Hope Matters

Since I last wrote at the end of September at the end of my 2012 PMC fundraising drive, the work of getting life back to normal has resumed in full force. A family trip to Minnesota for a wedding, another family trip to Boston for yet another wedding, and Michele’s two-week Southeast Asian adventure have meant busy times in our house. For many of the days, I have continued to figure out my next career move. My days on the bicycle have been few and far between, but still enjoyable. And in October, just after Shannon’s 3rd birthday, I got scanned again – and happily, they were all clean, cancer-free.

I have mentioned HopeWell Cancer Support in earlier posts and in my last video. My involvement with HopeWell has been evolving. At first, I was a ‘participant’ – a person affected by cancer, using the free support programs that HopeWell provides. Then, I started to get involved as a ‘marketing consultant’ and as a member of the volunteer Marketing Committee. I have even pitched to them a fundraising idea (no surprises here, it was a bike ride!) that is only 1 very generous presenting sponsor away from becoming a reality. Then, I was asked to be a spokesperson in a video about HopeWell along with a couple of other participants. This was a fun project to be involved in and the video, which also ‘stars’ Shannon, does a great job of sharing the impact that HopeWell has on people. I hope you enjoy it – check it out here.

And my latest evolutionary step with HopeWell has been to start working there. Their talented Director of Marketing & Communications recently took a new job and, for the next few months, I will be filling her very large shoes. The staff is great, the challenges unique, and the cause is personal. At present, my position is temporary and part-time. We’ll see what happens.

As for the rest of life… I guess that is the best way to put it – we’ll see what happens.

I hope that all my friends have a safe and healthy holiday season, filled with joy and family. I hope that our paths cross soon.

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Has It Already Been A Year?

It has been a while since I have written, about 5 weeks. While there have been a few times that I have thought about putting fingers to keys (not as clever a phrase as ‘putting pen to paper’), but I have been holding back because I knew that this day was on the horizon.

This is my favorite picture of our daughter Shannon. I just love her joy and how proud and happy she is here. When I see this picture and that joy, I think about riding my bike into Bourne this year, finishing my ride. Happy. Proud. Joyous.

It has been a year since I wrote about my 12th and final chemo treatment. Wow – that was 1 year ago today.

I sit here rather stunned that a full year has past. Much of it is a blur. There have been some very low, difficult, and scary times. The road of recovery has been long and slow. I certainly underestimated what it was going to take to get my life back on track. On track, but never the same. I have been wondering lately if I should say “I have been a cancer survivor for 1 year” to acknowledge the reset that happened last year. It was just last night that I realized that my story is that I’ve beaten cancer, twice.

My Last Radiation Treatment –  July 24, 1996

My Last Chemo Treatment – September 27, 2011

Beating Cancer Twice before I turned 40 – Thankful

I have thanked my family and friends many times here, in emails, and in person for all that you have done for me during the past year and a half. I am reminded today, as I am everyday, of how much I have been given by those around me and it is quite humbling. Again – thank you.


IT’S TIME FOR THE PITCH

It has been nearly 7 weeks since my amazing ‘comeback’ ride. What was amazing about it? I was reminded how devoted I am to this cause – the cause to make cancer history, the fight for a cancer-free generation, and the battle to make cancer treatment easier to tolerate.  I rode away from PMC weekend a passionate advocate, a proud and grateful survivor, and a tired cyclist. I am fortunate to be each of those.

And now, in my role as passionate advocate – I will remind you that your last chance to make a donation to the 2012 Pan Mass Challenge and the continuing fight against cancer in my name is this week. The deadline is Monday, October 1st! Please donate at http://www.pmc.org/as0171. If you have already donated, THANK YOU!

As I have written many times before – your donation is going to save lives. The reason why the PMC is successful is because of the people who dip into their pockets and make a sacrifice so that someone else can have a chance at beating cancer. It is not something to be taken casually, like “oh, Andy did his ride again this year so there goes $25, $50, $75, or $100.” Your donation IS GOING TO SAVE LIVES. If it had not been for years and years of research, I would not be sending you this note. I’ve now been treated and beaten cancer twice because of all the donations of the past. More money is needed to continue the research so that there can be more survivors. I know, as I am sure you do, too many people who are battling this disease. That is why I am riding and doing all this – to help get enough people together to realize, that together, we can help the talented doctors, nurses, and scientists at the Dana-Farber find a cure.

A cure for cancer.
Think about that.

Favorite PMC 2012 Moment

Each year at the PMC, I have had the good fortune of making new friends. Some are new teammates, some folks I just chat with in the food line or on the road. It is part of what makes the PMC special to me. And each year, I look for these friends, to say hi, and to catch up.

The person I look forward to seeing the most each year is my dear friend and fellow survivor Diane. Diane is a breast cancer survivor who I met while eating dinner the night before my first PMC. At that point, she was a second year rider. That weekend, we kept bumping into each other, we road for a while together, then again at the Living Proof photo. And each year, we find each other and catch up. Thanks to Facebook and Smartphones, we stay in touch between the rides as well. When I think of past PMC weekends, my precious time chatting with Diane is quick to come to mind.

A few years back, Diane and I started a tradition of taking our photo together in Bourne after the Living Proof photo. Last year, she took the photo without me. It was very thoughtful, very touching to me that she took the time to do that. It has also provided me some serious motivation.  I have been on a mission to make sure that both of us were in that photo this year. I had many great and memorable moments this year, including riding with my teammates, meeting an “old friend’ for the very first time, and riding into Bourne at the end of Saturday. But my favorite memory and the one that means the most is being in this picture with my dear dear friend.

Annual Photo with my dear friend Diane, who has given me inspiration and provided me great support!

It was quite a day, and this was the cherry on top. Diane, Same time, same place next year?

Quick Reflections on My 6th PMC Adventure

It has been a little over a week since I arrived in Sturbridge for this year’s Pan Mass Challenge. I have had plenty of time to rest and recover from the riding and sit back and reflect on the emotions and experience. Over the next week, I plan to write a few blog posts to share the stories that impacted me the most. But I thought I would give everyone a quick review:

With Jessica from South Boston – we shared the ‘fun’ of needing bike repairs only 9 miles into the ride

My plan heading into the weekend was to leave Sturbridge and ride the first 63 or so miles to my team captain’s sisters house in Rehoboth, MA for the Team Forza-G lunch. While I accomplished that goal, it was not without the loss of two spokes off my rear wheel and a lot of downtime. I had the privilege of waiting along the side of the road at Mile 9 near the Charlton Middle School for a while with a first time rider, Jessica T. from South Boston, whose derailer just snapped and fell off her bike. It was only 6:30 in the morning, plenty of miles where ahead of us, and by the time we got picked up, so were ALL of the riders we had left Sturbridge with. We had a nice time, she was worried about falling so far behind her team. I tried to tell her that it would be okay and got her to laugh some. We got a ride from the SAG wagon to the first waterstop to get our bikes fixed.

Thankfully, my bike was fixed quickly and some of my teammates had waited for me. With them, I road on and made a stop at the famous Cherry Street where we chatted with some residents & survivors. It was a very emotional visit.

Then it was onto lunch. At that point, it was really getting warm and I needed a break. Lunch was amazing – thank you to the entire Dillis family! I skipped ahead to the final rest stop in a car and waited for my team to arrive at the now World Famous Forza-G Pie Stop, brought to you by the amazing Kathi Nelson! A couple of pieces of pie and a inspiring chat with a teammate’s mom who has been battling breast cancer head on this year filled me with the energy to cycle the final 8 miles from Wareham to Bourne.

The feeling of crossing that finish line in Bourne was incredible. It has been 2 long years since I last completed this journey, but so much has happened since then. A rush of thoughts and emotions flew through my mind as I pedaled down that last street with a small group of my teammates. It was a glorious day, I rode 56 miles in total, had executed the game plan despite my mechanical issue, and crossed the finish line, just like I have been dreaming about since late March 2011, when I learned that my cancer had returned. So many times, my dreams have been filled with visions of PMC weekend, resulting in my finishing in either Bourne at Mass Maritime Academy or in Provincetown after a glorious ride through the Dunes. This year, Provincetown was not to be in the cards, so I will happily settle for crossing the line in Bourne.

I will end this entry here. There are many more memories that were created after the ride that day in Bourne. I will share those later this week. Till then – here are some photos of me and my team from Friday in Sturbridge and Saturday on the road to Bourne.

Sad News from a Friend

Team Forza-G 2012
Our team wears Pink Jerseys on Sunday to honor those in our lives who have battled breast cancer. This photo was taken on Sunday of the 2012 PMC, near the finish, our team powering up a hill. It makes me think of the long battles that so many have fought against this disease and how we are so close to finding a cure, we just need to get over the last hill.

I have many inspiring and good stories to share from last weekend’s PMC adventure, but I am saddened today by the passing of the courageous mother of a friend and teammate. She had a long battle with breast cancer. The advances made in breast cancer treatment during her battle alone extended her life long enough so that she could see the final two of her three children get married and enjoy the addition of all four grandchildren. For this my friend and teammate has extended his thanks to our team and its supporters. Having lost a grandmother and an aunt to the scourge of breast cancer and having watched my mother win her own battle with it, I am not a stranger to the pain and heartache that this disease causes. While my heart is heavy tonight, I know that in general great strides are being made in treating breast cancer and that we are starting to win the fight a lot more often than we lose it. I also know that in this case, despite her passing, that we have a life to celebrate and remember, a life that was filled with love, and that is a special thing indeed.

I do have a bunch of stories to share about PMC weekend, many of them involving breast cancer survivors, but I will share them another time, when my spirits are a little bit higher.

Until then….

Talking About A Generation

Michele has spent last week in DC at the International AIDS Conference and I watched some speakers online. Many of the thought leaders are talking about “an AIDS-free generation” being just around the corner. Who would have thought that was possible 20 years ago, when the epidemic of AIDS/HIV became evident? It has not come without a tremendous effort, a lot of money, and some serious brain power. And it seems that the final miles of this marathon will be difficult, but they are in site. It is quite remarkable.

And thought provoking. As I have been prepping for the Pan Mass Challenge, less than 1 year after finishing chemo, obviously, I have thought a lot about the cause that this ride supports and what it means to me. I have had this phrase “cancer-free generation” floating around in my head. Trying to rationalize the possibility of this, trying to understand the potential of it, trying to imagine a world without cancer.

My guess, for what it is worth, is that we will always have to deal with cancer. But to me, a cancer-free generation could be one that doesn’t have cancer looming over it as its largest cause of death. Rather, cancer for that generation would be a curable disease, with limited or minimal treatment side effects, and an expectation that your life would be the same after treatment as it was before.

So here is the question: when do you want to have a cancer-free generation? It is too late for my generation… and we have kids now, so it might be too early for them. But what about the grandkids, if you are around my age that means our lifetime? Would you make some small sacrifice to make this happen?  I believe this is possible.

A Cancer-Free Generation in our lifetime. 

And I would ask you to make that small sacrifice in the form of a donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. You say what is small – $1, $10, $100, $1000. You’re choice. But make it with the knowledge that life with cancer is possible, and you never know who this small donation might be help. Make your donation as part of  my PMC ride, this coming weekend! Help us make cancer history!

Another Day Closer

Yesterday, July 24th, was the 16th anniversary of my final radiation session that marked the end of the treatment regimen from my 1st battle against cancer. A year ago, I was recovering from my 7th chemotherapy treatment. Both very different treatments, fraught with different side effects, but the end result of both was the remission of my cancer. Last week, I had another set of scans and blood work that confirmed that I am presently cancer-free.

Here I am, last July, getting chemo #7

Today, I am in preparation mode. The 2012 Pan-Mass Challenge is only 10 days away. I went for another training ride – one that is too short and was too hard for me to think that I am going to be able to complete the entire ride from Sturbridge to Bourne to Provincetown as I have done in the past. What I have learned is that one of the four chemo drugs that I received last year did some damage to my lungs and the inactivity and that toxicity has decreased my lung capacity. This means less oxygen to my heart, brain, and muscles. And I tire very very quickly. While it is getting incrementally better, I am still way behind.

So my commitment to all of those who have generously made donations to the PMC on my behalf is that I will do my best. I will pedal out of Sturbridge on Saturday, August 4th with the goal of getting to my team captain’s sister’s house in Rehoboth, MA for the team lunch. This is about 63 miles. Then, I hope to hop in a car to the famous Forza-G Pie Stop in Wareham, where I will meet up with my team, have some pie, and ride the final 10 miles to Bourne and the Mass Maritime Academy to celebrate with my teammates, see some old friends, and take a lot of pictures. The final act of the day, I hope, will be sitting with a group of about 300 fellow riders and volunteers in the annual Living Proof photo. I have been dreaming about this photo for about 16 months now, hoping that one day, I would be able to experience it again. Then, I will join my family at our rental house on Cape Cod, share the adventures of my day, and get an amazing night of sleep. Sunday, well, I am not sure what will happen on Sunday to be honest. Maybe I will ride some, maybe not.

Whenever I think about the PMC, I have 3 moments that I dream about – the LIving Proof picture, riding out of Sturbridge in the throngs of bikes and amidst the cheers of hundreds of onlookers up way too early for a Saturday morning, and finally, riding though the dunes and finishing in Provincetown. If I can do all 3 this year, it will be a successful weekend. I would be really happy with 2 out of 3. Either way, I know that I have never been more certain and secure in my reason for trying, for making this effort, for reaching beyond my means.

This is all about 1 thing.

FINDING A CURE FOR CANCER

This is going to happen. It could even happen in our lifetime. And at the forefront of this effort is the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Every day, hundreds of people are diagnosed and thousands more die from cancer. We must help pick up the pace of the amazing research because EACH DAY SAVES LIVES! You can directly help the cause by making a donation to the PMC and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 100% of the money that you donate will go to provide Dana-Farber’s doctors and researchers the necessary resources to discover cures for all cancers.

Thank You!