In my twenties I got into the habit of riding my bicycle down on South Beach with a friend. We rode the bike paths for a while and then started to get a bit more adventurous. Before I knew it we were riding around fifteen miles on average, and I loved it. So, a couple years ago when I was trying to decide what to buy myself as a birthday gift, I came up with a great idea: a new bicycle. My plan was to use it to get in shape and start a hobby which got me outdoors more often.
As I do with every major purchase, I conducted a lot of research and settled on the perfect style and brand for myself: A Trek 7.1 Hybrid road bike. I wasn’t all that sure I would keep up with the lofty goals I had in mind, but when one of my best friends bought a similar bike a week later, the odds improved greatly.
For the first rides the only equipment we had invested in was helmets and locks, figuring we didn’t want to spend too much until we saw if the passion was really there. Within two weeks, I had gloves, a headband, flat-soled shoes, dry-weave everything and of course, padded shorts. I guess you could say we had felt the passion!
Anyway, we started riding around the neighborhood and on local paths, concentrating on getting faster and building endurance. It was hard. What we realized quickly was we needed something to train for. Thanks to a sign at my local bike shop, Pembroke Cycle, I discovered the DCC (known at that time as the Dolphins Cycling Challenge), which offered a thirty-mile ride in support of cancer research at Sylvester Cancer Center. I knew it was fate, because my mom had been treated there over 15 years prior.
So the training began, and needless to say we were hooked. That first ride, DCC IV, three years ago was an adrenaline rush the likes of which it is hard to put into words. Fast-forward three years, and although our training has waned, our love of the challenge and the cause has not.
On February 20th I will be participating in DCC VI (Dolphins Cancer Challenge). It is now a bicycle ride and a 5K run, and the proceeds still go to fund research at Sylvester Cancer Center in Miami. Each year the organizers ask for stories of what makes us want to participate.
The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, which describes my mom’s battle with cancer. It is from a chapter titled “Ancient History” and is the point in the story where I touch on my relationship with my parents and my mom in particular. It illustrates how much I valued her opinion and also how much she inspired me and still does. A lot of who I am today is a reflection of the time that I had with her and that is why the story of why I ride is as much her story as it is mine.
In October of 2002 we buried my mom in a cemetery in Palm Beach. All of the older members of the family were buried at a different location in Miami. They were old. They lived long lives. But not my mom. She had lived only 59 years. Hard years if you ask me, but she probably wouldn’t have said that. When she knew she didn’t have much time left she took my brother aside and asked him to make sure she was buried in that particular WPB cemetery. When we asked her why she didn’t choose to be buried where her parents and aunts and uncles were, she simply said “Because I don’t want to run into them on the other side”. It was comical in a creepy sort of way. Especially since coming from my mom, a woman with very little sense of humor, we knew it was true.
Somewhere towards the end of my sophomore year of college, my mom finally caught on to the fact that I was never going to be traditional or ordinary. Even though she and I would continue to butt heads for most of my adult life, it was a definite turning point in our relationship. I think it was the first time that I felt my parents respected me and in some ways the first time they noticed that I was smart, special even.
It was about a week before spring semester and I had been thinking of applying to the school of Computer Science at my University. This was a big deal because for the previous year and a half my major had supposedly been English Education. I was sitting at a round table near the registration office of my college. My mom was with me. I was having trouble deciding which classes to enroll in.
“I don’t know if I will be able to do it,” I had said.
“What’s the worst thing that could happen,” my mom replied.
“Well, I guess I could flunk all of my classes, be forced to drop out of school and end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life”.
“Stop being so melodramatic.” My mom loved that word.
“I’m not being melodramatic, I’m scared. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought I would become a teacher. You remember how we always played school.”
“Ok, so why are you having second thoughts now?” my mom asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I’m worried that I might not make enough money to support myself.” Even then I didn’t see myself as being taken care of by a man.
“Is that it?” she pressed.
“No, I also think that there is more. I think I can do more. I’m not saying teaching is easy or an insignificant job, it definitely is not. But working with computers just feels natural to me. Let’s face it, before I started college, I didn’t even know it was possible to have any other career.”
“And now, I think maybe I can.”
“I think you can too,” she said, “and you know what else I think?”
“I think you should ‘go for it’.”
Those three words never left me. There I was talking to my mom about switching majors and pursuing a career doing something that she didn’t even understand, but she was behind me all the way. With those three words I knew I could do it. I knew because she knew. And every single day of my life after that, I somehow mustered up the courage to do things I never dreamed I could all because of her voice in my head telling me to ‘go for it’, and because I knew that she would always be here right by my side win or lose, whether in person or in spirit.
Originally, my mom had been diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. When it happened it was surreal, like I believed it, but I didn’t. My mom’s own mother was still alive but in a nursing home. Nevertheless, no one died before his or her parents, so I didn’t worry. Since it was stage IV, the only option in those days was radiation treatment, followed by radical mastectomy and numerous rounds of chemotherapy. On the day of the surgery, my brother asked the doctor what the prognosis was. He said one word to us, ‘poor’.
So there it was, laid out in front of me. Again I saw, but I didn’t. It was like that at each step. Diagnosis, surgery, treatment, remission. Yes, remission, that magical word that every cancer patient prays for. The word that everyone thinks means ‘cancer free’. When someone has cancer, it is usually in the form of bad cells or a tumor. Something tangible that can be removed or destroyed. So once you follow all of the steps and the doctors tell you that you are in remission, it is cause for celebration. What nobody ever mentions is that remission can also mean a period in time when your cancer isn’t growing or getting any worse. And it can end just as quickly as it started.
It’s one of those ‘AHA!’ moments that hit you, only this one didn’t hit me until the phone call from my mom explaining that now after 5 years in remission, she had leukemia.
Nine weeks later, she was gone.
I was devastated, but in looking back I realize how lucky we were to get those 5 years, which essentially were “borrowed time”. And that time was granted thanks to the treatment (sometimes experimental) she received at Sylvester Cancer Center. That is why I ride in The Dolphins Cancer Challenge and have helped raise money for going on three years now. I do it for the thousands of people who go to Sylvester, some with almost no other options left, looking for “borrowed time”. And I do it for my mom, because she believed in her doctors and never gave up hope.
To sponsor me in DCC VI, please use the following link. I thank you in advance for believing in me and in this cause.