to Pam’s brother Geoff and I in his calm professional way “Look, I have the OR booked for four hours because that’s the way it works. But I’ll probably be in there a lot longer than that so don’t worry if I don’t come out after the four hours. And if something’s wrong or unexpected I’ll come out.”
The surgery took over six hours. Geoff and I went quietly crazy in the waiting room. What if he “came out?!” I can’t imagine operating on a brain for six hours. Guys like Brian do it all the time.
What followed was a diagnosis of medulloblastoma a type of brain cancer (although they call it something else now) that is very common in children but rare enough in adults that Pam’s case was a subject of curiosity. Pam then underwent a series of radiation treatments to the brain, and as a precaution, her spine, followed by a number of cycles of chemotherapy. All told those treatments lasted about a year and were full of the side effects that chemo patients have: hair loss, incredible fatigue, seemingly never ending nausea. And then one day we were finished. Pam went back for MRIs every three months, then every six. We thought we were home free and became busy with work and raising young children. Life became normal.
Five years later the cancer returned. Not good when medulloblastoma returns. But our wonderful doctors had an idea given Pam’s profile and relative youth. An extremely high dose chemotherapy program – so high that it would dictate a bone marrow transplant. This had only been done once in Vancouver in the previous ten years and only perhaps a dozen times in the previous couple of years at Duke University – arguably the world’s leading centre in brain tumour research and care with whom our docs had been consulting.
It was a long shot but it was the only shot we had.
A bone marrow transplant is a harrowing procedure. I fervently hope none of you ever have to experience that or have a family member do so. It involves weeks in hospital and months of recovery. About a quarter of the people don’t survive the bone marrow transplant itself, let alone the treatment that goes with it. I’ll leave it at that.
It looked like it worked. Months went by and all clear. But then the cancer was back, revealed not by symptoms as it was on the previous two occasions, but by a scheduled follow-up MRI. .
Pam died in August of 2005. Alex hadn’t turned eight yet and Samantha was six.
Life goes on it. It just does. You have to cope and, what became my cancer motto, Keep Going.
Fast forward to the summer of 2010. Alex was eleven and would turn twelve that fall. Cynthia, whose husband Bill Vince also died from cancer in June 2008, and I were bringing two families together and were in the process of moving to London. Alex was tired. Unusually so. We thought it was jet lag in London and on our return. It wasn’t. I saw some bruising on his legs and I didn’t want to, but I knew what it was. We had blood tests done that morning and early that afternoon Alex was admitted to BC Children’s with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Oh.
If you read the above you know the good news about ALL – survival rates are in the 80% to 85% range. Here I made a mental mistake, one that took me a long while to figure out. Somehow I equated 80% with “must be easy then.” Wrong. Very wrong. These kids go through hell. All told, Alex’s treatments took 40 months, the first nine months of which were a pretty constant hell.
I am happy to report that Alex will turn twenty-one in a few weeks, and his big six foot five frame will also be back on a bicycle for the second year riding to Hope with us.
Because research works.
Thank you for reading this and congratulations if you made it this far!
My Participant ID: 320153-0
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