Ok, so that's a rather obvious and crude statement but it's true. We've all seen evidence of it. I saw many people with this written on their riding jerseys over the course of the weekend. It was written literally and creatively by many of the riders. It was unwritten yet there on the faces of survivors, riders, volunteers, and spectators alike. I want to give you all my perspective of the "cancer sucks" statement as well as an account of the Pan Mass Challenge experience so here goes. Let me apologize in advance as I know this is going to be long but I'll try to make it worth reading.
As you all know by now the PMC has become more and more personal for me over the years. This year I dedicated my ride to my father in-law Harold and his best friend Eddie. They both lost their battle with cancer over the past year. These two guys were very special people in my family's life and they are truly missed. They both fought as hard as they could but cancer got the best of them in the end. Harold's battle was one that the doctors were not familiar with. They had only seen 3 cases like it at Dana Farber at the time (January 2003). Hal knew that he had to do whatever it took to try and beat the demon and he participated in a study at Dana Farber where they learned quite a bit about his type of cancer and its complication. It was not enough to let them save him but they will now be able to at least diagnose and treat people that present with the same symptoms better than they were in the past. He never complained at all. We never once heard him say "why me"? True to his character though he did manage to find something positive in the process and that was to help others by being part of the study. He was proud of that achievement. We were and are proud of him for the way he lived and the way he fought right up to the end.
This year the group I ride with from Holliston also lost one of their own, Kathy McCumber. Kathy had a serious battle with cancer a few years ago. It was so bad that they told her to put her affairs in order as she only had a few months to live. She had a husband and 3 kids and was not going to accept this. She fought and beat the odds. Within months the cancer was beaten into remission. The doctors could not explain it. It defied all medical explanations. The cancer was just gone. They could not find it. Kathy knew of the Pan Mass Challenge and decided that she was going to do her first ride when she was completing her first round of treatment. She chose to ride the one day event and did that in 2003. She loved the event. It was very personal to her as you can imagine. It was very much inline with her character of giving. She was a selfless volunteer in Holliston and known to most as "the soccer lady" since she organized and made things happen. Whether it was organizing fields, teams, or attending her kid's games, she was there. Kathy's cancer came back in the spring of 2004. It was located in several areas of her body. This time she chose to forgo the chemo and radiation treatment. She wanted to ride the PMC and wanted to have a great summer with her family and decided she would fight it after that. A local access cable TV program did a special of all us Holliston riders that summer. They asked each of us why we ride. We all had our stories. When they got to Kathy the interviewer said, "I know you have your own personal reasons for riding. What would you like to tell the viewers"? She replied with a smile on her face, "yes, I have a very personal reason for riding and I'm hoping we can find a cure for this disease real soon." That was all she said. She didn't go into detail about her battle or what she was up against. It was one of the most dignified and brave moments I've ever seen. Kathy rode the PMC in 2004. She completed the 2-day ride with her friends and was happy to be there. Kathy lost her battle in December of 2004 leaving quite a legacy. My kids know two of her sons. My daughter told me that her son came to school the day after she passed away. The kids asked him why he was not taking time off. He told them, "My mom told me not to. She said I had work to do and that I should keep going and not sit around and cry." She wanted him to be happy, live, and not dwell on the sadness.
This year seemed to be a year where I personally had more interactions with cancer than ever before. One of my B-Czar B-Stee teammates was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in March. He was immediately seen by the people at Dana Farber and a plan of attack was put in motion. He was to undergo an aggressive treatment including heavy chemo followed by radiation treatment. This was followed by a serious operation that had him in the intensive care unit until 3 weeks before the PMC. The course of chemo and radiation treatment would have been enough to take anyone out of the game of life for quite a while. Top that off with a colostomy and most people would be down for the count for a long time. Not Paul (aka Salty) though. I saw him a week after he got out of the hospital and was amazed that he looked as good as he did. He was weak but considering it all he looked good. He was talking about wanting to ride a couple miles each day of the PMC just to show he was not beaten. We all thought he was crazy when we heard it. Well, Salty is never what anyone would call "conventional" in any sense of the definition. He showed up at the PMC and seemed to be feeling well. He had upped his talk from a couple miles to doing 10-12 miles each day. Saturday came and we all took off on the ride. Salty took off too and instead of riding 10 or 12 miles he ended up doing 30 miles. Nobody understood how he could do this. We figured that it was something he needed to get out of his system and he was finished for the weekend. Well, he informed us at dinner Saturday night that he was going to do it again on Sunday. We were all a bit concerned that this was not a great idea but he was determined. I got into Provincetown on Sunday and found Salty in the room at the P-Town inn getting his massage. I asked him how he did. He replied "I did it". I was amazed. Then he told me, "no Snap, I mean I really did it. I rode the whole 80 plus miles". I was speechless and in complete awe. I never would have thought anyone would be able to do that after going through what he did. Classic Salty though, doing what nobody would expect. Although the difference this time is that everyone admired him.
Another encounter came for me on Saturday of the ride when a PMC friend that was riding with my group told me that she was just six weeks out of radiation treatment. She was determined to be out there and riding. Not only was she out there she was riding hard with us and stayed with us all day at a very good pace. We were all impressed. She never complained, never slowed up, and never came off as "the victim". She was just happy to be alive and out there riding and able to give back.
These two people are very different personalities to say the least. They do however typify the dedicated Pan Mass rider. They typify the Pan Mass volunteer and supporters that "get" what the Pan Mass is all about. They are the types of people that make me proud to be associated with the event.
In short, "cancer sucks" is the best way I can put it. Sorry if it's crude but I think it sums it up very well. Kids shouldn't lose their parents. Parents shouldn't lose their kids. People shouldn't lose their spouses. We shouldn't lose our friends. I'll keep on riding as long as cancer stays around. When it's gone, I'll stop or ride for something else but this is my way of fighting back.