Now that he has lung cancer, Mike Lawless understands.
In all his time with the Tour de Rock, the Saanich cop could never comprehend how the families of cancer-stricken children could keep going.
“I finally get it after all these years of seeing those parents fight when it seems there is no hope. There’s no choice. You do it because it’s what you have to do.”
Lawless, 42, is a fixture on the tour, the annual pediatric cancer fundraiser in which a team of police officers cycles 1,000 kilometres down Vancouver Island. He is the only cop to have made the journey for each of the past nine years, first as a rider in 2004, then as a member of the support crew. One year he broke his ankle the night before leaving, didn’t get it diagnosed until his Tour de Rock duties were done.
But when the 21-member Cops for Cancer team rolls out of Victoria today, Lawless will stay behind.
“It seems kind of ironic, doesn’t it? You spend years trying to help kids with cancer, and you end up getting cancer yourself.”
Non-smoker, healthy lifestyle, basketball and volleyball in high school in Courtenay, track and field at Simon Fraser University, a father of 10- and 13-year-old sons. Just another reminder (as though anyone on the Tour de Rock needs it) that cancer doesn’t discriminate. You can make choices to lower your risk, but none of us, whether a pack-a-day smoker or a three-year-old child, is safe.
“The first time I knew something was wrong was back at Easter,” Lawless says. Skiing Mount Washington with his boys, he found himself running out of breath. “I would be at the chairlift and I would be sucking wind.”
Just a cold, they said at the walk-in clinic, but it didn’t go away. It wasn’t until the beginning of July that an X-ray found something on his lung, and not until the end of that month that it was confirmed as cancer.
He got the news over the phone while vacationing in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Treatment began Sept. 9, wife Krista’s 40th birthday (“It was a day she wanted to forget anyway”). Six weeks of radiation and, simultaneously, four 21-day cycles of chemotherapy.
“I feel like crap,” Lawless says, smiling. Thank God — and cancer research — for anti-nausea drugs.
You would never guess Lawless has stage three lung cancer, though, not from looking at him. The only indicator is around his wrist: a silver F--- Cancer bracelet — a gift from his sister-in-law — to go with the yellow Livestrong band he has worn since 2004.
He has been the rock of the Tour de Rock since that year, an imposing six-foot-five and 240 pounds, exuding good humour and confidence as the team criss-crosses the Island. His is the steady hand that stiffens the backbone of riders who aren’t quite sure they have what it takes to climb the next hill, the voice that gets school kids so fired up that it takes their teachers four days to peel them off the walls.
Now a sergeant with 18 years on the Saanich force, Lawless calls the Tour de Rock his addiction. Certainly, it’s a hard cause to shake once you have met the sick kids, looked in the haunted eyes of their parents.
“You look at what some of these children go through,” he says.
Round after round of chemo, blood transfusions, stem cell transplants, surgery, each painful moment marked by a bead on the long, long necklaces they wear while enduring treatment.
As an adult, Lawless understands that he has to get sick to get better, that it’s a side effect of the treatments that counter the cancer. “But how do you explain that to a two-year-old?”
Lawless is not the only member of the Tour de Rock family to have danced this dance.
Among the 21 riders on this year’s Cops for Cancer team is Misty Dmytar, a Nanaimo Mountie whose son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at nine days of age. Rider Jennifer Faerber of Courtenay fought non-Holdgkin’s lymphoma at age 11. The Tofino RCMP’s Andrew Waddell was still dealing with his own brain tumour when his 17-month-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. And on and on: Everyone has a reason to ride, a reason to fight.
What other choice is there? Lawless treasures the advice from his father-in-law: “If lying on the ground kicking and screaming would help, I’d be the first to do it. But that’s not going to help. You have to be strong.”
The 2013 Tour de Rock leaves the parking lot of the Admirals Walk shopping centre just before 9 a.m. today. There’s more information at tourderock.ca.
© Copyright 2013