As Tour De Rock returns post-pandemic to celebrate its 25th anniversary, it provides an opportunity to hear from the families directly impacted by the efforts of the emergency personnel participating in this Island-wide ride.
In Victoria, the Lassam family shares their story in hopes of bringing much-needed awareness to the childhood cancer and the ongoing need for research.
“The biggest thing for us is bringing awareness to pediatric cancer, and the need for more funding,” says Fairfield’s Morgan Lassam, whose daughter Olivia was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma in the cerebellum and brain stem nearly four years ago at age eight.
“There really is not enough funding for pediatric cancer research and it’s needed so desperately. So, getting that awareness and support for events like Tour de Rock is really important to us.”
When Morgan and John Lassam brought Olivia to the Royal Jubilee Hospital emergency department in February 2019, they had no way of knowing their lives were about to be turned upside down.
Olivia had been sick for a month and the doctor quickly sent her for an emergency MRI. By the next morning, Olivia was preparing for what would be an extensive 10-hour surgery to attempt to remove a brain tumour. As a result of the surgery, Olivia developed Posterior Fossa syndrome, losing the ability to talk, walk and swallow, and to move the left side of her body.
The Lassam family would spend the next three years by Olivia’s side as she gradually regained these abilities through intensive rehab at Sunny Hill Health Centre in Vancouver. Against all odds she made a near full recovery from Posterior Fossa syndrome, even relearning to ride a two-wheel bicycle this past summer.
Then, in February of this year the family received the devastating news that Olivia’s tumour was growing back.
“It’s been a long process, a whirlwind really, and it continues to be a long process, but I think we have been really lucky. There’s been a lot of support – outside support and community support. We’ve met some really incredible people, incredible families. There’s definitely a community when it comes to childhood cancer,” Morgan says.
The Lassams were able to visit Camp Goodtimes this summer as a family, making memories and new friends that will carry them through the coming challenges. While Olivia returned to school this past September, she’s receiving weekly chemotherapy and will continue to receive treatment for the next year.
This fall, Olivia is also an honourary rider for Tour de Rock.
Const. Chris Van Swieten of the Victoria Police Department has been training intensively with his fellow Tour de Rock riders for months, preparing for the coming 1,200-kilometre bike ride across Vancouver Island to raise money for pediatric cancer research and to support Camp Goodtimes.
Their efforts help ensure families like the Lassams have the opportunity to escape for a few weeks each summer, reconnect with other families facing similar challenges and let kids like Olivia and her siblings just be kids.
Olivia and her family hope to join Van Swieten during the final leg of his journey as he and the other riders arrive home on Friday, Oct. 7.
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