This morning, my ‘girl next door’ interviewee and I had a chance conversation. If you will recall, I described her as very pretty, very wholesome, and about to undergo surgery for cancer. It is one of those stories no one wants to hear and yet makes you a better person, the closer to it you get. This 28 year-old woman becomes dearer with each conversation.

The last conversation we had in the fall indicated that they had found more cancer during surgery, so she has been obliged to take chemotherapy. She had a round this week and today is feeling a little tired. Her body is working hard at healing with sleep, which I take as a good sign.

One of her concerns when this began was the loss of her spectacularly beautiful hair, so I asked about it. Her response was, “Oh, I’m bald as the day I was born now, but I’m getting used to it. And I have lots of wigs to play with.” To encourage her, I asked if she was trying different hair colours, which is when I discovered just how playful the girl next door can be.

“I’ve always liked colouring my hair different colours, now it’s just 100 times easier! And it messes with people sometimes. I think there’s a few people I see regularly that think I go to the salon every few days.”

I’ve always enjoyed knocking people out of their comfort zones: we can get awfully complacent. This gal just happens to have a rather exceptional opportunity for engaging others. When I asked if she had a support network, she declared herself surrounded by many good people, and that while her family is in Trenton, she has a lot of support close by. I suspect people are drawn to her by her strong spirit, which inspires. When I used that word to describe her, she told me her doctor was bragging to other patients, suggesting they follow her example of not giving into the “icky chemo” but to continue to be active. She has been going to the gym.

We did not discuss it this time, but I know the bike looms in her imagination.Here it is as I found it in September. I still think it’s one of the neatest bikes I’ve seen this year.

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Back then, all she could talk about was how much she wanted to ride around the city, along the rail trail, to do errands and to sightsee. Cycling has given her an exceptional advantage in the healing process. “I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly special. I just want to feel good and working out makes me feel better.”

She is doing something special, though. If you are a cyclist, you realize that she’s not giving in. Over the course of this project, I have witnessed such determination in the community—to set our own schedule and follow our own paths, to meet and overcome challenges, to engage and be engaged, to be well. We are determined to be ourselves and to accomplish whatever has been placed in front of us.

I pulled her leg, since we were on the playful path. “You have me in tears over here. Nice, that you’ve made an old lady cry.”

Her response? “ha ha ha, old lady, yeah right!”

Yeah. Right. Maybe only on the outside. And even then, I’m determined to be the best 54 year-old lady I can, with the assistance of my bike and with the inspiration of such heartwarming stories as this one.

Shhh! “Go Toronto bikes!”

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