Bob Parsons started cycling for others, but this year he’s riding for himself.
Parsons is a retired educator who lives in Maple Ridge. He was a teacher and vice-principal in the New Westminster elementary school system until retiring in 2009. He joined the board of directors for the James Cameron school in Maple Ridge, and to this day volunteers in classrooms there, helping elementary students with learning disabilities.
Parsons wasn’t a serious cyclist before. He had an old mountain bike in his garage that he would take for a spin around the neighborhood or along the dikes once in a while.
But he was an active guy, playing hockey in an over-35 men’s league in Pitt Meadows.
“I wasn’t a serious cyclist.”
In February 2012, Parsons lost his wife of 40 years, Judi, to pancreatic cancer.
“Yeah, it’s still hard,” he said. “Unexpectedly, after 40 years married to the same person, suddenly you are on your own. It’s a little hard to comprehend.”
So are the numbers behind cancer in B.C.
In the same year his wife Judi was diagnosed there were 23,829 new cases in the province, according to the B.C. Cancer Registry.
That number is expected to jump 45 per cent by the year 2027.
They estimate one in every two British Columbia males is expected to develop cancer in their lifetime.
For women, it’s one in three.
A total of 8,746 British Columbia adults died of cancer in 2011.
Parsons was not alone. But he admitted at times, he certainly felt it.
A friend on his hockey team who had taken part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer convinced Parsons to try it.
In March 2013, he bought a new bike, a good, dependable 24-speed Giant, for about $900.
He started training three to four times a week, a 35-kilometre flat route from his house to the Pitt Polder and back in the morning.
It was a challenging ride, but he knew he needed more for the 200-kilometre trek to Seattle he was to embark on.
Then he met of group of local riders named Chain Reaction. Members took him on some more difficult routes, 60 kilometers with hills. The ride to Alouette Lake and back was more difficult than he expected, but it felt good to push himself and pedal with some elite riders.
That year, Parsons completed The Classic Ride to Conquer Cancer – 120 km to Mount Vernon the first day, and that many more the next to Redmond, Wash.
At that time Parsons had three names painted on his bike, Judi, her younger sister Deanna, and his son-in-law’s mother, Anne. All three had succumbed to cancer.
“It was a very emotional ride for me,” Parsons said of that first year.
He got to talk to cancer survivors and others with compelling stories of loved ones lost to cancer.
“Talking about your own troubles and grief, it’s therapeutic. You can sound things out in your mind. It’s all part of the process. Trying to make sense of the sudden loss of a loved one is almost impossible to do on your own, I think.”
Parsons took part in the ride in 2014, as well, but the cold, wet weather made it an unpleasant experience. He finished the first day almost hypothermic.
But he pedaled on and completed the route, this time with 10 names painted on his bike – all friends or family members who had passed away from cancer.
“They were my inspiration.”
Two months after the 2014 ride, Parsons began spitting up a bit of blood. He went to Ridge Meadows Hospital, thinking he had burst something.
“I thought it was just a minor issue.”
But doctors discovered a tumor at the back of his throat.
He was sent to an oncologist right away.
Over the next four months, Parsons went through 35 rounds of radiation treatment and three of chemotherapy.
The radiation burned his throat. He had trouble swallowing. He lost 45 pounds, dropping to 140. He felt weak and lethargic.
“It was not a fun time.”
But by March of this year, doctors told him the cancer was gone.
He started riding in April, just short distances, to see how he felt and gain some strength back.
He started to feel better. He started riding five to six times a week, increasing his distances.
He got back to where he’d been the previous year during training.
He had thought back in April that he might want to try the Ridge to Conquer Cancer again, then after talking to his doctors in June, he knew he wanted to for certain.
“They said, ‘there’s no reason why you can’t.’”
So he kept moving forward.
Parsons has surpassed his goal of raising $2,500 for the cause, which has collected more than $59 million since 2009.
He leaves on his ride Saturday morning.
“I’m very excited,” Parsons said.
He’s doing the same route, but it’s his goal to try a more difficult one down the road.
His grandson, Cam Whitaker, has said he wants to do one of the rides with him. He’ll be eligible in two years.
“I’m really looking forward to that.”