After five years as a junior rider with Cops for Cancer’s Tour de Rock, the journey is coming home for Jack Westhaver.
Jack’s mom Mena Westhaver was announced as a guest rider with the 17-member team at the official launch earlier this month.
The setup is fine with Jack. The 13-year-old has been part of the Tour de Rock experience since 2010 and is completely positive about having his mom aboard, though there was one condition. After five years of building great relationships with the Greater Victoria police officers Jack’s been paired with, he didn’t want to lose that opportunity this year by being partnered with mom. This year, he’s been paired with VicPD Const. Cam Stephen while Mena is paired with six-year-old Melia Balzer.
“I totally understand,” says Mena, a Saanich recreation programmer who also runs the popular Sole Sisters women’s running group. “It goes back to some of the hardest times of Jack’s treatment. He’d be sick and [as family] I couldn’t make him smile but the Tour de Rock brought hope. His rider would message and Jack would be smiling, it really brought a lift of positivity.”
Mena will pedal the 1,100-kilometre route that starts on Sept. 25 with a 97-km day from Port Alice to Port Hardy. The fitness aspect won’t be a great challenge for Mena, the 45-year-old is well known for being active in the community. She’s taught power skating to the region’s hockey players for decades and is an advocate for youth being active. She’s also been a behind-the-scenes supporter of Tour de Rock for as long as Jack’s been a part of it.
For Jack, the final two days of Tour de Rock have been as big as any on his annual calendar.
“You get to ride shotgun in the [Tour] car, go for breakfast, and get treated really well,” he said.
The Westhavers are in a good place now, but on March 5, 2009 a dark cloud draped itself over the house. The series of bruises on Jack’s body became inexplicable and he was soon diagnosed with leukemia. That March was unlike any other for the family as Jack and all three of his brothers, Jake, 10, Andy, 15, and Marty, 17, celebrate March birthdays.
“Having been through what we experienced I’m really excited to meet families in more remote areas of the Island and to bring them hope,” Mena says. “We know how important that support is and how much harder it is to get in smaller towns.”
When Jack was first treated the family went into isolation for nine months. Whenever dad Norm, a firefighter with Saanich Fire Department, and the family came home from work and school they showered and changed into clean clothes before entering the main part of the house. Jack couldn’t walk for two months.
It was a tough period, with a case of chickenpox looming over them as a potentially fatal threat for the immuno-compromised Jack.
Jack and the family first turned a corner when they visited Camp Goodtimes in 2010. Part of the Tour de Rock proceeds go to the Maple Ridge-based summer recreation camp. It’s a traditional summer camp but with medical supervision for children and teens with cancer, and their families.
The effect it had on Jack can’t be measured from a traditional medical view, but it’s had a life-changing impact, says Mena. Jack will likely go back this summer, possibly for the last time. He first attended as a seven-year-old.
“My greatest motive is seeing the joy that Jack experiences when he is a part of the Tour de Rock and with his rider or the team,” Mena added. “I look forward to sharing hope with others that may be in that ‘place’ of feeling fearful or scared as they watch their child endure the cancer journey.”
Saanich Police will be represented by officers Janis Carmena and Joanne Bickford.
The 19th annual Tour de Rock starts Sept. 24 and finishes with two days in Greater Victoria , Oct. 6 and 7.