Think back to when you were a wee kiddy and the first time you got to jump off a dock into a lake. Staring into the dark abyss made you tremble. It was terrifying and exciting and your heart pounded wildly like a gorilla on your chest. Sun reflecting off the soft-flowing ripples were blinding ribbons of light leaving sunspots in your eyes as you glanced away. Your hands glistened with sweat from anticipation. You tell yourself, “don’t be afraid. Just do it.” A moment before lift-off, you pinch your nose to prevent water from washing the inside of your brain and loudly inhale a huge, deep breath until your face resembles that of a chipmunk. Your toes curl into the aged, water-worn wood, your heels lift off the platform then briefly touch back down as your knees bend for the launch. In one push, you’re in the air and there’s no going back. Suddenly, your body has formed into a cannonball. A moment of weightlessness is crushed by the sudden impact to a biting cold sensation surrounding your body. You want to inhale from the shock of temperature change but you can’t, you’re underwater. Your limbs flail about as you feel your body sinking to the bottom, desperate for propulsion towards the light above you. Suddenly your head pops out from the liquid refrigerator and is exposed to the warmth of the oxygen-filled atmosphere bathed with a cloudless, blue sky. A scream of joy blurts out followed by an involuntary deep inhalation as splashes of water burst from the impact of your octopus limbs slapping the liquid heaven. It never felt so good to be a kid!
Now, go back to a time when you got to build a snowman with your friends. Flakes of frozen goodness gently falling through the sky tickling every exposed piece of skin. Tilting your head you stick your tongue out to catch what you think might be the last snowflake of all time. It feels cold and disappears instantly. Your friends are scurrying around looking for the deepest, stickiest snow. Words of organization on who will make what part of ‘Frosty’ is blurted out. You and your best friend get to make the biggest part, the base. Mitten covered hands, the two of you combine efforts to form a snowball and start rolling it. The new snow sticks like glue and in record time the basketball formation is a size that you think could knock down a building and as heavy as cement. It won’t move any further so it rests in it’s perfect location. A few trusty pats and scrapes to lock in and solidify the magnificent piece of art, you look to see how many track marks are left behind from your rolling escapade. You can’t help but smile and feel proud. Voices are shouting happily as the other parts come rolling in. All of you gather to execute frontiers of construction to mount the other building blocks. Your finger tips numb from the hours of snow development, you stick your tongue out and lick up a salty mix that leaked from your nose. A tour de force from all those involved and the structure is erect. You prop yourself up on your friends back to wrap the old, tattered scarf around the snowy statue and add the necessary limbs, eyes, nose and mouth that all ‘Frosty’s’ require. Job complete you climb down and everyone backs away. You stare in awe of the incredible build and possibly in hope that a rabbit will suddenly appear in a top hat and the magical snowy creation will suddenly shout, “Happy Birthday!” It doesn’t, but the pats on the back circulating through the group of your trusty comrades creates a solidarity to the enormity of your wintry accomplishment. It makes you take in a deep, cold breath and a thought, “I hope this day lasts forever!”
Now reflect back on a time as a kid when you were sick. Not the “oh, I don’t feel like going to school,” kinda sick, the “this totally sucks,” as you chuck your abdominal contents into the porcelain bowl kinda sick. Feverish and nauseous, you lay in bed wanting the world as it currently exists to end. Your parents come in to check on you, their faces seem to look older than usual. Their brows seem somewhat scrunched and their facial expressions show concern. Their voices are quiet, almost inaudible as they ask you how you are feeling. Their touch is gentle and smooth as they move away the hair stuck with sweat to your forehead. You groan and a tear trickles down your cheek. A delicate touch wipes away your tear and you hear, “it’s OK honey, you’ll be better soon.” Your parents walk slowly out the door, hunched and fatigued, they whisper to each other and their fear is unmistakable. Utterly confused why the universe would be so cruel and wondering if this is what dying feels like…you roll over and try to sleep. Sleep evades you since all your local friends are playing outside. You can hear them laughing and screaming as they frolic around in the sunshine. Loud bangs, followed by joyous screams keep echoing through what seems like a paper-thin wall and you throw the pillow over your head to buffer the happy sounds. The cruelty of the moment comes out in an ocean of tears from your eyes as you feel the utter pain of being too sick to play and do what kids are meant to do…have fun. Racing through your head as you continuously try to drown out the sounds that are securing your ultimate suffering, you swear that you never want to be sick again.
It is these types of memories that help me understand what a child of today longs for when I look into their eyes as they battle cancer. They don’t have the flu or a cold for a few days that will just go away and allow them to simply resume their childhood ways until next flu season. It is a long battle and a life threatening one that robs them of the normalcy that many of us remember having as a child. Think about your worst sick days when you were a kid and the physical and mental challenges that came with it. Now think about what it would be like to feel like having the worst flu with a hangover for months, possibly years. Remember the heartache felt not being able to do what all your friends were doing and how you just wanted to belong, to be the same, to be building memories and friendships outdoors. Remember how good dirt smells, especially on your skin; the taste of the rain that washed down your face when you were blocks away from home when the storm rolled in and the sting on your hand from the high-fives you got from your friends.
It is because of these incredible memories and my own battle with cancer that I was ecstatic to be given the privilege to join Erace Cancer Cycling Team and help in their efforts to raise money for Camp Oochigeas. Camp Ooch gives kids battling childhood cancer a chance at building the memories that came so easily for many of us. A fully equipped camp in the Muskokas along with an urban location, they are giving kids the opportunity to be kids and experience that sense of belonging while being connected to I.V’s, enduring daily or weekly treatments and facing the daily struggles and fears that come with such a difficult disease. Camp Ooch helps the parents, consumed with worry, give their children a place of happiness and freedom with the comfort of medical continuity that is required. It is also no charge to the families so they don’t endure additional financial stress…an important point since cancer isn’t cheap…financially, emotionally or physically.
I don’t know how well my racing season will go this year given my own health challenges but I am motivated, psyched and will do my best in helping bring a smile to kids battling childhood cancer and give these kids what they deserve to have…happy, fun-filled, outdoor opportunities. It goes without saying that it all happens with the support of Erace Cancer Cycling Team and the incredible, unwavering support of Freewheel Cycle that has stood by me since the 1990’s. I welcome all of you to be a part of this journey. Not only will your monetary assistance help give these kids an opportunity at enjoying the privileges we had as wee ones, we are giving the parents a chance to see the joy in their child’s face as they take their first plunge into the lake before their next chemo-treatment at camp.
You can donate at here (Jany’s Camp Ooch page) if you’re interested in giving up some coffee money, pocket change or whatever you can afford and want to help Camp Ooch change lives. The kids, their parents, Camp Ooch, Erace Cancer Cycling Team and I truly appreciate it and thank you for being a part of this journey.