Hands, heart, legs all work, all help
Jim Kempton felt only relief when he was told he had cancer.
Finally, he could put a name to his pain and fight it with all his might.
Six months prior, the Port Coquitlam man woke up with an ache in his neck. A few weeks later, his left arm went numb. When his right arm and both hands became frozen, too, Kempton had to tell his bandmates he had to stop drumming.
It broke his heart. So did advice from the doctor not to lift his then four-year-old daughter and to stop a variety of tasks until the medical mystery was solved.
Kempton tried alternative therapies — massage, acupuncture, chiropractor, physio — but they didn’t help much. Then his leg went numb as well and he lost his balance.
His neurologist ordered an MRI, finding a malignant tumour at his neck that was pressing on the spinal cord; another tumour was found in his abdomen.
“I was happy because then I knew," he said. "And I was confident I was going to be OK."
His wife, Diane, however, was distraught. A year earlier, her best friend died of cancer, leaving behind two children. She was afraid she would be left alone to raise their daughter, Kempton said.
After the diagnosis, things moved quickly. Within a week, Kempton was at Vancouver General Hospital (where he works in the chemistry lab) for a biopsy to determine the type of cancer.
He had surgery and it was a success. “I could move my hand,” he said.
Chemotherapy treatments at the BC Cancer Agency started immediately and he was placed on a new drug being used on Non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients to shrink tumours. The new medicine, with the chemo, would increase his chances from 60% to 70%, he was told.
The three-week cycles lasted from January to May 2004 and, over time, the feeling returned to his limbs. Best of all, within a couple of months, he was back playing drums with his pals in the South Van Big Band.
Kempton took the year off work to recuperate — “the silver lining to all of this” as he got to spend quality time with his daughter, Morgan.
Nine months after the surgery, the family was in Disneyland — and returned three more times over the next two years. “I did stuff that I wanted to do because you learn so quickly that life is short.”
Five years on, in 2010, Kempton celebrated more milestones: a 50th birthday and an all-clear pass from his doctor.
Now, he thought, it was time to give back to those who helped to save his life.
Kempton registered for the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 240 km bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle to build awareness of and to raise funds for the BC Cancer Foundation.
And so, in 2011, he set off for his first trek, with Diane and Morgan cheering him on at the start line.
This June, for the fifth year in a row, Kempton will lead four other cyclists on the journey — Maria Schulz, Anne Wu, Erik Minty and Eric Ho — as part of Team Beat It. Each rider is responsible for collecting the required $2,500 deposit and, this month, they will host a dinner and concert featuring the 17-piece South Van Big Band with Andrea Superstein (pictured below) on vocals.
Kempton, of course, will be on drums.
Drumming and collecting money to beat cancer — a disease he kicked a decade ago — are now Kempton’s passions.
As for his upcoming two-day ride to Seattle on the Father’s Day weekend, “I want to make it every year for as long as I can make it.”
• Tickets for the Team Beat It dinner and concert at the Wilson Centre (2150 Wilson Ave., Port Coquitlam) on April 26 are $35/$20. Visit svbb.eventbrite.ca (tickets are not available at the door). To donate directly to Team Beat It, go to conquercancer.ca.