I love cycling. The passion for it started many years ago, when I lived in Ottawa and a friend gave me a mountain bike. After spending some years with it, I realized that, while cycling is becoming a passion, it is not for mountain biking. It is road, cycling touring and “going places.” Since then, I have had many adventures on a bike.
I commuted and cycled around the Greater Vancouver area. Cycled north, touching on the beginning of the vast Northern British Columbia. I crossed to Washington state several times, cycling around the Mt Vernon area, and over the North Cascades mountains. I cycled and backpacked for 9 weeks through Chile and Argentina. I spent two summers exploring the different regions of Interior BC with a small group of other cyclists. I spent lots of time exploring some of the Gulf Islands around Vancouver. I visited a friend in The Netherlands and spent 2 weeks cycling daily while he worked, exploring the different areas of central Holland. For a few years, I cycled with the BC Randonneurs, on a series of long distance bike rides, though never got to prep myself enough to do the PBP. I cycled the El Camino in Spain. Cycled in Israel. Some of these rides were with friends or groups, while many others were solo which I combined with solitude time, camping, reading, and exploring.
To me, there is something unique, and – dare I say – magical, in being on a bike. It is a blend of freedom, being open to the elements and the forces of nature, moving at just the right pace (not too slow yet not too fast either), and being completely self-sufficient and self-sustained. It is a combination of fitness, adventure, mindfulness, solitude, and freedom.
This particular bike ride, however, was a very different ride. Only 25 km, from home, around Stanley Park in Vancouver, and back. It was also the most important one for me. Here is why.
I turned 54 this August, and about a week before the birthday, on July 27, received an unexpected “gift” – I have colon cancer. What was supposed to be a routine colonoscopy, ended up rocking our world. Like nothing ever did before.
How does it even happen, and why? I have been healthy all my life. Never even had a family doctor here in Canada, for the past 26 years, because I never needed one. I had a day surgery, 42 years ago, which was my only encounter with hospitals (other than visiting others). I am fit, active, don’t smoke, and have been a vegetarian/vegan for over 25 years. I am not supposed to get colon cancer. Yet, I did. “Thank you for sharing this update with me. While my heart is heavy knowing the battle ahead, I’m also deeply moved and inspired by your inner strength and the army of loved ones you have in your corner.”
My initial reactions were shock, numbness, and disbelief. Like a bad dream. What do I do with it all now? Wait for biopsy results. It is early detection, so it will be a surgery. Meet with the surgeon. Get a CT scan. There is a whole new encounter with the Canadian medical system starting to happen, and I/we need to learn to navigate it. How do I find a family doctor? I am also going to connect with my homeopath, and find a naturopath in the field of integrated oncology. When can they see me? “I want us to FEEL the fear, to be with it, to express it fully. And from a place of grounded presence, listen for the voice of inner guidance that will be the ground and rock in the midst of this turbulence.”
We will needed support, from the practical (taking care of Tobi, cooked food, people to be with me and with Alison) to the spiritual/emotional. People want to know and be of help. We need to decide who and what kind of help. Create an emailing list, add people and let them know what is happening with us. Seeing how people reacted to the news was profound – their love and support kept pouring from the first moment, and with every update. Their words and love kept opening – breaking open – my heart again and again. I knew people loved me and us. I felt it in the past. Yet, the way I was feeling it now was a completely different experience. Deep. Rich. Intimate. Humbling in its vulnerability and authenticity. “The truth is I have a lump the size of a softball in my throat and just need to get through this day with the students so I can be alone to process and decide how to best love and support a man who means the world to me.”
One of the things we have decided early on in this journey is that there is a reason and a purpose to this cancer. Perhaps “decided” is not the right word; more like “sensed” or “opened up” to the fact that it is a wake-up call. A Call to Awakening. A messenger who will deliver its message and then leave. This became our orientation throughout the whole process, which had its ups and downs. As my beloved wrote, “In the big, big picture perspective, All is Well. We truly believe that what is happening is FOR us and for our evolution and transformation. It is a time to ground, to meditate, to listen deeply to what this is here to serve and, to open fully to receive the love from our community.” The blend of fears, tears, anger, presence, gratitude, and deep inner knowing was real, palpable, and confusing at times. “…my hope is that you could imagine we are all with you in the room, with our hands gently touching your back, reminding you that you are not alone, that you are not a child but a man with a very clear and important purpose.”
The biopsy confirmed that it is indeed cancer. Yet, it is early detection. Surgery was on September 16, and was supposed to be a quick 2-3 hour laparoscopic procedure. Ended up 5.5 hours and much more complex. Painful awakening and a very hard first day and night. Transfer to a different hospital, for a better pain and nausea management and recovery. Eventually, home after 4 days, with a precious greeting from Tobi who came over, stuck his head into my stomach, and froze for what felt like an eternity. “Simon, Alison, and Tobi, you have made such an impact in my life, and I can not begin to understand what you all are going through, but I do know that you are supported, loved and cherished by many. We are all here for you any way we can, and in any way you need to get through this.”
The first few weeks were full of painful movement, and even more so, getting in and out of bed. Sleeping on my back only (painful). Not being able to cuddle with Alison (just as painful, if not more). Feeling my body with every movement, with every step, with every bite of food. Feeling the deep profound gratitude for the simplest of things, like being able to walk with Tobi and pick up after him. I do not consider myself a beginner with everything that has to do with fitness and physical movement, through my years of yoga, fitness, martial arts, swimming, hiking, and energy work. Yet, this experience brought a completely different – and profoundly deeper – understanding of why stomach is “core” to our human body. Every single movement, every step, all resonate in the stomach area. “Damn. Just damn. And, this mystery of life reasserts itself in the form of loss, of harm to loved ones. And, you are dearly loved my friend. I will say it again, if more clearly: The way that you show up in the world galvanizes me and orients me towards truth. Powerfully. Thank you for that gift, and the gift of transparency in this communication. My heart swells.”
Another meeting with the surgeon in October, with the surgery and pathology results. I AM CLEAN! It was Stage 1 cancer, and after removing 30 cm of colon and 14 lymph nodes, there is nothing of it left in my body and I can “start recovering” and moving on with my life. The meeting with the oncologist confirmed it. Yes, there will be blood tests every few months, another CT scan, another colonoscopy in a year. Like a shadow of a ghost, it will be around me for… who knows how long. A while.
“With warrior heart / moving with the waves / seeing clear to the depths / your soul stories light up / the night.”
And so, the weather was nice and bright, and I went for a bike ride. The first one since the discovery of the cancer and the turbulent journey of the past few months. Being on a bike. Feeling alive. Feeling my legs move, my heart and lungs working their magic, my face smiling. I am alive.