08/03/2016 01:08 EDT | Updated 08/03/2016 01:59 EDT

We Had Tragedy In Common And It Brought Us Closer Together

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In November of 2015, the unthinkable happened. I lost my mother to cervical cancer after she had fought for her life for five years. I was 27 years old at the time and she was only 55, even though we knew the end was coming, nothing could prepare me for the feeling of emptiness her passing left within me.

Sadly, my girlfriend Alex's father had passed away from lung cancer in 2009. I remember her telling me about how hard it was to watch him suffer, having received a sudden diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer even though he was a non-smoker. I heard about his quick decline, his brave fight, and the impact his death had on his family. A strange silver lining to my girlfriend having gone through this was that she could completely empathize with how I felt in the winter of 2015. Of all of the things we have in common, all of our shared interests, we also now share loss -- and an acute understanding of the terrible power of cancer.

When someone you love is so sick, the feeling of helplessness threatens to envelope you every day, you just want to help them.

When my mom wasn't getting better I was completely overwhelmed. Even as my mom's cancer started to spread to her other organs, her incredible spirit and will to live brought inexpressible comfort to the family through her suffering. My mom was the kind of person who would do anything to help people. Even during some of her hardest months of treatment she was more concerned about us always being fed enough and having fun. Until the day she passed away she did everything she could to beat cancer. My mom was the strongest, most courageous, and most unforgettable person in the world, and there's not a day that goes by that we don't miss her.

It's very hard to explain the feeling of shock and emptiness that accompanies losing a loved one. People start giving you advice, offering words of comfort, or sometimes they just don't know what to say. There's a certain awkwardness that accompanies loss that is difficult to navigate. After my mom passed, Alex's mere presence was a comfort to me and my family. She knew what that awkwardness was like. And even though she wouldn't always know what to say either, the knowledge that she knew what it was like was a comfort to us as we processed moving forward without my mom. Our shared loss drew me and Alex together in a way that nothing else had before.

Since her dad got sick, Alex has participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Alberta Cancer Foundation every year. I always admired Alex's commitment to the Ride -- which is a challenging two-day 200-kilometre ride through the Rocky Mountains -- so when my mom lost her battle I knew it was time for me to sign up too. When someone you love is so sick, the feeling of helplessness threatens to envelope you every day, you just want to help them. Alex had described having this feeling when her dad was sick, and I could completely empathize. Alex always mentioned that the Ride was a really meaningful way to honour her dad, to connect with the cancer community in Alberta, and to raise vital funds for cancer research and care here in Alberta.

So, this year, I decided to register for the Ride and start training and fundraising. Funds raised through the Ride enable the Alberta Cancer Foundation to support breakthrough cancer research, clinical trials, enhanced care and the discovery of new cancer therapies at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Cross Cancer Institute and 15 other centres across Alberta. This means that by participating in the Ride, my fundraising is giving back directly to the facilities where my mom was treated, and helps other Albertans who are still fighting cancer. It's that thought that keeps my feet pushing the pedals.

It feels really great to know that the funds raised for the Ride are put to work immediately. It means that someone else's mom or dad gets to directly benefit from mine and Alex's fundraising, and we can work together toward a world a free from cancer.

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