Cancer scare leads to part in epic ride

BRIAN BAKER/TOWN CRIER BIKING FOR A CURE: Matthew Cole, left, and his aunt Rhonda Sheff will be in Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.
BIKING FOR A CURE: Matthew Cole, left, and his aunt Rhonda Sheff will be in Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Forest Hill resident Rhonda Sheff is sitting on the couch of her Spadina and St. Clair Avenue West home, trying to find the words to best describe her recovery from brain surgery eight years ago.

There are pauses between memories, and in the end she can’t quite find the words to describe when she fully recovered.

“That’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot, and it’s been eight years, and I’m just … It took 2½ years just to start thinking maybe I could be me again and now, you know what, in the last year or two I’m feeling like me,” she said. “You can’t put it into words.

“It’s brutal. Never mind physical, it’s hard mentally. I had three young children at the time. It takes everything out of you. From the minute the doctor tells you, to the panic — and the terror — to what’s going to happen next, it’s a very, very long time.”

The 49-year-old shares her experience nine years ago of being diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, the size of a large grape. At the time, daughters Lindsey and Sascha were 14 and 4, respectively, and son Daniel was 11.

It was her struggle that provided the impetus to why she, along with 21-year-old nephew Matthew Cole, is in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer for Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on June 7–8.

The two-day bike race requires participants to ride 200 kilometres, from Toronto to Niagara Falls, with overnight camping in between.

The tumor was extracted at Toronto Western General Hospital, but Princess Margaret has figured into her treatment.

“My last MRI was there,” she said. “One thing I can tell you about Princess Margaret is the moment you walk in there you cannot believe how nice they are there.”

Between them, the pair have reached the $10,000 mark in fundraising. The minimum amount for contestants to raise is $2,500.

Cole is along for the ride as a bonding experience.

Sheff jokingly says he’s her favourite nephew. They have been training together since she and husband Gary Kaplan convinced him to get into cycling.

“Several years ago I registered for the ride, but I never followed through because it was too challenging for me,” he admitted. “It’s kind of taken off for me.”

Over the last six years the ride has managed to raise $99.3 million for cancer research across the province, and has become the largest cycling event in Canadian history, according to event organizers.

“There will be many people on this ride who have had their own medical issues they’ve gone through,” she said. “I know when Matthew and I get to the end, to see our family there, cheering us on, is going to be a huge thing.”

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