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.
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I am Living Proof Meeting

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With fellow survivor Carie after Living Proof photo in Bourne

Back in 2010, at the PMC Opening Ceremonies, just after Billy Starr asked each member of the audience who was “Living Proof” (aka a cancer survivor) to stand, he introduced Carie Capossela. What came next was life-changing for me. Carie’s speech was so moving, with plenty of humor and touching moments weaved together. She eloquently spoke about surviving breast cancer and being a mom, wife, sister, cancer patient, and cyclist.  I have watched the video of her speech many times since then. I have often dreamed about what I would say to her if I ever had the opportunity, hopefully on the road during the PMC.

Well, 10 days ago, my dream came true. It during the taking of the annual Living Proof photo in Bourne at the end of Day 1. In the mix of about 300 other cancer survivors all wearing brand new yellow t-shirts, I knelt down, squeezed into a very small space so that we could all fit in the photo. And who came and knelt next to me? That’s right – Carie Capossela. My moment had arrived.

And I had to wait for the photo to be taken. And then wait for the new traditional champagne toast. And then wait for Billy Starr and another speaker talk. And then finally, we were ‘released’. Yes, we had been kneeling that whole time, about 15 minutes, and after all of us had been riding bikes all day.

Once we stood up, I asked her if it was indeed her that had spoken at the Opening Ceremony a few years back. She smiled and said yes. I then told her that I was very excited to finally be able to tell her how much her speech has meant to me and that I consider it to be my “Committed” moment – where I knew that I was all-in for the PMC. Committed is the buzz word of this year’s PMC – it is on the jerseys, it is on the literature, it is the new “motto” of the ride. She even used the word “Committed” in her speech. I also told her that I this was my comeback year after last year’s recurrence. We became fast friends. Michele walked up while I was chatting with Carie and thought that we were old friends.

I would encourage you to watch Carie’s speech here. The Living Proof shout-out is at 13:45 and Carie is introduced and starts right after that (15:25). She speaks for about 10 minutes. It changed my life – I am COMMITTED!

Sturbridge Exclusive Kickoff 2010 from David Hellman on Vimeo.

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.

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!

The Numbers are Staggering

Today was the first day that I went for a bike ride outside of my house since August 8th, 2010 (Sunday of the last Pan-Mass Challenge that I rode). It was a short ride, not that hard by the regular standards. I did not do that well. It was about as I expected. Excitement to start, thrilled to rush down the first hill, and paranoid about the first hill.

What that means is that it has been nearly 2 full years since my last ride. I thought I would do a little research and share some numbers from the American Cancer Society

Since my last ride:

  • 3 million new cases of cancer have been diagnosed in the United States. Yes, you read that right – 3 MILLION
  • slightly more than 1 million Americans have died from cancer. That is over 1,500 per day.
  • The National Institutes of Health annually estimates the overall costs for cancer. Based on recent trends, you can expect the total cost to be more than $510 billion (in the US alone).

While my ride today was short, it did give me enough time to remind myself why I am pushing myself. To put an end of all these statistics. To end the pain. To end the suffering. To end the sadness. TO END CANCER IN MY LIFETIME.

In three weeks, the self-proclaimed greatest cancer-fighting team in history hits the road. Many of you, my dear friends, have made your donation – you are part of the team. If you have not joined the team yet, by making a donation to this year’s PMC, please watch this video – and then COMMIT!

IT’S 2012 – Now it’s really time to beat cancer!

2012 – I am glad you are here. 

2011 was not a whole lot of fun for me and my family, being forced to tackle cancer head on and beat it again. When you get that diagnosis, like I did last March, about all you can do is put your head down and charge forward. No one says “hey, I want to beat cancer this year”. If you are lucky enough to do it, then you did what you had to do. It is really that simple. For me and many others, there was never another option.
The same is true about riding the PMC. Today, I registered for the 2012 Pan Mass Challenge! This year, I will be 10 months removed from my final chemo treatment, and as I write this in January, I have not been on my bicycle for 18 months. But, some way, I will be in Sturbridge ready to go. I have set the goal to again raise $7,000 in life-saving funds to aid cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Now here is the challenge for you! Donate. I guarantee you that I am not the only person that you will meet in your lifetime that has had cancer. And through the PMC and our efforts to make cancer history, more of the people in your life that are stricken will be cured. Make a donation and save lives. It is that simple.
Please continue to read my blog for updates on my recovery and updates on my training and fundraising efforts. I hope to see you soon.