Dara Sheridan, 29, is training to cycle from Toronto to Niagara Falls, for the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. It’s her third time cycling the two-day, 200km route, and with every pedal, she will think of her cousin, Ryan, who passed away at the young age of 27.
Ryan Stevenson and I were born 12 days apart into a large, close-kit family. We grew up more like siblings than cousins. We lived five minutes away from each other, went to the same schools and celebrated our birthdays together. We even both pursued careers in emergency services.
In November of 2015, our lives forever changed. Ryan was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer, which had spread to his liver. The news came as a huge shock, because it’s a rare cancer and extremely uncommon in someone so young, fit, and otherwise healthy. (These are the Canadian provinces with the highest rate of cancer.)
Ryan took his diagnosis as a challenge. His courage was nothing short of admirable; he never complained while he received intensive treatments and he always had a smile on his face. His outlook was unwavering determination and our family supported him every step of the way. He was surrounded by so much positivity; it really made you feel that he would beat the disease.
During Ryan’s treatment, I signed up for the 2016 Ride with my work team, Paramedics for a Cure. When I told him what I was doing, he quipped, “You better start training! Niagara Falls is really far!” Cycling was new to me; I didn’t even own a bike. I questioned if I could actually do this, but Ryan’s strength and attitude inspired me to push onward.
He fought for six months and never gave up hope, but the cancer was too aggressive. Ryan passed away on May 11, 2016 at the age of 27.
Exactly one month later, I set off on the Ride. It was tremendously emotional. I had expected Ryan to be there to cheer me on; I never imagined that I wouldn’t see him at the finish line. Cycling for two days provided me with time to try to work through my grief and come to terms with my new reality. Knowing that the money I had raised would support research and care enabled me to feel like I was doing something positive in his memory.
The following year, other family members wanted to make the same journey. They joined me and we crossed the finish line together. This year we formed Team RyGuy, consisting of 29 friends and family inspired by Ryan.
Our goal is to continue the fight Ryan began, to raise awareness and funds to support personalized cancer medicine. With the support of many generous people, Team RyGuy has raised over $115,000.
The Ride is more than a fundraiser; it is a weekend of healing and connecting. It is a union of likeminded people who have been affected by cancer but are filled with hope.
On June 9, I will begin the two-day, 200+km cycling journey. This year is the 11th annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefitting Princess Margaret Cancer Center. I will ride for the third time, as co-captain of Team RyGuy, but it is Ryan who is truly leading the charge. I know he will be by my side every pedal of the way and will forever remain in my heart.
Looking for more inspiration? Clara Hughes cycled 12,000km over 110 days in support of mental health.