Hodgkins Lymphoma – 5 Years in Remission

2015-09-01 20.14.04Today is September 1, 2015, and I have been cancer free from Hodgkins Lymphoma for 5 years.  I have thought about this day over and over.  I have both longed for it, and feared it.  In the past two years I often dreamed of various exciting ways to celebrate the day.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January 2009.  I relapsed only a few months after the initial treatment, and on the first day of September 2010, I received a stem cell transplant.  If you are interested in clicking way back through the old posts on this site, you can read the whole day by day story.  Or, if you are here because you or someone you care about is considering a transplant for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, here is a video of my actual transplant as it happened.

Why is the 5 year mark so important?  Thank you for asking, that is an excellent question.  It will help to explore a brief bit of medical history.  Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is an old cancer, meaning, doctors have known what it is, and how to recognize it for over 100 years.  It used to be fatal, as were most cancers.  But the development of the ABVD chemotherapy regimen improved the odds, and many studies have shown that approximately 80-85% of newly diagnosed Hodgkins Lymphoma cases, survive at least 5 years from the date of diagnosis.   However, long term studies show that approximately 30% of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients will not respond properly to that treatment.  These are cases are called relapse and refractory cases and the odds of long term survival are lower for these people.  I was in the refractory group.

For those of us in that group of relapse and refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a secondary or salvage treatment involving high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant is usually on the menu. Of this group of patients who are essentially on plan B, after failing plan A, the probability of success is less than 50%.   And for those who relapse within 1-3 years of the transplant, the prognosis is not good.  However, these same studies show that the patients who do not relapse, and achieve 5 years of survival without progression of the disease, very often go on to live normal Lymphoma free lives.  It is difficult to put percentages on survivability at this point, but the basic fact

Melanie, Me, and Amy. Melanie came to dinner with a latex bald cap to remind me what I looked like 5 years ago when I had Hodgkins Lymphoma

Melanie, Me, and Amy. Melanie came to dinner with a latex bald cap to remind me what I looked like 5 years ago when I had Hodgkins Lymphoma

is that reaching 5 years of survival is a really positive indicator that a person will continue to be free of the disease indefinitely.

So, the day has come!  I received my transplant 5 years ago today, and I am still here.  I have had no return of the disease, and I feel great.  So today I am thankful for the chance to keep going.  I appreciate the good people in my life and I respect that happiness comes from within.  There is no amount of money, cars, clothes, prestige, status or pixel resolution that can bring long term happiness.  Those things can help, but they are only band aids.  The real happiness, or healing of a wound comes from inside and being content with who you are.

I have not made any particular plans to celebrate.  I have come to the conclusion that just living my life is enough of a celebration.  Although I did receive some beautiful hand made cards and letters of encouragement from the kids, and Amy planned a very nice dinner this past weekend with a friend of mine who was there 5 years ago to witness all my misery.

The End of an Era

Think back to January 9, 2009.  We were all trying to figure out what this new economic downturn was going to look and feel like, Barack Obama was about to be sworn into office for the first time, and the majority of the western world wouldn’t know the name Capt. Sully Sullenberger for 6 more days.  I was sitting in my car outside a non-descript doctors office on Medlock Bridge Rd in Duluth, Georgia replaying the past ten minutes when Dr. Gupta had told me, “You have Lymphoma,”  and “You will definitely need chemotherapy,” and “You need to see an oncologist, and I think you should go there right now.”

That day has become a pivoting point in the story of me, and I really think of my life in terms of “before cancer” and “after cancer.”  The problem though, is that the period I am calling “after cancer” includes all the surgeries, all the stress, all the chemotherapy, all the agonizing rides to the hospital, the uncertainty, and the pain.  And while the beginning of cancer was marked with a very precise and memorable encounter at Dr. Gupta’s office, the end of cancer seems far more ambiguous.  I wrote on this blog way back when that I was worried I would turn into a hypochondriac and never be content that a cough is just a cough.

It won’t be me sitting in this chemo room

Yesterday that changed.  Yesterday, I was at Emory Winship (aka The Cancer Factory, thank you Carcinista) for my scan results.  For the un-initiated, a quick lesson here.  I have been finished with active cancer treatment for 3 years, but the tumor that was the site of all my woes is still inside.  They tell me it’s all burned up and calcified and useless now, but it’s there.  So it is necessary for me to return to the hospital for a PET Scan about every 3-4 months.  This is how the doctors take a peek at my insides and make sure the tumor is behaving itself.  And these appointments do not always go as planned.  In May 2010, after 16 doses of nasty chemo, and 5 months feeling really good, a scan showed the tumor was raging inside my chest.  Another time, about 12 months after my transplant, the scan showed an unexpected change in cell activity.  So, walking into this appointment is always a tense moment.  They can send me home with smiles and cheer, or they can bring me back into the world of chemo infusions, sickness and fear.  It’s a little like waiting to hear a jury announce guilty or not-guilty in a criminal trial.  The defendants will immediately take one of two vastly different paths.

So yesterday, the news was good.  It was my third scan of 2013 and about the 5th or 6th in a row that showed zero change.  I was expecting that news, but the most surprising news followed the verdict.  My doctor is comfortable enough with the stability of my tumor that she says I don’t need to return for a scan for 12 months…and when I come back, they will use a CT scan instead of the powerful PET scan.  In essence, what they are saying is that my risk of cancer is now lower than the risk of more exposure to the radiation presented in a PET Scan.  They are betting on me!   This is easily the MOST positive news I have heard about my health since January 2009 and I was walking on air the rest of the day.


If You Have An Opinion of Netflix…Read On

First a little apology.  I have not been writing very much this summer, because I am usually packing my suitcase or unpacking.  Just added up the numbers and I have been away from home 47 nights over the past 4 months.  That’s a lot for me, and tonight is one of those nights.

I am in Orlando, Florida (for the 3rd time this summer), and I am attending the annual KIPP School Summit.  KIPP is a network of high quality charter schools all across the country, and many of their schools book their student year-end trips through my company, VenueQuest.  Tonight, they were presenting their annual awards at a Gala Dinner which I had the good fortune to attend.

Early in the evening, we were treated to a stomp dance performance by 1st grade students from the stupUPbreakDOWN dance group at KIPP LA.  A little later in the dinner KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth came out on stage and told a story about how the team and their parents just explained to him backstage that they would be flying home late tomorrow night.  He assumed they scheduled a late flight because they would spend the day enjoying Disney World, but soon learned that the group had wanted to go to Walt Disney World while they were here in Orlando, but they did not have enough money to make it happen.  So Barth opened his speech with this story and then gave out his email address and challenged all 3,000 participants at the conference to pitch in by tomorrow morning to raise the approximately $5,000 it would take to get all these kids into Disney for the day.  The room was buzzing and I could tell that many attendees were already pulling out their phones and emailing Mr. Barth.

He proceeded to introduce the winner of the KIPP Giving Tree Award, which this year was presented to Mr. Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix.  Mr. Barth gave the typical rundown of all of Reed’s accomplishments and philanthropic efforts which lean heavily toward supporting education and charter schools.  I learned that at one time, he was even the President of the California State Board of Education.  Mr. Reed Hastings came out on stage and accepted his award.  Then, stepping to the podium he said, “Richard, I am sure that you are going to receive a lot of emails tonight offering money to help get those children to Disney World tomorrow.  My only request is that you decline all of them, and accept mine.”  And with that he smiled and walked off the stage.

Netflix had a major public relations snafu in 2011 as they changed subscription policies, then changed back…added a new division, then closed it down.  I was a subscriber back then, and I have remained a subscriber.  After tonight, I believe not just in the quality of their service, but in the integrity and humanity of their leader.  For me, his spontaneous action was the highlight of the evening, and there is a healthy stream of twitter and facebook chit chat that suggests I am not alone…and that’s saying something because not 20 minutes before he took the stage, we all gave a standing ovation to the closing keynote speaker, President Bill Clinton.

Cancer Is Like Riding A Bike

This is me at approximately mile 6 on that 7 mile climb.

Fact #1:  It is springtime and you have two dozen other friends asking you to donate to their walk, run, mud wrestle or competitive rope climb.

Fact #2:  At some point (maybe even at multiple times) you have questioned the effectiveness of donating money to medical research.  I mean with all the money you yourself have donated, shouldn’t we have a cure for something by now.

Fact #3:  I fought a form of Lymphoma for 2 years that would have killed me in the not so distant past, and instead of dying, I returned to a healthy life and will be there to see my son off to his first day of kindergarten in a few months.

So, this is my pitch to you.  If you are happy that I am still around, find a way to trim your annual budget by $10 (or more) and click right here, and make a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Summer Cycling Team.

For anyone just tuning in, here is the back story.  I fought Hodgkins Lymphoma for 8 months in 2009.  But instead of responding in its usual and predictable manner and going into a sustainable remission, my cancer refused to go away.  So my doctors had to resort to what is called Salvage Treatment.  Hardly an encouraging term.  I received a whole lot more chemotherapy called ICE and VTEPA, weeks of mediastinal radiation treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma, and a stem cell transplant in 2010 which is a process of bombarding your body with so much constant chemotherapy that it kills every cancer cell that ever even thought of reproducing. The side effect to this treatment is that it is also very effective in killing the body where the cancer cells live (that means me).  Like a knight in shining medical grade PVC tubing, the previously frozen stem cells are brought in at the last moment to help the body start producing a new supply of white blood cells, platelets and other important stuff.

My point is this.  As recently as the 1970’s this treatment did not exist.  And even well into the 80’s and 90’s the treatment was not reliable on a long term scale. There was a time when transplants were considered successful if you left the hospital alive.

So while the concept of a cancer free world is just a naive fantasy, the research your donations have made possible is providing the cancer fighters in the world with more and more options every year.  More and more chances to live.  More chances to see their children go to kindergarten.

The Georgia Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training Summer Cycle team has made me their Honored Hero this year.  I am proud to serve the role because I am without a doubt, a product of the past fundraising efforts by LLS.  Without the research they have funded, I might have survived the first year, but when the regular treatment failed, I would not have had a plan B to fall back on. And even in today’s world of what we all call modern medicine, there is still a lot that is unknown about cancer. A lot of the treatment relies on having plan B, or Plan C, or D, E, F… A common question for cancer patients to ask their doctor is, “okay, but what if that doesn’t work.”

Cancer is not like a cold or a flu. It will not “run it’s course and then leave you alone.”. It is a battle to the death.

Entering the finish area after 100 miles. Thank you to the doctors, nurses and research who made it possible for me to survive and thrive after cancer

So please consider standing up with my friends who are out there training 3 or more days per week. In a few weeks they are all going to pack their bikes and their spandex and hit the road to Lake Tahoe where they will each attempt to ride 100 miles around the lake in one day. This may sound romantic and beautiful, but it stretches a persons abilities to the breaking point. It is usually cold, the road is not smooth, and it is mountainous. There is a section toward the end where each of these riders will have to continuously pedal uphill for 7 miles. I challenge you to go jump on a bike and ride 7 miles on flat ground. You could do it, but it will take some time and you will feel tired at the end. Now imagine never having a spot to coast, or to spin the pedals freely as momentum carries you. And imagine warming up for that climb brid haunting your body over 70 miles of hills earlier in the day. When I rode with the team last year, I saw a lot of people give up on that climb. They just couldn’t do it anymore. I saw them cry, and I saw them load their bikes into crowded vans that picked up the people who quit, got injured, or whose bikes suffered irreperable damages.

That is what cancer feels like. It is constant pain, constant struggle, and not even knowing if you will make it. You see people who have been fighting with you die, and you wonder if you will join them despite all your efforts to fight. I have great respect for these people who are all trying to raise awareness and money. So please join me in giving a few dollars to them.

All of the donations I collect will be distributed to the fundraising accounts of the members of the cycling team prior to their event. I want them to succeed in their fundraising so that they come back to ride and raise money next season. I never know when I might need whatever treatments they are funding right now.


Thanks. To my body for not quitting on me last year…we’ve got a lot more life to live together.  To my little man, for making me laugh and even for sometimes making me grit my teeth. To the members of my extended family, Laura Gearhart, Ray Gearhart, Armando Gennari, Barb Gennari, Renita Wilkinson and Doris Macdonald for your love. To all the VenueQuest customers who have stuck by us and helped make 2011 a great year. To our VenueQuest team members Melanie Mottayaw Koenig, Karen Imperatore Kovac and Shenika Brown for your dedication and loyalty. To the members of the 2011 Georgia TNT Cycling Team for teaching me to ride on skinny tires and pulling me around Lake Tahoe. To my dozens of wonderful neighbors in Mayfair/St. Clair for making us feel like we are really part of a community and not just living in the burbs. To my distant friends spread from the west coast to the east coast and everywhere in between who inspire me and teach me new perspectives, new empathy and new skills all the time. We may not live near each other, but you remain high on my list of importance. And lastly, to Home Depot…like any good drug dealer, you are always there to enable our unbreakable addiction to home improvement. Now, let’s talk turkey!

Innocent Littleness…please stay a little longer

To all of you really veteran parents, this may seem trivial, but it is the night before Dominic starts pre-K and I am a mixture of excited for all of us, and also a little sad.  I can so vividly remember the first few days of being a new parent and feeling like time had slowed down to less than a crawl as days and nights blurred together and the enormity of the responsibility started sinking in.  Then, fast forward to this summer and he has grown into a little boy with a sharp, but boyish sense of humor.  He is creative and smart enough that he has a little wit in the way he talks and thinks, but is little enough that fart jokes still trump all forms of humor.  He also has a bright and active imagination, sometimes a little too imaginative for his friends (and parents) who get tired of the way he takes on the role of director and know-it-all, in playing out the scenes in his head.  He has always done things his own way, and I guess as the kid of entrepreneurs we have always admired that about him.

Dominic in his fireman costume

So, a few days ago, when his day care announced that Tuesday would be hat day, we happily helped him select a hat to wear to class that day.  It did not surprise me in the least when he selected one of his many firefighter helmets.  Dominic loves to play fireman and less than a month ago, in the blazing heat of a Georgia July afternoon, he wanted to wear his full kids firefighter costume when I took him along to pick up lunch from McDonalds.  His full costume consists of black and yellow rubber boots, full length black canvas pants, a zip up long sleeve black coat, and a belt with numerous tool holders on which he attaches a flashlight, toy walkie talkie, plastic ax and goggles.  Almost no detail is missed…he looks like the worlds smallest firefighter.  He wears his outfit with pride, and on that day, did not complain at all about the heat.  So, wearing just a fire helmet to class seemed like it would be no problem.  During the whole drive to the school, we talked about what kinds of hats his friends would be wearing.  We wondered if the teacher would wear a hat.  It was THE topic of the morning.  He marched across the parking lot, through the lobby, and down the hallway with that helmet sitting high on top of his head.

Then, as we pushed open the glass door to his room, I immediately noticed that only one other kid was wearing a hat and that was a baseball hat.  My eyes shifted to Dominic and I was devastated to see him quickly reach up and without a word, remove his helmet from his head.  I could just see the embarrassment running through his little mind at being the only kid to wear a special hat.  He walked over to his storage cubby and told me to just put the helmet away in the cubby.

This is why I am a little sad about him going off to pre-K.  As much as I want him to grow and experience all the world has to offer, those experiences are also going to take away his innocent littleness and once it is gone, we will never, ever see it again.  It made me wonder what kinds of things we would all do if we had absolutely no fear of being judged, rejected, questioned or criticized.  Feel free to comment and tell me what you would do.

Century Ride in Lake Tahoe

Life is definitely different this summer, than it was last summer.  It’s hard to say whether or not things are back to normal, because I don’t really know what normal means.  It’s been so many years since I’ve had a predictable routine, I don’t even know if I would recognize normal if I found it preserved in the back of the fridge.  Between the unknown day-to-day of cancer treatment, the move from Tampa to Atlanta, the financial losses in our business and then an unexpected return to profitability for the business, watching Dominic change from a little baby into a handsome and smart little boy, Angela’s transition from one career to another and all the other surprises of the past 3-4 years, I don’t expect similarity from one month to another, let alone one year to another.

Life has been busy, but in a good way.  Whereas last summer was marked over and over by managing exhaustion, nausea and pain, this one has simply been busy with work, life and play.   Blog writing has not been at the top of my priority list.  Hey, I heard that “no shit?” comment.  Calm down, I can explain…sort of.  Everybody is busy, but I feel like I keep particularly busy, and even by my own standards, the past month has been dizzying.

The month that has passed since my last entry was also unfortunately marked, repeatedly, by death.  Early in May, I was saddened to read about the passing

Jack Williamson

Jack Williamson, 2001 - 2011

of a fellow young adult cancer blogger from Boston.  Her name was Sarah Feather and she was an excellent writer, a mom and we even had the same birthday.  Her Ovarian Cancer finally defeated her body.  Then, about two weeks later, our little friend with the big smile, Jack Williamson took flight to begin his next great journey.  His body had become completely overcome by the Neuroblastoma tumor rapidly spreading up from his leg and his care team had to constantly deliver high potency medication just to keep out the most intense waves of pain.  He faced his final week with bravery and a pure heart.  Angela went to visit him about 4 days before he died and she says he already looked like he had found peace

And finally, on June 2, Angela and I made the incredibly painful decision to put our beloved Ernie “the big dog” Bear to sleep.  Ernie was a rescue dog, who Angela adopted as a full grown adult dog after asking the animal shelter to simply give her the next dog in line to be euthanized.  That was his first brush with near death.  The night of our first date, Angela went home afterward and let him out for his nightly routine when he was attacked by a flock of geese (she suspects geese…there were no witnesses, and no arrests were ever made) and returned to her apartment hours later, bloody, beaten and caked in mud.  He bore scars and injuries from that attack for the rest of his life.  And then in 2005, he was bitten on the nose by a rattlesnake in our backyard in Florida.  Thanks to immediate care (made possible by Angela’s daredevil drive to the vet’s office which involved bypassing a line of stopped cars at an intersection and an illegal left turn through a red light!), Ernie lived through that experience as well.  The fact that Ernie had persevered through so many challenges made it especially difficult for us to decide he should be felled by something as sneaky and silent as a needle and syringe.

Ernie Bear

Ernie Bear, 1995 - 2011

And even after the vet arrived at the house and was ready to get started, we needed to discuss it again, and convince ourselves and each other, again, that we were doing the right thing.  Ernie had lost most strength and stability in his rear hips and fell to the ground several times per day.  He also had lost his hearing and that caused him to be startled by almost everything around him.  And finally, he had become forgetful and incontinent.  We realized that despite his strength in previous years, Ernie’s body was failing and would not get any better.  His future, if we cancelled our plans that day would be more pain, more fear, more confusion, and that is no way for a good dog to live.  I don’t think we cried through the entirety of my 2 year cancer experience, as much as we did that afternoon holding Ernie while he drifted away from us forever.

We were somewhat rushed into the decision to put Ernie down, because the next day, we would be leaving town for 8 days.  We knew the end was near for him and did not want the pressure of worrying about his fragile condition while we were so far away.  That trip, as I have written about so much here, was for my century ride in Lake Tahoe.  The training and fundraising all came to a head on Sunday morning June 5.

The ride itself is called America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, and I had entered the event as a member of the Georgia Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training Cycling Team.  All week long, I kept looking at the extended forecast and hoping that the weatherman, the computer, the satellites, the DooWop Triple Action Handy Dandy Weather Tracker, or whatever the hell it’s called in Lake Tahoe was just wrong about Sunday.  Sadly, none  of those sources were wrong.  The gloom and doom they predicted from 10 days out was spot on accurate.  We gathered at the start area, mostly in the dark around 6AM under raining skies, wet roads and 45 degree air.  I was dressed in four layers of clothing, two pairs of gloves and a bubble of pure insanity.

I don’t know why, but I did not sleep much the night before the ride.  It was strange, I took things easy all day Saturday, prepared my bike, bought a few extra supplies to keep my head warm and my feet dry (neither worked).  I attended the inspiration dinner where it was exciting to see them recognize the relatively small handful of cancer survivors among the thousands of riders and even call each of us out by name.  I ended the night helping Dominic play a few of the worst video games and crappiest skee ball machines ever conjured to take money from children, and then we went to bed nice and early.  Maybe the problem was that I could hear the sheets of rain pounding the sides of the hotel and knew that I would be outside in that very rain long before the sun came up.

After snapping a few photo’s in the lobby, all the members of the Georgia TNT summer cycle team clicked into our pedals and set out over the wet pre-dawn asphalt to the starting area.  Our coach asked me to lead our team out of the start area and to ride at the front of the pack for the first 9 miles.  I rode alongside two other teammates riding a tandem in honor of Warren Bruno, the other survivor on our team, who had relapsed just a few weeks before the event and had to stay home to receive chemotherapy treatment.

It was cold and wet, and our feet were soaked within 3 miles, then numb, and I mean completely, cannot feel a thing, numb by around the 15th mile.  We rode in on and off rain, on wet blacktop until about mile 40, when the sun poked out a little as we were approaching the town of Truckee.  We had a lengthy break in Truckee, where lots of people took off their shoes to wring out their socks and walk barefoot in the parking lot trying to dry their soggy wrinkled feet.

On the extremely rare occasion that I need to be out of bed before 5AM (and this was one of them), I don’t expect great thoughts or brilliant insight to be part of the experience.  And on this morning, I actually stunned myself with intelligence by grabbing an extra pair of socks and stuffing them in a zip lock bag before clomping off to the lobby in my bike shoes and 4 layers of synthetic blend top layers.  While dozens of others in Truckee were wringing the rain water out of their socks, I simply fetched that zip lock bag from my back pocket, and slid on clean, warm and dry fresh socks.

Dan and Val before the ride

Taking our team photo's in the lobby at 5:30 AM before the bike ride. This is Valerie.

The sunny weather was just a tease though and shortly after leaving Truckee, it started raining in sheets and bucketfuls.  That was when I got a flat tire.  We had been riding a slow but steady incline for several miles and the rain had already rinsed away the happiness that dry socks had brought me.  I was also starting to think about how hungry I was, but also how the lunch station was still around 20 miles away.  So I was feeling pretty crummy, and the flat really depressed my motivation.  Fortunately, Mike was right there to help out and get me rolling again.  He insisted that I catch my breath and rest while he worked on the tire.  That stop made a difference and I rode better for some time after that.

Rain kept coming and going, but by 1PM, we had cleared away from the western half of the lake where most of the weather problems seemed to be stuck, and we rode in clear air the rest of the time, albeit with cold, wet clothing and shoes.  At around mile 70, I started to notice a little uncomfortable sensation above my right knee, right where the quad muscles start to connect to the knee parts.  A few miles later, that feeling had crept lower and seemed to create a film over the front of my knee cap that shot a painful little dart inward toward my knee with each downstroke of the pedal.  By mile 83, I was well on my way up the 8 mile climb of Spooner Mountain and my knee was screaming at me to go do something else, anything else, each time I pressed down on the pedal.

I am telling this story almost two weeks after completing the ride, and as with any traumatic experience, time has already started to weaken the memory of how painful that mountain was at the end of the ride.  When people ask me today if I enjoyed the ride, I say yes.  That afternoon, I would have said no.  If you had asked me while I was pedaling up that mountain, I probably would have shot you a gaping mouth look of disbelief and then pedaled away without a word thinking you were an idiot.  That mountain took away my energy, my pride and my breath.  I was riding so slowly, that if a two legged, blind possum had walked out onto the road that afternoon, it probably could have passed me.

But, I was not going to quit.  That is what this ride was about.  It was not a race, and I never expected to do it with speed or grace.  My goal was to complete the task and get to the end.  For two years, throwing punches back and forth with cancer, it was never pretty…it’s never pretty for anyone.  Cancer takes away everything it can get it’s hands on.  It takes away your appearance through weight loss, swollen limbs, lost hair and scars.  It takes away life functions, confidence, dreams, future plans, money and hope.  It does not care when or who it strikes, or how inconvenient the timing is.  And we don’t defeat it without coming out beat up, bloodied and broken on the other side.

I have survived my experience with cancer, but I am not the same person I was before.  I have lost time, I have lost the chance to have another child, I nearly lost my home and my body is weaker and more prone to disease than it was before.

At approximately mile 81, as I was really getting into the grind of Spooner Mountain.  To my right, beyond the slowly passing guard rail, the mountain dropped steeply away to the bank of Lake Tahoe below, and the horizon was the famous jagged, snow covered mountain range on the west side of the lake.  I

Dominic cheering for the TNT bike riders in Lake Tahoe

could clearly see that side of the lake was still buried in the storm we had ridden through in the morning.  Suddenly, around a gentle curve in the road, there was a little red car stopped on the shoulder in front of me.  On the trunk of the car sat a little boy I recognized, with a pretty smiling lady right next to him, and they were cheering for me.  They held signs that said, “Go Daddy” and they were waving and cheering for me.

I took a long break at that point and savored the moment.  Despite the evidence of bike ride casualties passing by in multiple SAG vans loaded with bikes and people, I knew I would finish that ride even if it took the rest of the day.  I knew that I had persevered through the suffering of chemotherapy and cancer treatment by just taking it one minute and one day at a time, and I knew I could get over that mountain.  As added incentive, I knew that if I reached the top of that mountain which was just over 7,000 feet and located at approximately mile 87, I would be descending to an elevation of around 6,000  feet at the finish line just 13 miles away.  What I am saying is that it would mostly be downhill.

Mike and I re-grouped at the top of the mountain and we also joined together with a handful of my other team members from Georgia including Val, Cindy, Libby and Charlotte and we all rode most of the rest of the ride together.  At sometime close to 4PM, more than 9 hours after leading the entire team out of the starting area, Mike, Val, Libby and I rode together into a massive cheering crowd, high fiving friends, family and team members along the way and finally unclipped from our bikes for the last time that day.

Several times throughout the day, I had imagined and envisioned the finish line and what it was going to feel like to cross that line.  In my imagination, it was a powerful and moving experience with a rush of emotion and feeling of accomplishment.  When it finally happened though, I was so relieved to have made it, I barely thought about what it all meant and instead just joined the Georgia team in welcoming the rest of our riders into the finish corral.

I can say now, after having time to recover and reflect, that I did enjoy the ride, and it was sweet satisfaction to know I had made up my mind to complete a daunting physical task, and saw it through to the end, despite the history of disease in my body.

Will I do it again?  Hmm, that is undecided right now.  I would do the event again, but I did not care much for the

At the finish area with Mike and my little buddy

time commitment of the weeks and months of training.  It took a lot of time away from home, and I am not comfortable with that, especially after all the time I have spent away from Angela and Dominic fighting the cancer.  So, for now, I am not deciding anything for sure.  Maybe I will be back again, or maybe this was a one time effort to prove something to myself and to support the organization that helped me beat this ugly ugly disease.  Stay tuned and I will let you know.

There is so much more to write about this trip, but I feel like this is already to long.  As a wrap up I need to thank some very important people.  First of all, thank you to the dozens of donors who contributed everywhere from $5 to several hundreds of dollars to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in my name and in the name of my riding partner, Mike Loria.  Between the two of us, we raised $7,269.50 that is already funding research into giving blood cancer victims a better chance at a long and healthy life.  On that note, I want to thank Mike for joining me on this ride.  He is a busy guy and had to take lots of time away from his business, Re-Source Partners, in Michigan to train, fundraise and answer my endless questions about how to prepare for an endurance event.

Next up I need to thank the home team, my wife Angela and my son Dominic for putting up with my absence every single Saturday morning since January, and most Thursday nights as I pedaled and trained to get in shape for this event.  Angela took on an unfair share of solo parenting for the better part of most Saturday’s and sacrificed some of her own fun weekend activities to make this possible.  And she was there with her trademark tough love, to give me the pep talk I needed when the going got rough.

To Ernie, my big dog, I am sorry we had to make the decision to put you down before leaving for this trip.  I truly hope that you are freed from those old bones, broken muscles and giant tumor and that you are in some magical dog park where there is a fence line that stretches to infinity filled with every kind of fascinating smell.  I know that is where you will be…nose to the ground and following the scent.

And last but not least, to my team members and coaches at Team in Training.  This was my first endurance event and as a very recent cancer survivor, my body was not prepared for the early days of training.  I am sure the coaches had doubts about my abilities when they would see me huffing and panting on even small hills while the rest of the team rode to the top.  Julian, Kelly, Graham and Neil were good about encouraging me nonetheless and making sure I had the motivation I needed to keep going.

For more photo’s from the bike ride, please visit my Lake Tahoe Century Ride Picasa album.