Rick Deans: taking on the Cancervive Ride For Wellspring
Rick Deans has an unrelenting positive outlook – a gift of second chances. As he sets his sights on hitting his 110 kilometre target in the 2023 Cancervive cycling event, Rick’s demeanor is calm and hopeful. He’s been down some rocky roads, but the Bow Valley Parkway is a smooth ride… a welcome challenge for a worthy cause.
Cancer on board
This is not Rick’s first Cancervive ride in support of Wellspring. His inaugural ride was back in 2017, a year after completing chemotherapy to combat cancer.
“I’ve always been a cyclist and an entry level runner, and I have done three duathlons, but in 2016, I was turning 50 and I thought I’d change things up and try a beginner style triathlon,” said Rick. “While I was training, I noticed pain on the upper left side of my body, and when a change in diet and modified training didn’t help, I went to my doctor. That’s when they discovered a softball sized tumor on my pancreas.”
Rick’s tumor was indicative of a rare form of cancer called Neuro-Endocrine Tumor (NET). When doctors pronounced the tumor too big and too precariously positioned for surgery, six rounds of chemotherapy were ordered, and Rick traded trips to the office for visits to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“That’s where I met and interacted with fellow cancer patients and that’s when I first learned about Wellspring,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty awesome resource for people going through this difficult cancer experience, but I didn’t access it myself. I went into it with a training mindset, so I felt pretty good mentally and emotionally,” said Rick.
Rick’s wife Leslie was also doing her best to cope with the sudden change in their life, and while Rick says his cancer experience felt quite personal, he felt her support, even while she navigated her own difficult emotions.
“I was glad Leslie was there in my corner. Cancer made our marriage stronger. Without her I would not have had the same fight in me to kick its ass. We pretty much got by with love, music, and the belief that I would beat it,” he said.
In October of 2016, when the tumor had shrunk to a reasonable size, Rick had surgery and the tumor was successfully removed. Elated at the news, he was eager to get back to his normal life.
“On my first day back at work after nine months off, my colleagues, who had delivered several care packages with humorous sticky notes to my home, filled my office with balloons,” said Rick. “They were very supportive; it was pretty special.”
While returning to work and the activities he loved felt familiar and grounding, Rick is quick to say that after cancer, he was never quite the same.
“My life has been forever changed in a positive way. Cancer directed me to make decisions and live my life differently than before the diagnosis. I’ve learned to not overthink things, and to appreciate each and every day – even as simple as it is,” he said.
After surgery, Rick ran into a friend and longtime Wellspring employee and she told him about the pending six-day Cancervive ride across Alberta to raise funds for Wellspring. Rick says he didn’t have to think twice about it – he knew he’d join the 2017 ride.
“I wanted to hold true to my commitment to keep the positive outlook I took from cancer. I also wanted to give back and do my part to support other people experiencing this brutal disease. And what better way than to do what I already love and get on a bike and ride,” he said.
Buddy on board
Before his diagnosis, Rick did a lot of cycling with his close friend and brother-in-law Den (Dennis Rattee) who had survived cancer himself and found fulfilment in riding. When Rick invited Den to join the six-day Cancervive ride, he was all in.
“Together we trained hard and met fellow Cancervive riders at group rides leading up to the event. It was such a great group of people; it made us both happy to a part of it and excited for the six-day ride!” said Rick.
On day four of the ride, when the group of cyclists awoke to frigid temperatures and were slated to make their way to Rocky Mountain House, Rick was struggling to get going, but Den had the key.
“I clearly remember how cold and sore my body felt. I was dreading the day ahead. That’s when Den reminded me that this day was the one-year anniversary of my last chemo treatment. In that moment everything changed for me – my physical and emotional state completely changed and I had this incredible boost of energy. That day I rode like I had a motor under my seat.
This was a real lesson on ‘mind over matter’ and how much influence your mental state has in your performance. It was a life-altering experience for me and something I’ll remember forever,” he said.
Rick and Den crossed the finish line of Cancervive 2017 together and both found it extraordinarily gratifying. After that Rick said he was hooked and planned to participate in future rides whenever possible.
Cancervive 2023: set in ink
This year will be Rick’s fourth year participating in Cancervive and he continues to find the experience meaningful and fulfilling.
“Wellspring is such a great organization. I would not hesitate to access it if I ever find myself back in the fight,” he said.
Sadly, Rick is no longer accompanied by Den – his cherished cycling partner.
“We lost a great person and my riding brother to heart disease in 2018. This will be my second ride that I will be dedicating to Den’s memory, and his love of cycling,” said Rick.
Further cementing the bond the pair shared, Rick adopted a symbol that he wears with pride.
“Den was a math guy so I got a tattoo by my ankle of a ‘pie-bike,’ which is the symbol for pie with bike wheels on each end. When the going gets tough on the road, I can look down and see that tattoo and find that same inspiration Den gave me on that cold morning in 2016,” he said.
Rick has passed his five-year cancer monitoring mark, and he continues to be deeply grateful for his robust return to health, and his new view of truly appreciating all the good things in life, big and small.
“A life lesson I try and remember every day is that as challenging and difficult as the cancer diagnosis and fight was, it also changed my life in a positive way. It impacts how I exist and how I live each day today,” he said. “I’m pretty lucky and I never want to lose sight of that.”