Saturday, June 7, 2014
Cyclists raise over $20 million at seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer
Now, she’s reverberating her voice to thousands.
Allison, 18, was diagnosed in February 2013 with a rare case of malignant melanoma outside her trachea. With a one in a billion chance of a tumour growing next to her trachea, she was the seventh person in the world to fall prey to such a cancer.
But now, she’s cancer-free.
“Today was all about giving inspiration to riders before they go,” Allison said Saturday after singing the Canadian national anthem to launch the seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer at Ontario Place.
This year’s ride by 5,212 cyclists will raise $20 million to fund research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Since its inception the event has raised more than $119 million.
“For me to go up there, just currently out of treatment, it was empowering,” Allison said. “I’m getting my voice back. It’s not perfect yet, but I could sing for everyone else.”
A month after she was diagnosed, Toronto surgeon Dr. Patrick Gullane removed the five-centimetre golf ball-sized tumour and also stretched out her trachea and sewed the ends together. This allowed the reversal of a previous tracheostomy (where a tube had been inserted in her throat to allow her to breathe easier).
The only physical reminder she bares of being a cancer survivor is the scar where the device was once installed.
“Some people have to have it for life and it was very high risk I would have it for life, but my surgeon was amazing and I’ll never have to have it again,” she said. “I was so happy. It added an extra stress to everything – like, I couldn’t throw up properly, for example.”
Allison’s parents, Mark and May, are participating in this year’s ride from Ontario Place to Niagara Falls.
The Queen’s University-bound student feels she has a new lease on life. She is pursuing arts at university, figure skates and, throughout the summer, she will have a couple of fundraisers to support Princess Margaret Hospital and the Hospital For Sick Children.
She will also sing the national anthem at a Leafs game in October at Air Canada Centre during cancer awareness month.
“Once you hear those words – ‘You have cancer’ – it hits so close to home that it’s immediate waterworks,” she said. “When you see all those yellow flags (on the backs of the bikes), it means they are survivors. Having cancer is a horrible thing – but there’s good in it. You can find good in the time you have.”
Katie McWhirther and Kathryn Randle realize pedalling 200 kilometres to Niagara Falls is gruelling – but it’s a no-brainer when it comes to the reason inspiring the journey.
Their high-school friend Robyn Pascaris died of Angiosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels in the breasts – in October at the age of 26 after battling the disease for five years. They are among 5,212 riders cycling the distance in the seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer to support efforts to find a cure.
“We want to raise money and we know how important the research is that the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre does,” said McWhirther, 26. “She was very young. Her mom also died from cancer two years before that.”
The women, along with eight other close friends of Pascaris, hopped on their bikes Saturday to make the two-day trek from Ontario Place to Niagara Falls. They raised $24,000 for Angiosarcoma research.
“She never complained when she was sick,” Randle, 27, said. “I remember hanging out up at her cottage on Balsam Lake. Her family was so excited we were doing this.”
McWhirther remembered receiving the devastating news while she was in England. Pascaris had been travelling in California and was forced to end her trip early and come back to Toronto.
“At that point, we thought she would get over it,” McWhirther said. “She had a lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery and it seemed the cancer was gone. They never had to do any radiation and then it came back in her spine two years later (in 2012) and it spread all over her spine. It was very painful, but she was always more positive than the rest of us.”
Both women remembered their friend as kind-hearted and artistic.
“I think she’d be happy,” McWhirther said when asked what Pascaris would have thought of their quest. “I think she’d also probably laugh at how long we’re going to be on a bike. She’d definitely laugh at our sore bums.”
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