Mind Yourself: A Call for Support as North Vancouver's Derek Dix Battles Brain Cancer

Oct 28, 2021
by Andrew Cho  

Words by Danielle Baker

Derek Dix was just shy of 26 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer—an inoperable brain tumour. Only five years later, scans showed additional, faster-developing growth in the same area. Despite the heaviness of living with this disease, Dix continues returning to bikes as a method to cope but also a means to thrive.

Derek’s friends have created an auction to support him through his battle with cancer. All items have been donated by generous local brands and athletes. Some of the donors include: Brandon Semenuk, Tyler McCaul, Wyn Masters, Arc'teryx, lululemon, Regining Champ. Please consider bidding on an item to support Derek here.

As a child, his riding development was stunted. "There was a delay in me getting my training wheels off," says Dix, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. As soon as the wheels literally came off, a young Derek was hauling supplies out of his family's garage to build makeshift jumps. "I'd just be in the driveway on my little green bike airing off things," he says.

Derek grew up at the base of Cypress Mountain on Vancouver's North Shore. He and his friends were fond of saying their backyard went all the way up to Alaska. As confidence grew, he took his jumps into the forest and even started building little ladder bridges to practice mountain biking. By the time he was in high school, he and friend Connor Macleod were busy building a trail together. "It was called Overflow and was in the Brothers Creek area, just down the street," he says.

Spending time in the forest manipulating the natural elements into old-school North Shore jank became an artistic process for Derek. Arranging large granite boulders, hollowed-out old-growth stumps, and cobbling together woodwork features were an expression of his developing passion for visual design.

Motivated by photographers like Sterling Lorence, he and Connor would explore the local mountains, searching for locations they'd seen in magazines. "Those mountain bike photographers were such an inspiration for me," he says. "I've always loved photography. My mom and dad got me my own camera for my birthday. It was this Crayola-yellow 110-mil thing. I shot everything with it. I loved it. Then my mom gave me her old Pentax 35 film camera."

Even as a teenager, Derek knew where he wanted to go in life. "I grew up in a time when some of my best friends were aiming to be professional athletes, and documentation was required," he says. "In addition to shooting, I knew people needed identities—they needed to stand out."

Derek had a brief foray into the world of downhill racing post-graduation, but a bout with mono cut his season short. After wheezing and collapsing at the finish line of his second race at the Bike Ranch in Kamloops, he decided to leave the podium dreams behind and enrol at the Alberta University of the Arts (formerly ACAD).

Although it was a 12-hour drive away from home, the Coast Range kept a firm hold on his heart. Derek made the drive back home most weekends and every summer. Bikes were never far from mind.

After moving home to the west coast after university in 2011, Dix and a partner opened a shared workspace called Also Known As or just AKA. He looked for opportunities to get his work recognized. "I moved into AKA, and I wasn't booking any clients. People told me, 'Well, nobody knows you here; just start your own thing.'"

Derek's own thing came in partnership with his buddy Connor, in the form of the Ultramontane series. They created six bi-weekly video releases around Vancouver and Howe Sound. The idea? To counteract the lack of off-season content.

The series announcement stated, "The majority of media and professional riders migrate to warmer climates to shoot their ad campaigns and document their editorial journeys. While the idea of road trips and travel can be romanticized, many riders cannot afford this luxury." The concept, filming, photography, and direction of the project made it a hit and instantly popular. "After that, I had regular repeat clients," Dix says.

Passionate about delivering each brand's message, Derek focuses on direction, photography, graphic design, and video for his clients. It was in 2015 he founded his own studio called colder°. His commercial work ranges from start-ups in health and wellness to the industrial sector, but his passion lies in the outdoors. Some of his mountain bike specific clients have included Geoff Gulevich, Harookz, Matt Hunter, Matt Miles, Specialized, Rocky Mountain, Easton, GT, and Knolly Bikes.

In late 2015, Derek felt a head rush come on out of nowhere while riding his bike to work. He pulled over, leaned on his handlebars, and waited for it to pass. The whole episode was only about a minute, but his mom insisted that he get it checked out.

An MRI showed a slow-growing brain tumour the size of his palm, on his left frontal and temporal lobe. Due to the complicated nature of its outer edges, it was deemed inoperable. "I went to get a biopsy at the cancer agency," Derek says. "They did a little chop in where my temple is, and they realized it was impossible to do a clean operation on it."

Twenty-nine radiation treatments brought the size of the tumour down by 40%. "But when it's the size of your hand, still having 60% of it is defeating," Derek says. "But at the same time, it was out of my hands."

Derek fought to keep riding as hard as possible through his diagnosis and treatment, even continuing to complete the infamous North Shore Triple Crowns. "I was pretty isolated at that time because I was trying to start a business and a whole design studio," he says. "Sometimes, I was only riding 15 kilometres a day on my way to work, but it gave me time to prepare my mind for the day and for what I was dealing with personally."

Eventually, fatigue and loss of strength forced him to pull back. He started seeing friends even less. Emotionally, it felt as though 2018 wound him up and spit him out.

However, by the next year—with chemotherapy complete—Derek started working on ramping back up. He started to work on a new company, Practical Recreation. "I've worked at it at a really slow pace. It was kind of a quiet time for me," he says. "I went through so many drafts and logos. It's a personal full branding project and I want it to be a masterpiece." By the following year, Derek was feeling back to his old self.

Processed with VSCO with lv01 preset

Unfortunately, on a recent MRI, doctors discovered new growth on his tumour known as a grade II astrocytoma. "I felt no new symptoms this time," he says. "It's on the existing tumour, but it's also fast-growing, and the original one had almost grown for ten years before we found it. So it’s a little bit frightening to see that. The chemo after the first diagnosis was to stabilize the tumour and ensure that there wouldn't be any more growth. Hearing that within five years that there's new growth and that it is growing rapidly—it's a heavy hit."

Derek's options were limited this time around as he can't receive radiation again. However, because the new growth is in the temporal lobe, they could operate. In April, he had surgery—a craniotomy—to remove as much as possible. "I went under the blade, and they operated, but they couldn't take out all of it," he says.

The first time around, Derek says there was a lot of effort to figure out his best options. "This time around, I've been a lot more passive because all I can do is what the doctors recommend for me, and I just have to go through it," he says. "Knowing that I can't get radiation again and that they've operated as much as they can, all I can do is go through this chemo and see if it holds things up."

Both Derek and his mom have received chemotherapy in the past and have vulnerable immune systems. They've spent most of the pandemic tucked away on the Sunshine Coast. It's there that he experienced his first post-surgery trail ride on his Knolly hardtail. "I felt so happy—so much enjoyment and excitement," he says. "Out on my ride, I could hear all this wind; the trees were singing. It was pretty cool to hear all that while riding along the most gentle flat creek. Everything was lichen and moss, and then there was the light creeping through the mist. If I had someone up there, we would have been shooting for hours."

Riding continues to be what Derek returns to for alleviating stress, the connection to community, and the clarity of thought it provides. "Obviously, you get the endorphins and adrenaline, but it is also a great time riding with friends and being able to share whatever is going on," he says. "And the solo rides bring such a deep path of thinking. When I'm gone—and I'm gone for like six hours—it's just time to be with my mind and think things through and address them while my mind is alert."

The overall median survival rate for this type of cancer is eight years, and Derek doesn't know what the future holds. "I know cancer is an issue in my life and that it's consuming a lot of my time currently," he says. "I know that it is impairing my physical abilities and it is fatiguing. It has taken away vocabulary, visual memory, and facial recall that I need to learn back. But all I can do is go day-by-day and try to keep things going as much as I can. Knowing I have to go through it all a second time, I know that whatever happens - and it can be bad - that I have to accept it or be grateful. It's either of those two. I can't be mad at it and say, 'no.'"

Derek’s friends have created an auction to support him through his battle with Cancer. All items have been donated by generous local brands and athletes. Some of the donors include: Brandon Semenuk, Tyler McCaul, Wyn Masters, Arc'teryx, lululemon, Regining Champ. Please consider bidding on an item to support Derek here.

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  • 115 1
 I'm 31, I had a seizure riding my bike about 2 years ago. They did a MRI scan at the hospital and found out I had a tumor the size of a kiwi growing in my right frontotemporal lobe. I had more luck than you as mine was on the outer part of the brain so the craniotomy would remove around 80% of it. A sample went into biopsy and it turns out it's an astrocytoma just like you but grade 3. I underwent the maximum dose of radiotherapy and multiple rounds of chemo to minimize the tumor as much as possible and try to get it in a stable condition. It's been a bit over a year since the end of the treatment and I'm feeling good but deep down I know that my time on this earth is counted. I feel you about losing facial recognition, memories and vocabulary .. my short-term memory took a big hit and I hate the fact that forgetting about faces or meaningful events makes me seem like I don't care when it's the opposite. The one positive thing I can tell you about cancer is that once you accept it, it will change your outlook on life for the better. Grasping your own finality is the best way to stop pushing things to a future date and start to truly live whatever feels meaningful to you. No time to hold any grudge or get hang on the small things when you can use all this energy to expand your mind and enjoy your life. I, too, found a great escape in mountain biking and I truly hope you have many more mountains to climb up and ride back down.
  • 6 1
 thank you from all of us here on PB for the heart warming response. I wish you both many years of rubber on earth. Irie vybz sent to all.
  • 24 2
 I’ll donate, cuz f*ck cancer!
  • 8 1
 Sorry accidentally downvoted
  • 14 1
 Ride with your friends every chance you get. I lost a close friend to brain cancer just last week, he was one of the strongest and most determined mountain bikers I've ever know. Fingers crossed Derek's story has a different ending.
  • 10 1
 My brother has the same scar from his operation on his astrocytoma. Same age as you. Hoping with all this money pumping into healthcare they can find a new treatment. Until then all we can do is stay positive and try to keep riding. Best wishes dude.
  • 12 1
 Is there an option to donate without actually bidding on one of the items?
  • 4 1
 @murphymarv We appreciate the support!
  • 5 1
 @andrewcho: united by two wheels! obviously there are other priorities rn but in case Derek and/or you happen to be in Germany at some point, do not hesitate to hit me up and we'll go for a ride
  • 8 1
 Hmmm, don’t know what to say. I can’t put my self in your shoes because your Astrocytoma is in a different location then mine.
I was diagnosed with Anaplastic Astrocytoma in the occipital lobe. My immediate research told me that 6-18 months was typical. Temozolimide and Radiation was prescribed shortly after the biopsy. An operation was not possible.
I think I went thru the 5 stages of grief, after I was given the news,in about 5 minutes. Then I set a few goals for myself.

That was 20 years ago.

I now ride 15-30km a day, 3-6 times a week on Burke Mountian (that’s Coquitlam btw) on a Rail 9.7. Twice a year we head up to Whistler with our eMTB’s on the rack and zoom past the North Shore. I think I’m missing something there. Anyways, I ride mostly solo but have the latest technology on board (iwatch and beacon) to keep the family happy.

I know the experiences can be unique and different with this type of brain cancer. A matter of a few mm can make difference. When I was first diagnosed I was happy if both feet hit the floor in the morning. Then I was happy when both feet hit the peddles. Now I’ll be happy if I can smash that 4ft jump.

I guess I look at this like a journey…or a story with some kind of ending. But It’s always interesting to hear from someone who has walked the walk. My escape might be the solo rides through the forests of Burke Mountian …but I also have fun when family and friends are able join. Regardless, it’s gonna be a good day.
  • 6 1
 Tough read that's for sure, nobody like to hear about their friends having to deal with cancer. Many thanks Andrew for putting this together for Derek. I remember when you and Connor were building Overflow and I found you all working, you looked like kids that got caught stealing something. That was a long time ago. I'm glad that you are still getting out into the forest where you can listen to the sounds, it truly is amazing out there. Healing thoughts my friend.
  • 6 1
 You are right, the trees do sing. Surround yourself with only good people, and listen to the trees together. Be fierce, stay strong.
  • 6 1
 Tough article to read as it can happen to any of us. Wishing you all the best my MTB brotha!
  • 5 1
 Derek, your'e doing it right. Your'e not a victim. None of us gets out of this world alive, so to speak. What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.
  • 3 1
 Such an amazing dude that loves bikes and mountains more than anything! He's an incredibly strong person and will continue to shred. Don't be afraid to reach out and say his he's also extremely nice. Great work to everyone involved in this article. Well done!
  • 4 1
 Much love derek. Riding and the forest have some pretty magical healing powers. Hope we can get out and enjoy them together sometime soon.
  • 5 1
 Love you Derek
  • 4 1
 Tough read Derek. Pulling for you
  • 3 1
 Best wishes Derek, keep being positive! Never give up!
  • 1 0
 Gotta go do it while ya can……
  • 1 0
 Wish you well Derek!

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