Seventy cancer fighters biked across Iowa last week to raise awareness of and more than $118,000 for LIVESTRONG’s programs supporting people facing cancer.
It was my third time riding with Team LIVESTRONG at the Register’s Annual Great Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), a seven-day bike ride from the Missouri to Mississippi Rivers. Four weeks post-treatment for my third cancer. Truthfully, I had doubts about even going to Iowa when I started chemo but so many of my amazing friends encouraged me to at least spend the week with them, regardless of how much I biked. And so I went.
It turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. The perfect kick off to the “next chapter” of my life. I felt my strongest physically and mentally. My cheeks hurt from smiling. I biked my most mileage (according to my Garmin!) and rode the most days at RAGBRAI. Every night I snuggled into my tent marveling at how happy, and healthy, I felt.
As the miles rolled by, I didn’t think about being a three-time cancer survivor. My body felt strong, my mind clear, my emotions full of happiness, gratitude and love. There was so much simple beauty and joy surrounding me, from the rolling cornfields and blue skies to the smiles and laughs from other cyclists to meeting small town locals to hugs and conversations from teammates and much more. Many times I found myself simply observing, taking in the positive energy around me. If happiness were a physical form, I would hug it so tight and say thank you for being part of my life.
Helping others in the fight against cancer
We had great opportunity to share information on LIVESTRONG’s programs (navigation services, fertility assistance, advocacy, and more) along the route, even standing in line for a shower! The funds raised by the team help ensure resources are available to thousands.
Organizations like LIVESTRONG provide programs and services to support people facing a disease. And it’s these people that matter. It’s the people on this team that make this week so impactful. For every one of us has been affected by cancer in many ways. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Gender, age, race, relationship status, education, geography, life goals….none of it matters when it strikes your body (these items may affect your treatment and access to care but that’s a story for another day).
Honoring those who fight
Each year our team nominates someone to honor with a tribute jersey. It doesn’t have to be someone who died from the disease but it often is. Their lives are cut short by this ruthless disease and this is a special way to remember their beautiful life. This year we honored our friend, John, and selected days to ride in past jerseys. It struck me that the selected tribute jerseys honor those who died from the disease and most were much too young. Reminders that we need to continue to work together to fight cancer, and that life shouldn’t be taken for granted.
On Monday we wore our David jerseys. David’s mom, also a cancer survivor, is our teammate, friend and overall ‘team mom.’ Their story is too familiar, as mom and son were going through treatment at the same time, just like my dad and I did. He was in his early 20s when he died, the same age I was when diagnosed with my first cancer. And while I didn’t know David in his life, I’ve heard enough stories and felt the love from his mom to feel motivated when biking in this awesome jersey. On Wednesday, gorgeous Carolyn jerseys were worn, honoring the wife of a teammate. This jersey reminds me of the importance of spreading kindness and love.
On Thursday, we honored our good friend and teammate, John, who died last year from brain cancer. In his mid-30s, John had courageous determination, a zest for life and helping others. John gave me the final push years ago to buy my road bike, which changed my life. I still vividly recall our bonding conversation about being young adult cancer survivors who appear ‘normal’ on the outside but have limitations (him from brain cancer; me from the titanium rod in place of my left femur) that force us to modify or sit on the sidelines when we desperately don’t want to. He promised me that my bike would help build physical and mental confidence and provide great adventures. He was right. John’s parents were there to see the team ride off in the morning, making it even more special.
On Friday, we rode for sweet Katie, another teammate’s child, who lost her fight with cancer at 13. I swear the Kate jerseys channeled our inner child as we laughed, climbed hay bales, sang along the route. I hit another personal record of 76 miles and had energy to ride a century (100 miles) if it had been earlier in the day. I thank Katie’s young energy for that!
Ready to roll forward
It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to bike so many miles after another knee replacement surgery last fall and breast cancer treatment earlier this year. I often pinch myself to remind me that I’m alive and healthy after three cancer diagnoses. I am always wondering how I can better help others and show appreciation for this opportunity at life. So as I bike in these jerseys and others, I carry the love and determination of millions of cancer survivors, family members, friends and those we lost to the disease, including my sweet dad, in my heart.
This week served as a good reminder that we all have choices. So often we think we don’t but we do. We have the choice of how we react to situations, who we choose to be with, what we want to do with our lives, how we choose to enjoy simple things and much more. Let’s not waste those choices. I could have walked into this week anxious and worried about my physical ability to bike, my hair after cold capping and more. But I instead chose to make it one of my best weeks. I chose to LIVESTRONG.
I’m grateful for this week….for the strength and confidence I found in my body and mind, the amazingly kind, wonderful people I get to call friends, and the difference we made in the fight against cancer. I’m excited for this next chapter of life. I’m ready to continue to advocate against cancer, help others, find adventures, seek laughter, welcome love and throw my arms open to what, and who, welcomes and joins me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ride my bike (I may have a little addiction).