She used to often say, “I can live through thick and thin, but if anything ever happens to Chris, all bets are off.”
Now, not only has Ellen Walker-Matthews lived through the loss of her son, to colon cancer, but she has also found the strength to create a memorial race in his name.
Walker-Matthews and her eight-year-old son, Christopher moved to Summerland in 1992. She married Tom Matthews when Chris was 14.
“Moving here was the best thing that could have happened,” explained Walker-Matthews. “It was a great life for us.”
Chris played hockey. He ran marathons, was very athletic and very fit.
He graduated from Summerland Secondary School, and then attended the University of B.C.
He was a first year lawyer working for a Vancouver law firm, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.
He had no symptoms other than looking a little pale and thinking he might be lactose intolerant.
He died 11 months later at the age of 29.
“It’s been a pretty devastating ride to be truthful,” said Walker-Matthews. “Chris was a great guy…he truly was. The sense of loss that ripped through the family was immense.”
What has motivated Walker-Matthews to go on and make the most of her own life is her belief that her son is still close by and that she will see him again one day.
“He would not be at all pleased for me to waste my life when he so desperately wanted to continue living his,” she said.
Due to this attitude, when Walker-Matthews met a Rotary Club member, who expressed his desire to raise money to fix the trails on Giants Head Mountain she blurted out “I’ll do a race.” Thus was born the Giant’s Head Grind — Christopher Walker Memorial Race.
While 50 per cent of the funds raised from the race do go to fixing up trails on the mountain, the other 50 per cent of the funds go to the early diagnostics and testing of colon cancer.
“What we’re working on, lobbying and funding, is more access to colon cancer testing. It’s very easy and it’s not readily available,” explained Walker-Matthews. “It is the number two killer from cancer in the country and it is 90 per cent curable if it is caught in Stage 1 or 2. By the time you are presenting symptoms and go and get the testing, you are very likely not going to live through it.”
Years before his diagnosis, Chris had asked his doctor for a colonoscopy because he knew that two of his mother’s uncles had died from colon cancer.
He was told he was not eligible because the family members who had died were not his immediate family, either his mother, father or grandparents.
At the time he also had no symptoms of the disease.
“When we ended up in the system, the geneticists and the oncologist said ‘Why hasn’t this young man ever been tested?’ Yet on the medical side there was a disconnect,” said Walker-Matthews.
“If I look at the money that was spent on him over the 11 months, over the last three weeks and over the last five days of his life…how many people could have been saved with the money that was spent on him once he got sick, if that money had been put into early diagnostics and detection?”
Walker-Matthews also said that colon cancer is not widely talked about because it makes people uncomfortable. “It involves poop” she said.
She intends to continue to speak out about it and to fight for early testing for anyone who wants it, so that no other family has to experience the pain that her family has.
Fortunately for Walker-Matthews she comes from the hospitality industry and has planned many events in her life, so planning the race was doable for her.
She has received overwhelming support from her family and friends and the community of Summerland.
The countdown to the third annual memorial race for her son is now underway.
“I live and breathe it from now until the week after,” she said.
“It gives me incredible joy. It is my way of keeping Chris close in a very positive way.”
For more information go to www.giantsheadgrind.ca.
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at email@example.com or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.