Today I ride

Today is the day. I can’t believe I survived to see this day. I’ve had neck spasms, tension headaches and now cold sores. Blegh! Self-inflicted stress, I know, I KNOW, OK? I did this to myself and I have no right to complain.

This is the day I’ve been building up to for the last few months. I have to remind myself why I’m doing this to myself. And why I’ve put those around me through endless practise rides and Facebook posts and hopeless Twitter attempts.

Today I ride for my beautiful K, who was 16 when he got osteosarcoma of the humerus. He was one of the few who was diagnosed relatively early, and he could have survived, but his parents’ culture forbade him from having an amputation. He texted me on his 18th birthday: “Hi Dr Geel. It’s K. I’m at the hospital to sign consent for my amputation.” But it was too late.

Today I ride for C and G, survivors of osteosarcoma who are thriving, productive adults. I am so very proud of you.

Today I ride for little J, misdiagnosed in the most affluent part of our country, who passed away after being treated for aggressive neuroblastoma. I don’t blame the doctors who missed the diagnosis – it shows how much awareness work we have to do if the best doctors in the best centres don’t see what’s under their noses.

Today I ride for P, who keeps on keeping on. No one should have to go through what she’s enduring, and she keeps on living and hoping. Her cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, is what I will be studying in more detail over the next few years for a PhD. We‘re aiming to raise survival rates in parts of the country that are underserviced and undersupported.

Today I ride for P who is currently in PICU, fighting off a serious infection.

Today I ride for G, whose warrior-tiger-mother got her through neuroblastoma.

Today I ride for S, whose mother can’t stay with him in hospital because she has six other children and has to work. He’s the same age as my kids and I shudder to think how they would cope if we had to leave them alone in hospital. So grateful we have good jobs and resources. I know, I am privileged.

Today I ride for L, whose dad I met in the Engen shop the other day. I didn’t recognise him but he remembered me and told me that his child had died from nephroblastoma Stage IV six years ago. Nephroblastoma is a highly treatable disease and relatively easy to diagnose so I always find these deaths harder to deal with. He told me how much he appreciated the care from all the staff in out unit, and that he was proud of us. I wanted to cry.

Today I ride for E, my feisty, overly assertive teenager who chose not to be treated when her Ewing sarcoma relapsed. I respected her decision and I admired her courage and yet, at her funeral, I cried like a baby.

Today I ride for Naughty N who seems to have lost touch with us. She had the toughest life and yet she kept on going, her survival instinct stronger than anything. I pledge to re-establish contact.

Today I ride for all the kids whose stories are etched on my heart. The ones who make me cry, the ones who make me sigh, the ones who make me pull my hair out in private.

Today I ride for all those kids who haven’t yet been diagnosed, who don’t yet know what a paediatric oncology unit it. I ride to raise awareness and money for life-saving research so that the list of the living grows longer than the list of the dead.