Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Livestrong Philly Phollow-Up

Dear friends: Well, I'm back from an epic weekend in Philly, energized and not even a little bit sore.  Those 10 weeks of training paid off handsomely, particularly in the last 30 miles where so many riders fade.

The Livestrong Challenge absolutely lived up to the "Challenge" part with driving, torrential rains for long stretches of the race (during one of the downhills, I hit 45 mph and it felt like needles hitting my face), some of the toughest climbs I've done in some time (the one-mile,  7% grade climb up to the Landis Store mid-way through the ride was sadistic) and some of the scariest descents I've seen with twisty, poorly surfaced, rain-slicked roads claiming many riders (I saw more people crumpled by guardrails than I could have imagined).

But I made it through in one piece, one of just 70 riders out of about 1,000 starters to complete the full Century.  At mile 35, they started diverting riders to the 70 mile course after two and half hours had elapsed, but I had made it through in about 1:45, so I was able to stick to the plan and go the distance.  My lovely wife, Kathleen, played the happy "domestique" and photographer, meeting me at the Landis Store with three fresh water bottles and a vest for the rain.  Here is a slide show of her photographic talents:

But I was reminded in so many ways this weekend that this ride was not about my finishing time, about some Quixotic effort to prove that I wasn't 47 years old.  This was about the epic battle that so many families have been forced to wage, the harrowing confrontation with mortality, with terror, with life incomplete that 28 million people are living through right now.  I think of Marc Mandeville, the son of my father-in-law's long-time secretary, whose ongoing battle with colorectal cancer inspired over a hundred people to form something called "Team M-Power" and raise over $130,000 for this weekend's ride.  I think of the brother and sister who came from Rhode Island and Virginia to ride in memory of their mom, who passed away last year.  There were over three thousand of these stories riding on Sunday, and everyone would bring tears to your eyes.  Perhaps that's why it rained so damned hard.

On Sunday, I woke at 5:30 and started stretching and doing a pre-race meal.  I checked my iphone and saw a posting on the blog from a complete stranger named Christopher who made an out-of-the blue donation to Livestrong in my honor and wrote, your blog came up on mantle cell alerts tonight. i was declared in remission last week, on my 5th month of chemo. congrats on your ride tomorrow, your spirit, your health, your shaved legs! i've learned mcl is not the doom sentence i feared 2 years ago. look at us, both still going. i'm 55 and grateful. good luck on your ride. may the wind be at your back.  His words absolutely slayed me, bringing me to tears as I got ready to go out.  I thought of him several times as the course got harder and the weather got worse, telling myself, if you could get through 7 rounds of chemo, if Christopher could get through 5 with more to come, you can f'ing doing this!

I shared about 80 miles of the ride with a guy named Matt riding for "Team Mayo (he's a doctor at The Mayo Clinic) doing his first 100 mile race in about 30 years.  I introduced myself to him by saying that I was wearing a yellow jersey because I rode for his arch-rival, Team Mustard.  He stopped and waited for me when I cramped up at mile 34, and I pulled him through the last 30 miles as he fought off nasty muscle spasms in both legs.  That's what I'll take away from this ride.  Not my final time, which was slower than I'd hoped, but the friendships I formed, the stories I heard, and the sense that the point of this was for all of us to carry each other to the finish line.

Cancer is a heartbreaking disease, fought not just by patients but by doctors and nurses who can't help but be drawn into each patient's struggle, by spouses and siblings and parents who suffer watching their loved ones suffer.  I think Livestrong Philly reminded me of why this experience has defined me, in ways that I am particularly proud.  It forced me to reach out and ask for help, to admit my own weakness and fear, to be carried by those who loved me, to carry those around me when they needed it most.  

Thank you to all of you who made donations and who supported me in so many ways through both the very real struggle with mantle cell lymphoma and then the echo of that struggle in this ride.



PS: Here is a shot of the "Sharpie Tribute" I put on those shaved legs:

From Livestrong Philly

Friday, August 20, 2010

For Whom I'm Riding (or "Who I'm Riding For" if you don't speak English)

 Hi Everyone: First, I have to tell you how humbled I am by the incredibly generous support from friends, family, and colleagues for the Livestrong Challenge in Philly this Sunday. I started with a fundraising goal of $1,000 and blew through that in an hour.  I kept bumping up the goal and you guys just kept on giving.  As I write this, my fundraising total is at an incredible $4, 685.  Unbelievable.

 I've mapped the ride and I'm really looking forward to the 6% grade climb at mile 34 and the 7% grade climb at mile 62 (NOT!).  Thanks goodness I did the mountain training in Vermont back in July, or I think I might have had a nervous breakdown looking at this map.

Fun stuff to be sure.  Seriously, I know that this weekend is going to be quite moving for Kathleen and me.  We're going to a dinner for top fundraisers tomorrow night and will get to meet Lance Armstrong, an incredible honor given how his example inspired me and gave me hope in the darkest days of my cancer fight.

But the story I want to tell you now is about the people who will be on my mind as I suffer on those hills, people who have bravely confronted their own hills, suffered and spat in suffering's eye.  I shaved my legs this morning, partly because that's what we bike racers do (it makes changing the dressing on road rash much easier if you crash) but mostly because I intend to write the names of each of these people in a green sharpie on my legs on Sunday morning before I ride:

  • My friend and Bridgespan colleague Bob, who's daughter Nora has made all of us look like whimps as she confronts a nasty form of cancer and keeps her chin up every day.
  • Another Bridgespaner, Nan, who stood up to breast cancer.
  • Our friend, mentor, and fellow cyclist Carl, who discovered a rare form of cancer on his liver as the result of a biking accident and is now fighting like hell, the only way he knows.
  • My friend Deb, cancer-free and strong (and funny) as hell.
  • My Uncle John, a two-time cancer survivor.
  • My dear friend Bruce, who visited me for each of my hospital stays as he fought his own battle with prostate cancer.
  • My friend Randal, another prostate survivor.
  • Our friend Michale, yet another prostate survivor and frustrated stand-up comic.
  • My college friend, Kathy, who has courageously fought breast cancer and is now working day by day to regain her strength.
  • My mother-in-law, Maureen, survivor of two bouts with cancer.
  • Our friend Barb, who was such an amazing friend and supporter throughout my treatment, and who just learned that her dad has been diagnosed and who lost her mom to breast cancer at 54.
  • Kathleen's cousin, Bryan, who has been living with multiple myeloma for more than a decade through TWO bone marrow transplants.
  • My brother-in-law's dear friend, Mark, another myeloma survivor, with whom I biked the Boston marathon course this April.
  • My college friend Bill's sister, Kathy, who passed away several years ago but is still remembered every day by her brother and whose legacy is carried on in the work of the foundation that bears her name.
  • My friend Sarah's dear friend Cindy, who died of breast cancer at 34, leaving behind two young daughters, who are in college now.
  • Kathleen's cousin Diane, remembered by her brother Matthew,  who succumbed to lymphoma at 29.
My legs are bare tonight, but there will be green sharpie all over them on Sunday, not that I need that reminder to keep these brave and inspiring stories in my mind as I climb those steep hills.  Thank you one and all.