Riding to Peter Mac to tour their research laboratories and radiation bunkers.
|Ready to Roll|
Riding – because that is how we are raising money.
Research – because that is what is going to help conquer.
The plan was to ride from home to the city. Regardless of how many people were going to join me, I wanted to take this journey. And I was not going to let anything come in my way of doing it. The weather tried – throwing a cold miserable wet day at me. The family tried – an overtired husband who really didn’t need a day of taking care of the kids on his own. The route – planned for bike tracks that had been flooded out due to the rain.
But, I dressed for the weather as best I could, the overtired husband knew how important this was to me and the route was changed. And off I went, with 2 other riders who will be doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer in October. We weaved our way from Lalor into the city. Via bike paths, streets, footpaths and gravel tracks, we made it to Peter Mac. Pelted with stinging hail, sliding on wet roads, pushing my new shiny bike through muddy puddles (wishing I had taken my older bike) but we made it. Cold and wet, but with smiles from ear to ear.
Coming up Brunswick Road, I caught a glimps of St Patricks Cathedral. And the eyes stung as tears wanted to form. I had a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest. In all the times of visiting Peter Mac, it is a building that I always looked to. I don’t believe in God, but found it comforting that such a beautiful church overlooked a place where people prayed for hope every second of the day.
|St Patricks Church|
Riding down Morrison Place and into Albert Street, there was the building we were here to visit. The Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute. I stopped to take a photo as it is a building that I didn’t spend much time observing from the outside. This 5 minutes of the entire day was the most emotional. It provided me with the reality of what I was doing. Bricks and mortar. Buildings that people walk past or drive past every day without knowing their significance. To me, it meant so much more. Peter Mac is the place that saved my brother-in-law. But is has also been the place where many people I know became angels.
We cruised down to Peter Mac, passing the church car park that we would always park in when going to visit Vince. Memories. We cruised around to the main entrance. Memories. But I smiled. Almost everywhere I looked, there was advertising for The Ride To Conquer Cancer. And here we were on our bikes that would take us on that journey and I felt as Giant as my bike!
Walking into the entrance gave me more memories. It has been years since I have been here but very little has changed. Other than the posters of cyclists and a new coffee brand, everything else remained the same. We registered for the Radiation Bunker and Research Lab Tour and waited in the foyer for the next group to leave. It was nice to be in the warmth.
|Ready to go inside|
|RTCC advertising on the lift doors|
|RTCC advertising on the lift doors|
|The front of Peter Mac. You can't miss it :)|
So, the tours started. First up – the radiation bunkers. This is where patients come and hope that radiation therapy will be their cure. We were told of the 3 main treatments for cancer. Surgery, Radiation or Drug Therapy (Chemo) I was in a group that got to see the paediatric bunker. The first thing I could think of was of the little kids who get treatment here. In my time at Peter Mac, I had not seen kids getting treatment. Often they come in as outpatients from other hospitals. But here I was, walking down a rainbow coloured tunnel with beautiful fairy lights. Around the corner and here was the imposing machine that was set to deliver lifesaving radiation into little bodies. The stickers of Buzz Light Year made me smile. The stickers of the fairy princess reminded me of my daughter as Amy has the same sticker above her bed. Little kids, just like Sam, Amy and Mia would be strapped to the table and told not to move whilst soothing tunes were piped through iTunes for them to listen to. They made it sound oh so nice. But the reality would be something different for sure. We learnt the facts about radiation therapy and how it is used on patients. The staff themselves are not exposed to any risk as the bunkers are set up in a way that eliminates all risk. They are constantly monitored for their exposure to radiation, but funny enough, their expose is less than the average Jo Bloggs who walks the streets of Melbourne or a passenger on a plane.
Then we went back upstairs to wait for our tour of the research labs. 15 minutes later, we were in the lift and up to Level 2. Yes, Level 2. This is where Vince had spent most of his time.
But we got to go into a secret and secure door. Entry was into a bright fancy laboratory. It was exactly what I had witnessed in my first 6 months at Uni when I thought that a Bachelor of Science was what awaited me after school. Then I made the decision that I couldn’t spend my days hanging out in a lab. 20 years later and I am glad I made that decision. Pipettes, test tubes, microscopes .. it was all still there! We walked through the 2 year old lab into an area that resembled my high school science room from 25 years ago. This is where the scientists and clinicians set about their daily work to cure cancer. I was shocked that such important work was being carried out in such aging facilities. (Note – 2016 they get a brand new research centre, so I can understand why this area is not being maintained. And if the money is going into research and not fancy chairs etc, then that is fine too!)
We got to see T-cells under the microscope and got to see flies with big tumorous eyes. And we learnt about the research projects that are currently underway. It was here that I realised the importance of continuing to Fight Back after this journey has finished.
Imagine the day where you go to the doctor for a blood test. You go back 4 days later and they say “Everything is great now, but we have found an abnormality in your genetics that indicate that you are going to contract liver cancer between the age of 40 and 45. Therefore, we are going to intervene now and you won’t ever have to worry about it” … and you leave the doctor with an action plan in place to fight a chronic illness that you have not yet contracted.
Imagine a day where the doctor says “You have cancer. Take this pill 3 x daily for the next week and you will be fine”
These don’t have to be imaginary. They are possible. And they are possible now. The only thing that stops it being possible is that more medical research is necessary to make it easier, to make it more cost effective and available to everyone. 10 years ago this test took 2 years to complete and cost $100,000. Now, it takes 2 weeks to complete and costs around $10,000. But the government medical people won’t make it an option for people because of the lack of research.
Medical testing happens in 3 phases. First on flies who share 70% of their genetic make-up with humans. With a lifespan of 14 days, they make a perfect ‘guinea pig’ to experiment on. They can create human cancers in a fly, monitor drug therapies and see the results in a short amount of time. Once they have a breakthrough with the flies, they move onto mice. The next step is then humans. They have ethically decided that they only test on flies and mice. From there, testing is then done on humans who are involved in drug testing. These people are patients of Peter Mac and sign up to these trials under their own expense hoping that the drug is that miracle they have been praying for.
So, that was the tour over. Plenty to see and plenty of hope. We got to speak with the real radiographers and real scientists who have dedicated their study and now their life to treating and hopefully curing cancer. But the one thing that always stops them is money. And that is why I will dedicate my spare time and part of my life to supporting them.
Our time was up and it was now time to walk back out in the cold and ride home. Daylight was not going to be on our side, but we have done what we came to do. In a way, the ride home was more reflective. It gave reason to why I ride. It instilled in me that no matter what the conditions, I will always be able to get on my bike and ride. No matter how wet, cold and miserable it was, I will always use that as my vehicle to raise money for cancer research. Because it is the only way I know how. (Plus – I still can’t see down those microscopes)
I don’t ride to win a race. I don’t ride for a medal or trophy. I don’t ride for personal fitness. I don’t ride as a way of getting around. I don’t ride for Personal Bests. My reason to ride is simple. I Ride to Conquer Cancer. I get on my Giant Road Bike and I do what it tells me. Ride Giant – Ride Life!
|Girl Power - changing Annette's tyre|