Samantha Van Nerum can’t help but get emotional when she recalls the day she received a phone call from her mother, stating her younger sister had cancer in a tumour the size of a grapefruit behind her spine.
It was November 2012 and her sister Hayley was only 23 years old. Samantha was driving in the car with her father when she got the call from her mother, sobbing uncontrollably.
“We knew right away. I really just didn’t know what to do,” said Samantha, a Victoria resident who flew to Vancouver that night to see her sister living in Whistler.
“She wasn’t crying or anything. She was really calm about it. I just remember I was pretty much numb. It felt like it wasn’t real.”
The next three months were a roller coaster of emotions for the Van Nerum family. Hayley began radiation therapy in December, undergoing 28 treatments before her surgery in February.
Since she wanted to continue living in Whistler, Hayley’s mother rented a condo to be by her daughter’s side and take her back and forth to Vancouver for treatment. Samantha wanted to drop out of university to do the same, but Hayley wouldn’t allow that, so the pair talked on the phone every day.
“She was so positive. She’d always call me on her ride down (to Vanouver),” said Samantha, adding the difficult time was very stressful for her parents.
“She was so okay with everything and calm. I was really the only person she could talk to about it. She didn’t want to tell my parents when she was a bit down.”
In order to help her family take their mind off things, Samantha signed up for the 2013 Ride to Conquer Cancer. It was an emotional ride that left her in a river of tears once she crossed the finish line.
On Saturday, Samantha will be doing the ride again to honour her sister and a dear friend who passed away in November from brain cancer after battling the disease for five years. He was only 29.
“My sister and him both never in the hospital asked ‘why me?’ They were very positive,” said Samantha. “He tried to fight, but he knew he wasn’t going to win, so he did everything. He did tons of extreme sports, got really into rock climbing, got married and had a baby. He was happy with what he did.”
So far Hayley’s story has had a happy ending.
During a check-up after the surgery, the Van Nerum family was given the good news that her cancer was gone. Hayley sat there with a smile and Samantha had never been so happy in her life. The family knows, however, that Hayley’s cancer is aggressive and could likely return.
When Samantha hops on her bike this Saturday to ride 200 km over two days, she knows it’ll likely be another emotional finish. So far, she has raised more than $2,500 for the ride and hopes to reach $3,000 by the time it begins.
This year’s ride starts in Vancouver and ends in Seattle. All the money raised benefits the B.C. Cancer Foundation and supports leading clinicians, scientists and researchers. Since 2009, the ride has raised more than $59 million for the B.C. Cancer Foundation and is B.C.’s largest cycling fundraiser.
— Pamela Roth