by Kyle Slavin, SMUS Review blog editor
This week the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock team finished their 1,100-km ride down Vancouver Island, but not before stopping in at SMUS for a quick “Hello” and “Thank you” for the fundraising. The team pedalled their way to campus on Thursday morning, where the Middle and Senior Schools greeted them with cheers and support. But it wasn’t until lunch on Thursday that the fundraising began.
T-shirt sales, donut sales, head shaves and leg waxes were the name of the game, as students donated their money (and hair!) to a great cause: pediatric cancer research.
The Tour de Rock theme continued in Chapel this week, too, as one SMUS employee – me, in fact; the guy who writes the blogs! – had the honour of speaking to students and staff about my experience as a Tour de Rock rider. I was fortunate enough to ride on the Tour de Rock team in 2012, and I’ve since spent time with the new teams in the years since as part of the support crew that helps get them safely from Port Alice to Victoria.
It was an honour for me to share a little bit about my experience with this incredible SMUS community.
Here’s an excerpt from my Chapel speech:
Last week I became friends with Hope. We had never spoken, she didn’t even know my name, and despite this, she confidently came up to me one day during breakfast, tugged on my jacket and asked me for my autograph. She doesn’t care that I’m not an actual celebrity. She doesn’t care that there’s no value to my signature. All she cared about was my Tour de Rock jacket.
Hope is eight years old. She’s hilarious and energetic and unfiltered and bubbly and brave. She also has cancer. She has an inoperable tumour growing up against her heart. But last week, that didn’t matter to her. What mattered to her was that she was the centre of attention. She was the celebrity to the Tour de Rock team, a group of people that she looks up to because she sees them as doing something heroic.
Riding in the Tour de Rock in 2012 was a life-changing experience and has shaped the way I see the world and the way I look at my own problems. It’s kids like Hope, who are way too young to have to know what cancer is and who are way too young to have to know what ‘survival rate’ means, that the Tour de Rock is looking to help.
My job on Tour this year included doing photography, and documenting the Tour de Rock team as they bike 1,100 kilometres, as they stop in 30-plus communities and as they meet children, families and Vancouver Islanders who all have one thing in common: their strong desire to put an end to cancer, specifically childhood cancers.
During the three hours I spent with Hope last Wednesday, she reminded me probably half a dozen times to mail her some photos so she can put them in her scrapbook alongside all of the autographs she was collecting. She also, in that time, decided on a whim that she wanted to shave her head, so she grabbed a toque and passed it around to raise as much money as she could before she went under the razor. She collected more than $300 in less than five minutes.
It seemed strange that someone like her could ever be seen as anything but an awesome kid because that’s the Hope that I saw and that’s the Hope I got to know. You couldn’t wipe the smile off her face because she was having the time of her life playing in the police cars and getting carried around by a bunch of big cops. But, on the flip side, she’s a cancer patient, meaning even though she’s an awesome eight-year-old, her situation has forced her to grow up and experience things no child should ever have to face.
I met Hope on a good day, when she was excited and enthusiastic and seemed to be what I would consider a normal eight-year-old. But her situation isn’t normal. Kids with cancer spend many, many days cooped up in their houses or in a hospital dealing with chemotherapy and radiation. And when she does beat cancer, she could be left with emotional and physical scars, learning difficulties, even PTSD from the experience.
So my Tour de Rock jacket and what it means to a child like Hope is why the Tour de Rock exists. To her, this jacket represents a unified fight against everything she hates and the one thing that I hate that’s growing inside of her.
The Tour de Rock riders don’t ride because they want recognition or glory for the cycling they’re doing. They ride because they have a choice: they can choose to go outside and ride their bikes, they can choose to shave their heads, they can choose to say “Stop!” when their bodies are sore and burning. But a child living with cancer doesn’t get to choose. That’s why I shaved my head. I chose to be bald not because it shows solidarity with the kids who lose their hair during treatment, but because it’s the least I can do to show that I have a choice that can make a difference in their lives.
Childhood cancer is horrible. Meeting kids who are fighting cancer is incredibly inspiring and humbling, but it’s horrible having to meet them under those circumstances. And it hurts having to see parents say goodbye to their child, especially because we know that we’re not going to save every kid. But as much doom and gloom as there is in talking about childhood cancer, I get so much pleasure in supporting the Tour de Rock because I’ve seen firsthand how much joy the Tour de Rock brings to these kids.
A lot of these kids say that their favourite day of the year is when they get to miss school and go ride in the police car as it follows the Tour de Rock team. Last week, Hope was grinning from ear to ear as she sat in the police car and pushed the buttons and gave the riders high fives before they set off in the morning.
I rode into SMUS on my bike, alongside my 16 Tour de Rock teammates three years ago. It still gives me goosebumps just thinking about the reception we received and the level of support we got from SMUS students that year. It was déjà vu for me when the team rode in here this week. I was so happy to see such a level of joy and enthusiasm and energy and support that the school community gave them. There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing kids help kids out of a genuine want to make a difference.
Riding a bike is easy. Battling cancer as a kid, dealing with all that comes with it, and still waking up every day happy as every child deserves to be, that is hard. And until the hard part is over, the easy stuff will continue.