I have an 11-year-old niece, Amy. Her mom, my sister Fiona, recently turned 40 – and she’s still as beautiful as she was on her 11th birthday.

Of course, when you’re 11, 40 seems ancient! Even 35 is over the hill. Just ask Amy.

When I was 11, my mom died of cancer. She was 35. Over the hill. I remember people remarking at the time how young she was. “Really?” I thought “That’s what you’re giving me? ‘She was so young?’ And in that patronising condolence-voice?” I wanted to tell them all, “Fuck right off, you know nothing!!” – but I was only 11 and I didn’t have the vocabulary.

Colins mom

My mom, Jane, died of cancer in 1981. She was 35 years old

“She was so young,” didn’t help. “It was her time,” didn’t help. “At least she’s not suffering anymore,” didn’t help. Nothing helped.

Yet when someone dies we tend to pull out the socially appropriate platitudes in the socially appropriate voice, head tilted to one side, with just the right amount of crease on the brow. And still, nothing helps.

This week marks 35 years since cancer claimed my mom. They have not been terrible years, but there’s always a tiny nagging sense of “this is not the life I was supposed to live” that tints everything I do. That’s how cancer has affected me.

And so on Friday night at the stroke of midnight, when I climb onto a bike at the IIG charity spinathon, I’ll be celebrating three amazing ladies – my mother, Jane, who lost the battle against cancer, and Fiona and Amy, who I hope will never have to fight it.

The CN&CO team will be spending an hour in the saddle at the spinathon, an initiative of the Insurance Institute of Gauteng, to raise funds for PinkDrive. It’s a 24-hour event that starts at 8am on Friday morning and ends at 8am on Saturday. If you’d like to join or make a donation, let me know on colin@carelnolte.com. Otherwise pop in to Higher Ground at St Stithians at midnight on Friday 22 April (technically it’ll be Saturday 23 April, but who’s counting?) I’ll be there, pedalling my heart out. You’ll recognise me by my slightly tilted head and just the right amount of crease on my brow.

Read more about the spinathon: