Weyburn cyclist fundraises for children’s cancer research

Weyburn cyclist Mary Shirkie had never taken part in a big fundraiser before, but decided to ride her bicycle to raise money towards research of children’s cancer after she became a grandmother.

She shared her passion with the Weyburn Rotary Club on Thursday, wearing the Batman-design “hero shirt” she had been given by the Great Cycling Challenge organizers when her fundraising surpassed the $2,500 mark.

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“I don’t think of myself as a hero,” she said. “The kids who fight cancer every day, those are the heroes who tough it out.”

Shirkie noted that around 1,400 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in Canada. To put this into perspective, she said the total number of children in Weyburn’s elementary school classes totals about 1,300 children.

“Imagine all of those kids with an IV pole beside their desk, with an additional four more classes of kids, every single one of them sick with some kind of cancer,” said Shirkie.

As a grandmother of “five wonderful little people”, she decided she needed to do her bit and help out the effort to find cures for those childhood cancers.

This was brought home to her strongly when a grandson recently stopped breathing, and had to be taken to emergency care. So far the doctors have not yet been able to diagnose what he has wrong with him, but has put him on anti-seizure medication while they investigate what happened to the young child.

“As far as we can tell, he won’t have any ill effects from this episode. As parents and grandparents, we’re sure grateful to have the Canadian medical system that we have,” she said.

While at the hospital during the grandson’s treatment and testing, Shirkie said a nurse on the children’s ward told her they have a lot of child oncology patients there, and some of the stories were truly heart-breaking.

She noted one boy who had had a brain tumour that cut off the blood supply to an eye. The boy is older now, and did lose use of his eye, but he has recovered to where he can play sports, learned how to drive and graduated from high school.

Learning about the Great Cycling Challenge, Shirkie decided she could take part in it as she enjoyed riding her bike, and thought she could raise a modest amount like $500 or so.

As her friends and family contributed to her fundraising total, she easily surpassed her initial goal and she started raising it higher. She ended up bringing in $5,800 last year, which was her first year to take part in the challenge, and her two-year total reached $13,578.

“I’ve been astounded by the generosity of my friends and family,” she said, making a challenge to the Rotary members to take part in the fundraiser also.

“There’s an opportunity that may appeal to club members. Maybe you could participate as a team. They don’t have to all ride at the same time. Perhaps someone wants to take on a bit of a challenge next June, such as with Estevan,” she suggested.

The fundraiser is an initiative of the Sick Children’s Foundation, connected with Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital, said Shirkie, but the funds raised are available for any researcher doing work in the field of children’s cancer across Canada.

“Cancer is the largest killer of children by disease in Canada,” she said. “Any individual can make their impact. My biggest dream is a world without cancer. I challenge each of you to get on your bike and kick cancer’s butt.”

Asked how many people in Weyburn are riding for this charity, Shirkie said her best guess is around 10.