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Jordan and Darren met in their commerce program at Queen's University and have had a special connection ever since. In 2012, they were training together for their second Ride to Conquer Cancer, representing the Bauer Zimmering Pacesetters team and fundraising for Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
During one of their training rides Darren felt short of breath and some weight in his chest. He booked an appointment with a doctor.
Two weeks before the Ride, Darren was diagnosed with Mixed Phenotype Acute Leukemia: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
"I was shocked," said Jordan. "It was a very emotional time for the both of us and when I got on my bike to ride that day, I was riding for Darren. I never thought I would be riding for him."
Darren had a bone marrow transplant at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and went into remission for two years. During that time, Darren supported Jordan as she participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer – cheering for her from the finish line.
For two years, Darren dealt with the aftermath of his therapies – then, in 2014, the cancer came back. He is now undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Princess Margaret.
Due to a lung infection, Darren has been in isolation at Princess Margaret for the past few weeks, missing one of his best friend's weddings.
Knowing Darren was feeling low, Jordan and Darren's best friends wanted to surprise him with his favourite band – the Arkells.
This was no easy task and they relied on the help of Laura Mitchell, Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program and Darren's Leukemia Team to fulfil this request. Laura's role in the AYA Program has been to ensure that the unique needs of young people with cancer are addressed during their cancer experience.
"As soon as Max Kerman (lead singer of the Arkells) got our email, he replied," said Laura. "They were so accommodating and made time to visit Darren in less than a week."
Darren knew Jordan planned a party with a few friends in Rebecca's Lounge at Princess Margaret, but he had no idea his favourite band was waiting for him. He had been feeling really sick in the days leading up to the event but made a special effort to attend the party with energy.
"I remember seeing my friends," said Darren. "But it took me a few minutes to realize the Arkells were there."
Once Darren realized who they were, he was ecstatic. The Arkells played a short set and stayed after the show to hang out with Darren and his friends.
At the end of the show Darren got up from his chair and shook hands with everyone in the band.
"I am still riding the high of meeting them," said Darren. "It was pretty powerful to have guys like that come play. It really took me back to the times when Jordan and I were driving to the cottage in Muskoka, listening to the Arkells albums on repeat. It meant a lot for them to come out and make a cancer patients' day/week!"
The AYA Program
The AYA Program at Princess Margaret is for young adults under 39 who have been diagnosed with cancer.
The program provides care that focuses on the unique needs of AYA patients including: fertility, sexual health and supportive counseling. It also ensures that young patients are connected with community and hospital programs that can further address their area(s) of concern.
"When you are too old for SickKids and too young for Princess Margaret you are Darren, and there isn't a lot for him to do," said Jordan. "It's so important for artists to visit these patients because it can really make a difference in their morale."
Laura Mitchell hopes Darren's story will inspire other artists to come forward to donate their time to patients in the AYA program.
"When young adult patients are isolated in their hospital rooms it is often very challenging for them to not think about their illness," said Laura. "But hopefully the AYA Program, with support from the primary care team, can facilitate more events like this that give our younger patients something to look forward to."
Darren wants to carry on Jordan's five-year commitment to the Ride to Conquer Cancer and start his own team with his friends and family for the 2015 ride.
The team name will be the "Meatheads," because Darren is currently an employee at Maple Leaf Foods.
"M-e-a-t?" asked Jordan sarcastically. "Yes," said Darren. "That's the name."
No matter what he names his team, Darren is looking forward to the Ride and plans to start training once he is finished chemotherapy treatment at Princess Margaret.
Jordan will miss the ride next year for the first time in five years. She has a good reason though -- she's attending Medical School in the fall in Ireland.
"Darren's experience has inspired me to be a doctor," said Jordan. "Being here with him, I realized I didn't want to waste my life doing something I didn't like. I thought it was too late to go back to school but it wasn't. I'm excited because now I am following my dream."
Darren couldn't be happier for his ladylove and watching the two of them together is really an inspiration. "I am so thankful to have her in my life," said Darren. "I am so proud of her and I know she will do so well at school."