A message from Liz Rykert
Sometimes you stumble upon inspiration when you least expect it.
Regan Leader looks like many of the young women I spin with at the cycle and yoga studio in my neighbourhood, Spynga. She is fit, focused on her ride, and a regular. Like me, she spins most mornings at 6:30 am. Just before the holidays she approached me after class:
“Are you Liz? Do you do the Ride to Conquer Cancer?”
“I am Liz and yes this will be my third year riding. Are you doing the ride?” I asked.
“Yes” she said.
“Are you riding for someone?” I asked. She paused, and quietly nodded yes. I felt her hesitation. I worried I may have over stepped my bounds. Then she asked me:
“Are you riding for someone?”
Smiling, I said: “Yes, I ride for my husband John who had lymphoma, and over the years I have also ridden for a group of other people we know who have also been diagnosed with cancer.”
“Lymphoma? What kind?” she asked. I gave her the details: large B cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A kind that is readily treatable. I shared how lucky we were that John responded well to the treatment. She listened carefully and then quietly remarked, “I am riding for myself. I had lymphoma too.”
With those words Regan shared, in a public way, that she had had cancer. In fact she had only recently completed her final rounds of chemo and radiation. She worked out at Spynga all the way through her treatments, doing what she could to keep fit and deal with the stress and anxiety of it all. I could tell she was shy to talk about it but once she started, the flood of positive energy and pure excitement about the ride was palpable.
“It feels so good to be channelling all my energy into something so positive,” she said. “I would love to be able to talk to you as we get ready.” In the darkness of an early winter morning we bonded.
Regan and I now chat regularly about training and fundraising and what bike she should buy. It felt like we were destined to meet. She too is a social worker and works in health care. Over the coming weeks her full story emerged. I had only just decided on the theme for my stories this year – Inspiration – and here standing before me was a person who embodied inspiration in every way.
In her early thirties, Regan is married with three kids. Her youngest just turned two. In the recent past she has lived through the illnesses and death of a number of extended family members especially her mom. Regan first started feeling unwell when her youngest was about six months old. It began with night sweats. She took herself from one specialist to another. They noted inflammation in her blood, but diagnosis wasn’t easy. It was not until some months later that she found a lump in her throat and went for a biopsy that things got serious. The scan and biopsy did show additional swollen lymph nodes but the results were inconclusive. The waiting and not knowing were fretful.
Time passed. She continued to feel unwell. She went for a second biopsy. The call from the doctor finally came when she was home alone. The second biopsy confirmed what she had suspected for a long time – she was sick with cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was clearly in her lymph nodes and had spread to the bones in her back but not the bone marrow. Chemo was scheduled to start almost immediately. She needed twelve rounds, and since treatments were two weeks apart, that lasted more than six months. After the first treatment she felt better almost immediately.
Her husband Daniel was a trooper. He juggled childcare, attended every treatment with her, and helped her when she needed it – but most importantly he was able to treat her normally through it all. “He was really in tune with me, he took care of me and I let him. He was super positive the whole time and never treated me as a sick person. He didn’t want things to change.” She said she was inspired by his ability to be so strong and so sensitive at the same time.
And for Regan her determination and deep sense of family gave her the inspiration to stay focused on what was important in the moment. That ability served her well when one month into treatment she got the news her mom had also been diagnosed with cancer of a different kind. It was surreal. They sometimes found themselves scheduled for chemo at the same time. But from that moment on, Regan was able to find a continuous source of inspiration from her mom’s strength and bravery. She found a way to make sure her mom felt loved every day. She set aside her own tiredness and the side effects of treatment and did what she could to help her mom. They were a team, just as the members of her family and her close friends were a team. Together they got through the hardest parts.
As I write this I know Regan, her husband and her three little ones are off on a beach in the sunny south. She is on the other side of her diagnosis and treatment now, and she is finding ways to look after herself and the people around her. She is also getting ready for the ride and I can’t wait to sweep up beside her and push out a bunch of kilometers together. Together we will feel the freedom of the road and the wind in our hair as we make our way to Niagara.
When I interviewed Regan for this story I sent her a quick email afterwards thanking her and telling her how lucky I was to have met her. Her response was “I feel like I’m the lucky one Liz. So glad to have met you. Really…..YOU are an inspiration.”
I think we’ve inspired each other.
Regan is one of a number of people I will be writing about this year as I prepare for the ride. To learn more about Regan you can visit Regan’s Ride to Conquer Cancer page is: http://tinyurl.com/827nv2j
If you want to make a donation of 100.00 or what you can afford please follow the link below. Many thanks to the people who have already done so! John and I touched by your contributions, words of encouragement and support.