You’ve probably seen him cycling out on the north road. One of Julius Spavor’s favourite rides is the stretch between Galena Bay and Nakusp, a good 50-plus kilometres of beautiful highway on a bike.
“I log every ride on my workout calendar with some of my best months being 500 km. Riding is my passion,” he said.
Spavor rides year-round, on a road bike in the summer months and getting his mountain bike out for the winter weather. For the most part, he’s out there racking up the two-wheeled mileage, but there have been times when he’s had to turn around.
One time I went out on a winter ride, said Spavor, because I was feeling lazy and needed some exercise. It was minus five in town, so I put a nice warm toque on. Well, by the time I got to the top of the Cape Horn Bluff, I was chilled to the core.” Spavor figures he had first degree hypothermia by the time he finally arrived back home.
Even in more moderate rides, the dedicated cyclist has had to turn around due to icy conditions. Although he is more cautious now, his love for winter rides hasn’t been diminished, undaunted by the prospect of water freezing in the bottle.
“I love riding in the winter when it’s snowing. You get good traction,” the bike enthusiast told the Arrow Lakes News.
The May Days ride from Summit Lake to New Denver is another favourite biking event for him, and next year he’ll be adding another riding challenge for more than just the fun of it.
In the year 2000, Julius began to notice he was struggling for air when biking up hills, and he also became aware that his voice began to trail off in the middle of sentences and he would have to fight for oxygen. If he overexerted himself at work, Julius’ throat would swell, affecting his breathing and causing dizzy spells.
“I should have gone to a doctor a lot sooner,” he recalled, “but I was stubborn.”
In 2002, Spavor finally got the symptoms checked out, and was referred to a specialist in Kelowna who discovered a tumour on his vocal cords.
Cancer wasn’t new in the Nakusp man’s life, unfortunately. His mother had died from the disease in 1998, and now Spavor was facing his own battle with it.
Later in 2002, the Spavors made the trip to Vancouver to visit another specialist and consult with a surgeon about getting the tumour removed. Like many people from smaller rural centres, the trip was a logistical and financial trial for the family, one they had to repeat for the surgery itself.
“A trip like that definitely adds up in expenses,” he commented.
The travelling wasn’t to be the hardest part of the process to endure. Spavor’s surgery went sideways, leaving the tumour in place and him in bad shape.
“My surgery lasted 20 minutes. It was a complete nightmare,” the Nakusp native related, “I woke up two hours later with a [tube] in my throat and a collapsed lung. I was hooked up to life support.” What had happened was that Spavor’s throat had swelled shut as the surgeon was attempting to remove the tumour, collapsing his lung.
After this close brush with death, it was difficult for the patient to trust that another attempt at the surgery would go any better, but ten days later Spavor went under the knife again. This time, the tumour was removed.
The battleground then moved to Kelowna, where Julius stayed for a month in the Cancer Lodge while he underwent radiation therapy.
The toll on the Spavor family was more than just physical and emotional, it was financial as well. The costs of travelling and staying in hotels during surgery and treatments added up, and Julius was off work for six months from Overwaitea. His benefit plan helped with the debt, but there were still many costs the Spavors had to cover themselves. And the struggle wasn’t over yet.
In 2007 Julius began to experience severe chest pains with any physical activity. One night, Spavor sneezed: “I literally thought it was going to be the death of me,” he remembered. The sneeze didn’t kill him, but it did fracture a rib.
“Back on the road: I headed to Kelowna to see more specialists about why this happened,” related Spavor, “After some MRIs it was revealed that I had a couple of tumors on my ribs which made them very weak and strikingly painful.” After a consultation with cancer specialists, a course of stem-cell transplant treatment followed by chemotherapy was decided.
Once again the whole five-member family packed up and was off to Vancouver for what Spavor calls “a long four weeks” of cancer therapies. The bills for the expensive stem-cell treatment and attendant costs quickly piled up. With help from his father, Spavor was able to afford the treatments.
“When I finally returned home I was exhausted and weak. I was emotionally scarred; I stayed in most of the time rarely leaving the house until my hair grew back,” he revealed. But his spirit was still unbroken: “With everything going on through my recovery I still participated in our local May long weekend 30 km bike ride.”
Just as he began to believe his battle with cancer was nearly over, more bad news arrived in 2010 in the form of tumours on Spavor’s lower ribs. This time, the treatment was relatively quick and took place in Kelowna, only a three-hour drive from his home in Nakusp.
This year, the cyclist is striking back, taking part of a fund raising ride for cancer research. Along with cycling buddies Didace Wilcott and David Durocher, Spavor is joining the Brainiacs cycling team and taking part in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. Because cancer has struck close to Spavor again recently, affecting a good friend of his who went through a double breast implant, he is donating all his funds to breast cancer research.
“I’m not worried about the kilometres on a bike, I’m more worried about raising money,” he disclosed. Spavor has pledged to raise $2,500 by Father’s Day next year. The ride itself takes two days, starting in Cloverdale and ending in Seattle, Washington.
If you are interested in donating, visit www.conquercancer.ca or track Julius down in town.