Training on Hold

Twice this spring, my marching orders have become “no activity”. When you are trying to train for a 3-day, 300 mile bike ride in early August, spending a week in May and then at least two more weeks in mid-June without being able to ride your bike at all is not the ideal situation. Thankfully, the winter and early spring was relatively mild and I was able to log some solid outdoor mileage during a time when I am usually sitting on the trainer in the basement.

So why these periods of “no activity”?  Well, here’s the story. Because of all the radiation and chemo-therapy treatments I have received over the past twenty years, I am susceptible to having a “second cancer”, a new, seemingly unrelated cancer. The list of possibilities includes melanoma, which means that I now make annual trips to the dermatologist.

My most recent visit in May found a “compound lentiginous dysplastic nevus with moderate to severe atypia and focal scar”. Translation: a mole that doesn’t look quite right that may (or may not) eventually become a melanoma. Therefore, on the spot, the dermatologist removed the mole from my lower back with the instruction to “take it easy for a week or so”. When pushed on what that meant, I was told “no exercise, let the wound heal, to reduce risk of infection”. That was the first week of no cycling. Not a big deal – it was May and here in Baltimore it rained nearly the entire month. But it did keep me from going out at least twice, possibly three times.

Well, when your dermatologist tries to remove a mole, they don’t like it when they leave some of it behind on your body, which is what happened to me. So, back to the outpatient center I went last week, expecting a quick procedure to “get the margins” of the mole and be done for at least this round. After finding this mole and seeing all my other moles on my back, the dermatologist in May suggested that my annual appointment should become a twice a year visit. But this visit wasn’t to dermatology, it was to “dermatology surgery”. I really hadn’t expect that to mean that they would really take a nice healthy chunk of my lower right back out of me and need to both suture AND stitch me up. Two more weeks of “no activity”. Not my ideal way to spend the first two weeks of summer. Argh!

The good news is that I don’t have a melanoma and that I am being watched closely. My lymph node situation continues, of course, so I am truly the ‘watched pot”. I hope I “don’t boil”.  This time to reflect on how carefully I am being watched, and the three different people that I have known this year who have been fortunate to have their cancers detected early has been a tremendous reminder to me of the importance of vigilance and annual physicals. If you are 40 years old, get in the habit of going to see your primary care physician every year. If something doesn’t seem right, go see your doctor. This is the reason why I am still alive. I found a lump in my neck in January 1996. I was seen by a doctor 2 days later. Five years ago, I found the lump in my groin. I hadn’t started seeing a PCP here in Baltimore yet, so I found one, made an appointment for three days later on a Friday. After this appointment, I had an CT scan on Monday, and an appointment with a surgeon on Tuesday. Timing is everything! While I am frustrated that a mole on my back is keeping me off my bike, I am grateful that I am the ‘watched pot’ and that it was only “atypical” and had not yet had the chance to fully develop into melanoma.

Just another reason why I ride the Pan Mass Challenge, to help improve the detection and the treatment of the diseases we know as cancer. The way that cancer will be defeated is through research, and the only way that can happen is if we the people fund it. That’s why I ride. If you would to help end cancer in our lifetime, a goal that I know we can achieve, please donate here today100% of your donation to the PMC will be used for live-saving cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to seeing you on the road – hopeful on my bike, soon. All the best!

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2016: How could it be 20 YEARS…or 10 YEARS or 5 YEARS? Where does the time go?

[Note: On the occasion of today being World Cancer Day, I finally sat down to write my annual appeal that lives on my PMC donation page and I am sharing it here for your reading pleasure]

 

Many of my college friends will remember the day, in February 1996, the year after I graduated, when I told them I had cancer. During those days, these friends gave me more than I could ever hope to return to them.

Many of my Boston friends will remember when I held my first PMC fundraising event at Harpoon in July 2007. On this day and over the years since, these friends have supported my ride, joined me on the road, and given me more than I could ever hope to return to them.

My Baltimore friends remember learning that my cancer had returned in April 2011. In those days and the years since, these friends and families have been integral in getting me through treatment and the long recovery that followed and incredibly supportive of my PMC efforts despite the fact that many of them have no idea where Sturbridge, MA is. These friends have given me, Michele, and Shannon more than we could have expected, and we can only hope that we can match the generosity of love and spirit that they have shared with us.

When I get on my bike, whether it is in the basement on the trainer or out for ride… it is these moments and these friends who I think about. These moments act as a reminder of what I have been through. The surgeries. The horrible chemo treatments. The unforgiving recovery. That first ride after chemo, all 2 miles of it. The dozens and dozens of blood tests and CT scans. The uncertainty of what is next. These friends motivate me to get over that next hill, to go for that next ride, to spend another hour in the basement on my bike going absolutely nowhere. Because so many have told me about family and friends who have been diagnosed with cancer… or have been lost to this disease. I push and grind and push and grind each year to raise funds for Dana-Farber so that these friends no longer have to worry about the hearing the dreaded words You have cancer or your child has cancer or your mom has cancer.

This year’s PMC, my 10th ride, will be my way to personally celebrate all these people and moments. PMC weekend is always very emotional for me. Being with all the cyclists focused on raising massive funds for a cure and spending time with fellow survivors is always very moving and emotional. I feel like I am either crying or laughing the whole weekend. As this year coincides with my 20th anniversary of my initial bout and the 5th anniversary of my recurrence, I plan to spend a lot of time connecting with friends who have help me and my family through the years and through the treatments and say thank you. I ride the PMC because I don’t know what else I can do to end cancer except raise money, raise awareness, and be thankful for the opportunity to just be able to ride.

So, as I embark on 8 months of training so I can ride 300 miles in 3 days in August, I say to you thank you for all you have given me through the years in your friendship and support and, of course, your generosity. Since you are reading this now, I hope that you will take another moment to help me in the cause to help end cancer in our lifetime. Any amount is welcome, and I am grateful for your contribution. Thank you!

Make your donation to help end cancer today

Everyone Has A Reason

I am so thrilled to share this video with everyone. Not because I am in it, although I am very honored and proud of being included. It is because for my many friends and family who only know the PMC through me, this is a chance for me to introduce you to some of my very special teammates on Forza-G.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you:

  • our team founder and insatiable captain Matt Dillis,
  • my great friend and perhaps the best person I know, Jaime Schier, who talked me into doing the PMC,
  • and my fellow cancer survivor Betsy Bowman who inspires me with her humor, spirit, and love of life.

I would love your comments. Thanks to our teammate Jay for conceiving of and producing this video piece.

 

We Are Forza-G

Members of Team Forza-G talk about the origins of the team and why they ride the Pan Mass Challenge. Video courtesy of Last Minute Productions.
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The 2015 ride is 2 weeks away – please help us achieve our fundraising goal by making a donation at http://www.pmc.org/tf0086.

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Last Year’s Followup Was Not That Boring

One year ago this week, I was trying from afar to support my dad as he was starting his chemo treatments and to help my mom as she was managing the abrupt changes in her household that cancer was again causing. I was also gearing up for my eighth PMC and my first effort at our team’s Day Zero ride from the New York border to Sturbridge – a mere extra 100 miles piled on top of the main event’s 192. And I was reeling from a followup visit that was not boring enough.

If you have read my blog or are friends with me on Facebook, you will know that my oncologist and I use the term “boring” to describe when I have bloodwork and CT scans that show no evidence of cancer. Last July 14th, I had my regular oncology followup early in the morning. The procedure for these followups were the same back in 1996-2000 as they are today. Get blood drawn. Get CT scan. Wait. Talk to doctor. Boring. Go home or go to work. But this time, it wasn’t boring.

The oncologist actually wasn’t there that day – I spoke with my nurse. She looked at the paper a few times and took a deep breath. It didn’t strike me that something was wrong. I honestly don’t remember what she said, it was something about lymph nodes…. abdomen… enlarged… talk with Doctor…. more tests needed.  I was stunned. That was not BORING!

I haven’t shared this part of my cancer journey with many people. Let me jump ahead to the end before I tell the rest of the tale – at my last CT scan in May, the lymph nodes were no longer enlarged or showing any cancer-like tendencies, and we have gotten back to regular monitoring and followup. I am not being treated like I am having a possible recurrence. Back to just being your everyday, average, two-time cancer survivor. That’s the good news.

But I am sharing this story of the close call and the 10 months of uncertainty and discomfort that it caused in our lives because this is not uncommon. As diagnostic technology advances, more people are learning about ‘possible cancers’ or other potential diseases at a very early time. Sometimes, the body just takes care of these things. Other times, the body needs some help. Twice, I’ve needed that help. This episode last summer, it seems that my body took care of it. Who knows how many times my body has just taken care of it?

The stress caused by learning that you may be having a recurrence or may have cancer can be paralyzing. As I rode the PMC last year, I wondered if I would ever be able to do it again. I tried to learn about what the treatment options for round 3 of Andy vs. Hodgkins Lymphoma were going to be. The answer is that it is really serious stuff with some pretty serious risks. I wondered if the stress of not knowing if I was having a recurrence was going to actually going to cause me to have a recurrence.

Somehow, we pushed on. As summer turned to fall and then winter, I doubled down on my cycling training, hoping to spin my legs so hard that the lymph nodes would shrink. That makes sense right? But really, I had to workout to tire my mind so that I could sleep. I spoke with a few different oncologists about how to get a second opinion. All this while going through more tests, scans, and biopsies to determine if the initial results showing “enlarged mesenteric and pelvic lymph nodes” were truly “compatible with disease recurrence” (that’s what the report said). We couldn’t make a plan until we knew if it was a recurrence or not and that wasn’t going to happen until the nodes shrunk or we could identify biopsied cells as lymphoma.

In August, there was a PET scan. Still enlarged and metabolically looking like possible cancer. Then in September, they did a needle biopsy. Unfortunately, the location of these nodes is inside my abdomen and pelvis – they don’t want to do surgery to remove one or some (as they have done both times in the past) until they have more definitive PET results or a more accessible-via-surgery node. The needle biopsy was inconclusive. So we wait. November was a CT scan that showed more of the same. The tension and stress continued to build. I didn’t broadly share this as we went through it because we didn’t know what was going on.  I didn’t have cancer. But I didn’t not have cancer either. And if we did find out that it was a recurrence, there would be plenty of time to discuss and share. We had a few close friends and family members to discuss this with, but that too was challenging and, at times, exhausting, just sharing the many steps, options, and results as they presented themselves.

After the November scan, my oncologist said that we would check my blood again in February. Nothing extraordinary there. So we waited until May to do more bloodwork and another PET scan. Certainly at this point, 6 months after my last scan, there would be something different, some movement one way or another. And there was – the report from that PET scan reads “near complete resolution of the metabolic activity previously seen external iliac lymph nodes”. And most all of the nodes were back to their normal size and all of them had shrunk in size.  All that to say – my body was taking care of it and that the recurrence was called off.

And all of a sudden, I am expected to go back to the rest of my life. It has taken me a couple of months to be able to have some perspective on this experience and be able to share it. I’ve taken this near recurrence as a reminder about how delicate my health, both physical and mental, truly is. I’ve thrown myself in full bore into cycling – I am nearing my goal of riding more miles before this year’s PMC than I actually rode all of last year (including the PMC and Day Zero). I am taking steps to reduce my general stress level, eat better, and be more fit. I am proud to say that I weigh the same today as I did when I co-captained the 1990 Bangor High School soccer team – at one point, around when we got married in 2002, I weighed fifty pounds more than I do today.

And finally – my unwavering commitment to raise awareness about cancer survivorship and to fundraise for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has somehow become more impassioned.  My anticipation for being part of this year’s ride and the Living Proof photo is off the charts. And I am planning something even bigger than a 300-mile, 3 day ride in August for next year, when I will be celebrating being a 20-year cancer survivor, a 10-year PMC rider, and, thankfully, 5-years of being cancer-free. Stay tuned for an announcement after the end of this year’s ride and fundraising.

Thank you for taking the time to read. If you have been kind enough to donate to the PMC already, thank you for your generosity and for helping make cancer history. If you would like to donate and help end cancer in our lifetime, a goal that I know we can achieve, please donate here today100% of your donation to the PMC will be used for live-saving cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

 

 

 

 

 

Recapping PMC 2014 and My Trip to Maine (Pt. 3)

Read PART 1 and PART 2

After 3 straight days on the bike, going from the western edge to the easternmost tip of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I would seem logical that I could only spend my only true vacation day of the entire trip by going for a bike ride. My Facebook post that day summarizes the 20-mile ride.

Enjoying my vacation day on the Cape with a bike ride! Evidently pulling a bike trailer with our 4-year old for 20 miles on the Cape Cod Rail Trail is considered a cool down ride. She’s going to be a great coach someday – whenever someone tried to pass me, she said “come on Dad, go faster”.

The following day, Tuesday, Michele and I headed up to Maine to see my mom and dad. As I have mentioned in this space, my dad has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer and has already started treatment.  After his 2nd chemo, just prior to the PMC, he was diagnosed with an infection and was treated in the emergency room. By the time we got there, it was one week later, and I was impressed by his energy. I spent Wednesday taking him to his doctor and then running errands with him while my mom, Michele, and a family friend went to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor (unfortunately in the rain).

My dad holding Shannon when she was about 2 weeks old
My dad holding Shannon when she was about 2 weeks old

Thursday was a treatment day, chemo #3.  I took my dad to the cancer center. It was my first time in a cancer treatment room since September 2011. While the setup was different than the cancer center that I was treated in, the language and questions were the same, the procedures and safety measures were the same, and the caring nature of the staff was the same.  It is not uncommon for an adult child to take their parent to chemotherapy in this day and age – but it is certainly less common but not unprecedented that the adult child has been through the protocol already.  I had expected almost to have a reaction to being in that environment, chills or sweats, or a turn of my stomach. I followed my dad’s lead though, and was calm and comfortable with the surroundings.

At the end of this week, my dad will have his 4th chemo treatment which will then be followed, a few days later, by a PET scan. This scan will provide some insight as to how effective the chemotherapy regimen has been.  We will be hoping for the best, and fearing the worst.

So to recap this recap – PMC ride was EPIC and WET, my dad is doing as well as can be expected, and cancer still sucks. Thank you for taking the time to read and for the positive thoughts and prayers that you have sent to my family.

If you have made a donation to the PMC this year, THANK YOU! If you would still like to help end cancer, hopefully in our lifetime, you still can – simply visit http://www.pmc.org/as0171. Make a donation and save lives. It is that simple. Right now, you have a chance to save lives. 100% of every dollar you donate will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund. Thank you!

Recapping PMC 2014 and My Trip to Maine (part 2 of 3)

(read PART 1 here)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 2nd: DAY 1

from Sturbridge to Bourne

Our 8th annual PMC Living Proof photo - me and my amazing friend Diane!
Our 8th annual PMC Living Proof photo – me and my amazing friend Diane!
We only see each other once a year, but I wouldn't trade those brief moments for the world.
We only see each other once a year, but I wouldn’t trade those brief moments for the world.

Despite riding nearly the entire day in the rain, Saturday was an absolutely amazing day – we had so much fun, as there was little traffic. I felt no lingering effects of the leg cramps from the day before. The rain really picked up after Mile 80 in Lakeville.  By the time I got to our team PIE STOP in Wareham to see Michele, Shannon, and the rest of the Deckers, I could barely feel my hands. That pie was so good, but all I craved at that point was a hot shower and clean clothes, both of which were easy to get – as long as I got on my bike again and rode 6 or 7 more miles in the rain.  After 100 miles, that was pretty easy.

My favorite part of PMC weekend, which I have talked about many times before, is reconnecting with fellow survivors at the Living Proof photo, especially my dear friend Diane, who it turns out was riding with one of my new teammates all day long (hey Diane – you really should join our team, we have PIE!), and one of my personal inspirations, Carie, who rode this year’s PMC with her son!

The official 2014 Living Proof photo. Over 500 survivors rode or volunteered at this year's PMC.
The official 2014 Living Proof photo. Over 500 survivors rode or volunteered at this year’s PMC. This group thanks to your donation gets bigger (AND LOUDER) each and every year. Yes, I am in there somewhere.
Our official Team Forza-G photo, 51 total riders this year! Weve now raised over $1.75 million to date and over $285,000 in 2014.
Our official Team Forza-G photo, 51 total riders this year! So far in 2014, we’ve raised over $285,000.

 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3rd: DAY 2

from Bourne to Provincetown

The roads were wet in the morning, but dried out by mid-morning. Again, a great day on the bike with my team. I had the opportunity to lead our peleton for a few miles.   We rode together all day and a large group of us finished together. My thanks to Mike Weiner for riding with me up Route 6 into Provincetown when I fell back from our larger group. We really cranked it up those last few miles. My final mileage over the three days was 260 miles, not the 300 miles that I had planned but nevertheless the most I have ever ridden in one weekend and by far the most fun I have ever had on the bike.

Our team Living Proof ranks grew 50% this year with the addition of Betsy, who kept us all in good spirits with her humor and energy all weekend.  Our plan had been to take our team Living Proof photo on Saturday, but the world conspired against us. Thankfully, we found each other in Brewster at the 2nd Sunday rest stop.  I’d go for a bike ride with these two any day, any where, any weather.

Annual Team Forza-G Living Proof photo! Betsy (left), Suzanne, and me.
Annual Team Forza-G Living Proof photo! Betsy (left), Suzanne, and me.

 

Read More: PART 3: #DADCHEMO UPDATE

GO BACK and read PART 1:  DAY ZERO

Please make a donation today to remember those who have past, to honor those who are stricken, and to end cancer in our lifetime. Thank you!

2014 Sunday PMC Jersey

2014 Sunday PMC Jersey

At my request, Team Forza-G has produced this special team jersey with the official PMC Living Proof patch for its 3 Living Proof members.

There will be over 300 cancer survivors riding the 2014 Pan Mass Challenge  this year. I am so privileged to be among them. I will wear this jersey as a reminder that for everyone that progress is being made, that the ultimate goal is getting closer, and that a world without cancer is possible.

When you see this jersey fly past you going up Ocean View Drive, say hi!

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