By Cole Parkinson
With two Vauxhall High School teachers now sporting shaved heads, Leah and Nicole Meier are expressing their utmost thanks for the support they’ve received as they prepare for this summer’s Tour Alberta For Cancer, formerly known as the Ride to Conquer Cancer. After VHS raised around $3,000 for Team Leah earlier this spring, Leah and Nicole say the support from the Vauxhall community continues to go above and beyond each year. Meier was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal cancer, with metastasis to her liver, and her lungs in 2018.
After her fifth round of chemotherapy, Meier had another MRI, and found the good news the spots on her lungs were cysts, and the remaining liver metastases had shrunk considerably. Following several rounds of intensive chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, Meier was given the diagnosis of being cancer-free in 2019.
Earlier this spring, Meier had yet another surgery on her lungs, but with the ride going later in August, she expects to be able to hit the trail. With the knowledge of the Meier family’s participation in the annual ride for cancer, the VHS student council came up with the idea to raise funds for Team Leah.
“It was actually my student council. The Grade 12s decided they wanted to do a fundraiser this year. They usually do one every school year and they knew my family did the Ride to Conquer Cancer every year. So they asked ‘can we fundraise for you guys?’ They thought it would be cool to see what they were fundraising for,” explained Nicole.
As far as the head shaving goes, Nicole stated it wasn’t hard to find volunteers which helped to incentivize VHS students to raise as many funds as possible.
“The teachers got right into it and volunteered themselves,” said Nicole with a laugh. “Travis (Jones) came up to me and said ‘do you need me to shave my head for this?’ so we let him. Jason’s wife voluntold him. They’re both teachers at the school so Mrs. Schellenberg came to me and said ‘I think we can get Jason to do it’.”
“I’m quite overwhelmed, I never would have expected they would raise $3,000 for our team. I’m blown away,” added Leah. While Alberta’s full re-opening scheduled for July 1, this year’s ride is still not going on as it would in a normal year. Despite that, Team Leah is preparing for a different kind of ride this year.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t back to normal this year. Generally, it is a 200-kilometre ride over two days and that’s what it will likely go back to next year. We started at Calgary and went up to Sundre, and it was about 100 kilometres the first day, but they set up a tent and it was really well organized with lots of support,” explained Leah. “What they’re doing this year is — teams can pick and choose when and where they want to ride. There’s no minimum amount of fundraising you have to do to participate. Typically it is a $2,500 minimum and every rider will commit to raising that for the ride. But they can’t put on that big of an event, so our team is planning, and what we decided is we wanted to ride from Lake Louise to Banff. A large portion of that goes between Johnson Canyon and Banff. It’s a really beautiful ride.”
With the recent surgery, Leah fully expects the ride to push her limits. But since the surgery, she’s been feeling great and has already started training for August.
“It will be challenging for sure, it will probably be around a 70-kilometre day. I just had my fourth lung surgery about three months ago, so I’m still recovering from that so I’m happy to have a bit of a modified ride this year. I look forward to riding 200 kilometres next year though,” she said. “It’s going really well. I just started adding some hills into my training, which I find the really challenging part. My legs are pretty strong, but hills definitely challenging. I’ve lost a lobe in each lung now so that is a bit here and there, so it’s a new challenge. It is going well and I’m excited. I have no doubt I’ll be ready.”
As the Meier’s have participated in the ride for the last several years in a row, the event has continued to be a place to not only contribute to cancer research, but also hear other people’s stories. Looking at Leah’s own diagnosis, without the various iterations of fundraising, some of the chemo treatment plans would not have existed without research from these type of events.
“For me, the doctors told us that the chemo my mom received during her treatment hadn’t existed before about eight years ago. They wouldn’t exist without the funding that goes towards this research. So knowing that this chemo wouldn’t have existed, if she was diagnosed 10 years ago, she wouldn’t have been looking at a cure,” stated Nicole. “It’s a no-brainer, this fundraising is saving lives even if it doesn’t feel like cancer is cured, so many different cancers are treatable and people can live out their lives because of this fundraising. So this ride is really everything to our family. It allowed us to keep our mom. Our family is still pretty young and we don’t have to worry about her not being at our weddings or our children’s birth, so it’s everything.”
Leah explained that upon entering chemo, she made it a goal to participate in a ride as soon as she was able to do so.
“After I came out of my first year of treatment, I had 12 rounds of chemo and a huge surgery on my liver and my colon. I came out of that one and knew I wanted to do this ride. I had heard about it and I actually signed up five years before my own diagnosis, but when I saw it come up in my feed, I was still in the midst of chemo and decided I’m doing this. I had no idea if I could ride at all, but I knew that I wanted to do it. It gave me the focus I needed coming out of treatment to really get out there,” she said. “It’s so near and dear to my heart. When you’re faced with a diagnosis and a treatment plan that I had, it really made a difference that I was able to have my chemo in Lethbridge. The facilities that Alberta has for treatment centres is largely due to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, now the Tour of Alberta for Cancer. We’re really fortunate in this province and it is life-changing and life-altering. Unfortunately, I have a hard time thinking of anyone in my life, not counting me, that hasn’t been affected by cancer. Having lost somebody, or going through it themselves, it’s everywhere.”
When the team hits the trail this summer, they’ve said they are going to be repping Vauxhall High School on their gear in some capacity.
“A huge thank you to Vauxhall High School students, staff and families. They already mean so much to me as a teacher in that community, you know everyone when you work in a small community, but to have them show up for our family like that — it meant the world to me,” continued Nicole.
On top of the support from the school, Leah also pointed out they receive support from various people throughout the Vauxhall community.
“We’ve had incredible support from the community and our friends. I’ve had $1,000 donations from Gouw Quality Onions every year that we’ve been riding, and they did the same this year. We do this every year. It’s hard to fundraise a lot of times, but during a global pandemic, it can seem pretty daunting to ask people. We feel really passionate that we are making a difference. If people hadn’t have done this before my cancer, I may not have had a chance to pay it forward.”
If you’re interested in donating to Team Leah, visit support.touralbertaforcancer.ca/team/351815.