July 21, 2008
(Left to right) L. Smith, Cindy Hale, and Michele Dechiaro Shin had their own reasons for riding the PMC.
I ride for you
In May 2000, I was bald, skinny, and spent most days in the "mash unit," otherwise known as the Dana 1 infusion area, where they administered my cancer drugs. One day, a group of healthy, athletic-looking people walked through the infusion unit, trying not to stare at us. I longed to look like those folks. They reminded me of the old me.
"Who are all those people?" I asked my nurse. She told me that they were cyclists for the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a bike ride across Massachusetts that raises funds for cancer research. This event sounded interesting, although in those days I could barely look beyond tomorrow. I suggested, sort of kidding, "Hey, if I make it through this, letís ride the PMC together." "OK," she said. It seemed like that was the end of it.
Kindling the FLAME
But on April 2001, the Fast Legs and Minds Ending Suffering (FLAMES) team was born. FLAMES started with me, a new cancer survivor, and some nurses who were not exactly experienced cyclists. Then the team grew to include current patients, past patients, Dana-Farber doctors, researchers, and more nurses – a motley crew, rich in stories, all connected by cancer. Among my teammates was a three-time cancer warrior. Who would know, watching him tear up the road on his bike?
When I got on a stationary bike one early April afternoon, I lasted 10 minutes, and then had to take a two-hour nap. It was going to be a long road before the PMC in August. But what did I have to lose? I liked having a goal and daring to look to the future. If I didnít make it, who cared? I sure had a good excuse.
The energy and commitment of the team was palpable. We all had our own reasons for riding the PMC, but we shared a common goal: To reach the finish line and to help end the suffering caused by cancer.
Getting back to me
I had finished my 16 months of treatment. No more chemo, no more radiation, none of the tools that made me feel that I was actively doing something to fight cancer. The drugs and support I received on Dana 1 were my security blankets. Now my bike became the conduit that would help me get back to me.
My friend, Michael, an accountant and accomplished cyclist, would meet me at a nearby bike path to help me train and lend support. At first, I thought five miles was a long ride. Then I progressed to 10, then 15, and, eventually I knew I could go the 190 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown. My muscles rallied, and I was recovering my old self – a fantastic feeling.
The PMC has become a culture for me and my husband, who rides with me. We love it because it is fun and cathartic. In addition, it is satisfying to ask our friends for money that affects peopleís lives every day. We see the new drugs our contributions help roll out and the people whose lives are changed for the better because of the efforts of thousands of people riding their bikes. We have the privilege of seeing the spell-binding dedication, passion, and commitment of doctors, steadfast nurses, amazing patients, and devoted family members who ride with us.
I ride the PMC for me and for you, for your mom, brother, cousin, grandfather, friend, and this year for Caroline, a vivacious 7-year old with a brain tumor, whose favorite color is pink, and who likes playing the violin. She is one of the reasons why I will take part in the PMC again this year, next year, and beyond.