Strip away the police escort and the crammed-to-capacity school auditoriums from Tour de Rock and what you have left of is the families.
They’re the families for whom childhood cancer is always at the top of mind, not just once a year when the Tour rolls through their communities. The disease doesn’t stop because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why the Canadian Cancer Society found a way to adapt so the ride, now in its 23rd year, could carry on.
Ten mini teams of alumni riders cycled around their communities and fundraising mostly took place online or through socially distant head shaves, bottle drives and small events.
During the Tour’s eighth day on Wednesday, when it wound through Mill Bay and the West Shore, riders stopped at the Sooke home of Daisy Irwin, a 15-year-old cancer survivor who lost her own father, Patrick, to colon cancer in March 2017.
Daisy was just 10 weeks old when she was diagnosed with two types of leukemia in 2005. She went through three rounds of intensive chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant before her first birthday. Twelve years later, just as the family thought the shadow of cancer was behind them, Patrick was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, Emma, is now a single mom to Daisy, Molly, 17 and Violet, nine.
Having had her own battle with cancer and then losing her father has made Daisy “a very strong person, a very caring person,” said Emma.
“There’s a maturity and a wisdom beyond her years because of what she’s been through.”
Emma said COVID-19 has given the public an understanding of how hard it is to protect people with weakened immune systems, something that’s a constant reality for cancer survivors and their families.
Daisy said knowing the Tour de Rock will ride through her town every year gives her a sense of comfort “that there’s people out there that are biking and donating money. It’s good to know that people out there care for us.”
Tiffany McFadyen, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Tour de Rock co-ordinator, said the ability to ride by the homes of young cancer survivors has been truly special.
Since the Tour kicked off on Sept. 23, it has raised more than $284,000 for pediatric cancer research. McFadyen said she has been blown away by the generosity of Island communities.
“The highlights have been watching people come together and watching people give even though this year has been so challenging,” McFadyen said.
“It has been quite spectacular watching small communities really get behind Tour.
“You can sense the impact that the Tour has in every place that we’ve gone.”
The Tour de Rock rides through Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula today and through Oak Bay and Victoria on its final day, Friday.
To donate, visit tourderock.ca.