The Vancouver Island Hospice Society provides assistance for people with terminal illnesses and the families that surround them. One woman takes to the bike to provide support in return.
Since 2011, Victoria Hospice Society has been organizing the Cycle of Life Tour, in which people from all over Vancouver Island bike to support their own community’s Hospice. The scenic road ride begins in Victoria and covers almost 180km, with an overnight to Saltspring Island and back again. I first heard about the event last year when some of my childhood friends participated and could not say enough about how well the event was planned and how rewarding it was to support a great cause. Since its inauguration, Cycle of Life has raised $500,000, and this year smashed its previous record for funds raised with almost $200,000. This kind of support is integral. Comox Valley Hospice receives 0% core funding and relies completely on the hard work and generosity of individuals like you and me.
It was only in recent years that I became intimately aware of the Comox Valley Hospice Society (CVHS). My understanding was rudimentary; I knew it was a place where sick people go to receive palliative care in their final days, but learned it was much more than that when I started experiencing loss and chronic illness in my own family. Hospice is a community support system providing essential services that we often don’t know we need until it becomes crucial. Not only does CVHS provide compassionate end-of-life care, it also provides support to caretakers, free counselling to those grieving and bereaved, hospital beds for people palliating at home, and much more. It is not limited to the hospice either; caretakers work in homes, providing resident and acute care, tailoring to whatever your needs may be. They are there for you and your loved ones.
Five years ago, shortly after I turned 30, my mom went into kidney failure and not long after was diagnosed with the incurable cancer multiple myeloma. The discovery of cancer dashed any hope for a kidney transplant, and her lack of kidney function rendered her unable to receive the full treatment for her cancer. It has been a long, hard road for my mother, and I continue to do my best to support her as she navigates her way through many impossible situations. She possesses an integrity of spirit that amazes me on a daily basis, and it’s through her grace and acceptance that I have endeavoured to do the same. Being a caretaker to a sick or dying person can be exhausting and overwhelming, and knowing that the resources that CVHS provides are there for me in my own time of need heartens me immensely. I now know how important it is to reach out to all of my community supports so that I can continue to be there for my mom.
So when I was asked to join the cycling team with my friends this year, I jumped at the chance. The original team of four doubled to eight, including my boyfriend Casey. Despite many of us being mountain bikers, few had experience road biking. It’s not a prerequisite, but training certainly helps. When I arrived to the check-in point on our first day, I observed people of all ages and walks of life united by a common interest in supporting their Hospice Society. Mother Nature delivered us a heat wave at the end of July just in time for our ride. Temperatures soared above 30 degrees the entire time, yet the enthusiasm and smiles from participants and organizers never faltered.
The 95 riders commenced in Victoria and we cycled past rolling farms, vineyards, and briny ocean roads, across two ferries to our destination on Saltspring. At times the terrain was quite unforgiving, pedaling up hill after hill in the blazing sun. But then, like a mirage, volunteers would appear, cheering you on with words of encouragement, offering welcome refreshments and cold towels, and even misting riders with spray bottles. We arrived at camp on Saltspring to our tents set up, a delicious dinner prepared, and live music to relax and unwind to.
From top to bottom, The Cycle of Life Tour was an amazing, uplifting experience, and like my friends from last year I cannot say enough about the quality of the event and the people who made it happen. All of this was made possible by the tireless work of many, and perhaps most crucial, by the volunteers who were so giving of their time and support. This is also the case for the Comox Valley Hospice Society, which employs roughly five full-time positions but relies on dozens of volunteers in many capacities giving some 20,000 hours of their time per year. By 2020 the CVHS plans to expand their ward from four beds to six at a new location, which means they will only need more of us out there supporting them.
If you are interested in volunteering or supporting this vital cause please contact Comox Valley Hospice Society and help make sure they can continue to be there for us all, should we need it. Special thanks to CVHS Executive Director Terri Odeneal for speaking with me about all that CVHS does for our community.