Misty Dmytar knows all about the Tour de Rock — from the burning muscles and driving rain that washes over the riders to the smiles it brings to the faces of the children who inspire them.
The Ladysmith mother and Nanaimo RCMP constable conquered the grueling 1,000-kilometre ride last year, an image of her young son helping to push her through the pain.
Griffyn Dmytar, who turns four this December, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a rare form of infant cancer that affects the nervous system — only a few days after he was born. Doctors removed a tumour the size of a baseball from Griffyn by the time he was 10 days old.
“He was three weeks early so he was quite small and the tumour weighed half a pound,” recalls his mother.
Griffyn was released from hospital Dec. 26 but three months later they found another tumour on his adrenal gland and spots on his liver. So Dmytar packed up her infant son and headed back to B.C. Children’s Hospital for another five months of treatment.
“He has been cancer-free for two years now. He is happy and healthy,” she said. “He doesn’t remember much because he was so little but he’s starting to ask about the scars on his body and what they’re from.”
Griffyn’s battle with the disease and the incredible care and people she encountered while at Children’s Hospital are what first drew Dmytar to the Tour de Rock, embarking on the 1,000-km trek from Port Alice to Victoria last September.
“For me, I thought that maybe doing the Tour de Rock would bring me some closure,” said Dmytar. “It did but it also brought out emotions in me that I hadn’t felt since Griffyn’s diagnosis. Just seeing moms on the side of the road handing $50 or $100 bills to the riders, saying thank you for what you do and then hearing their story of how they lost their child.”
She was taken by the generosity encountered every step along the way.
“I just was in awe of how amazing Vancouver Island is when it comes to the Tour de Rock,” said Dmytar, who was amazed by how each community came together and how even small communities managed to raise such sizable amounts. “Places like Sayward, where there’s only 800 or 900 people, and they raised $16,000. That was just phenomenal to me.”
The emotional toll was tougher than the physical challenge for Dmytar, although there were still days along the route when she wondered just what she had got herself into.
“The hardest part for me was the 140 km to Sayward and it wasn’t because of the distance, it was because of the cold and the rain. And I had pulled my Achilles tendon so I had an injury that I was nursing. I’m sure there were points of the ride where I thought ‘What am I doing?’”
But every time Dmytar would hit a rough patch, she would look down at the picture of Griffyn she carried with her.
“You just have to glance down at that picture and you seem to find the strength to make it up that hill when you’re struggling.”
Each rider is assigned a junior rider to serve as an inspiration on the journey and Griffyn was the one who kept Dmytar going.
“You might think you’re having a bad day but watching your child or another child go through treatment, that’s a bad day. It’s nothing compared to what these kids have to go through.”
When asked about the highlight of her experience Dmytar didn’t hesitate to point to the camp on Loon Lake near Maple Ridge for children with cancer and their families.
“When we went to Camp Goodtimes and these kids were laughing and smiling. It was like they didn’t have a care in the world. You can’t put a price on it. You can’t even describe how you felt when you saw it because it was magical.”
Dmytar and Griffyn will get to feel a little bit of that magic themselves when their family heads to Camp Goodtimes for a one-week stay next summer.
In the meantime, Griffyn will serve as a junior rider for two other Tour de Rock participants this year, while Dmytar will be working with the support team for the first week of the trek.
This year’s Tour de Rock runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 3, with the riders rolling through Ladysmith Sept. 29. Last year’s tour raised more than $1.1 million for pediatric cancer research and programs to help children with cancer and their families. The event has raised almost $20 million since its inception in 1998.