Riders embark on cross-country journey against cancer
Township Mayor Jack Froese recalls speaking to the riders and volunteers of the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride outside the Sears at Willowbrook Shopping Centre two years ago.
"It was very emotional just looking at the photos of the young people that have struggled with cancer," Froese told a crowd gathered outside the store on Thursday morning.
He was speaking as the riders made a stop in Langley as part of their coast-to-coast journey, which will take them from Vancouver to Halifax over the span of 17 days.
The ride came through Langley in 2013, but Froese did not attend that day, because his wife, Debbie, was in the middle of her own fight against cancer, undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
"Debbie and I had many conversations about cancer," said Froese, fighting his emotions as he spoke.
"She once said, 'If any of my grandkids had cancer, I would want to take it from them, I wouldn't want them to have that pain,'" he said.
"'Maybe that is why I have cancer?'" she said to him.
Debbie is now in remission, and doing well, Froese said.
He thanked the riders, and all the volunteers who accompany them, for all that they do.
"You are out there taking that pain away from the children, and I am really thankful for that," Froese said.
Prior to their stop in Langley, the riders embarked on the journey by dipping their bike wheels into the ocean in White Rock. They will conclude their ride by dipping the wheels into the Atlantic Ocean.
The team of 20 riders — who take turns cycling the more than 7,000 km route — each have their own personal reason or connection for participating in the ride.
For Kingston, Ont.'s Ken Cross, it is his daughter Megan.
Cross remembers when he and his wife learned their middle daughter, Megan, had acute myeloid leukemia. She was diagnosed on April 24, 2008.
"The words just bring back really, really bad memories for me and my wife," he said.
Megan underwent six months of chemotherapy, and seemed to be doing fine as the cancer appeared to be in remission. But in February, 2010, they were told the cancer had returned. Their daughter needed a bone marrow transplant. The family had done all the tests when she was first diagnosed, so they knew their eldest daughter, Leah, who was nine, was a match for her six-year-old sister.
Cross can still recall the sound the needle made as the bone marrow was extracted from Leah. This was done 50 times, he said.
The transplant was done on May 14, 2010 and Megan has been cancer-free for the past four years.
"There is no sign of it returning, but there is always the fear of it returning," Cross said.
"But we don't really think about it."
It was while Megan was in hospital that Cross took a phone call from Jeff Rushton.
Rushton is co-founder and chair of Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation.
The foundation began 10 years ago and in that time has raised $30 million. The money is used to support children living with and beyond cancer.
The Sears National Kids Cancer Ride — one of eight events the foundation holds each year — has contributed $7 million over its first six years.
Cross was in hospital with his daughter when Rushton called him and first told him about the ride.
Until that point, Cross — a Sears employee — knew nothing about the ride, nor did he have cycling experience.
"I fell into childhood cancer like any other parent would," he said, adding that the community support his family received was amazing.
"It really does take a village to raise a child."
Cross rode cross-country in 2009, 2012 and 2013. In both 2010 and 2011, he helped fundraise and served as an ambassador to help build awareness.
It hasn't been without sacrifice, including time spent away from his family.
Leah is 13, Megan is 10, and Emma turns seven on Sept. 6.
"I have missed three of her birthdays (because of the ride), but she understands," Cross said.
September is childhood cancer awareness month and Sears stores across the country are fundraising in the fight against childhood cancer, said Signe Bell, the Langley store manager.
"You each have your own reason to ride," she told the riders and volunteers.
"Someone or something has touched you enough to take personal action and make an enormous, enormous commitment."
Sears partners with the ride in many ways, including hosting the entourage at various store locations across the country.
SLH Transport provides a pair of trucks. The back of each truck serves as the sleeping quarters for the riders.
"This is how they keep costs lean, 100 per cent of the proceeds are donated to the cause," Bell said.
"And the important thing, because of sponsors like Sears and a ton of volunteers, we are able to give 100 per cent of that money we raise to the charities we support," Rushton said.
Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
The riders posed for a group shot before departing Langley for their next stop at the Abbotsford Sears located at Sevenoaks Shopping Centre. Abbotsford's Bob Ahuja (bottom photo, right) is doing the ride for a third time.