Enjoy the Ride: National Cancer Survivors Day

I am scared.

I’ve signed up for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic—a crazy 50-mile bike ride that will lead me up two peaks, with a 4-mile ascent on the first and a 25-mile descent at the end—and I don’t know why.

I’d look foolish if I got hurt; invincible if I finished.

Yes, I’ve trained for this—the long ride uphill, where hopefully the altitude won’t make me dizzy. My friend says all I need to do is give 80 percent—not even 100—and I won’t “bonk” (her word), which sounds like hitting your head against a wall. And maybe that’s what scares me—the chance for injury. The uncontrollable. The if. A 50 percent chance of rain at the summit. Another rider losing control and careening into me. Toppling over the side of a mountain in Durango, Colorado. Two people have died in this race before.

And yet I still hunger for this.

I dreamt tonight that I was waiting for an x-ray that said I had cancer again. I was trying to be super nice to the doctors so they wouldn’t keep me waiting. They were trying to figure out how much Ativan to give to another patient with autism. I told them that if they got me through this I would give them some tips on how to approach the patient.

Why do we push our limits? Why, if I already lost a breast, would I willingly put myself at uncalculated risk?

I’ve done 11 Boston Marathons. I know well the apprehension before stepping up to the starting line, but I also know how your body can carry you past what you think is possible until you’re on the other side. Only this time, the other side is the view at 10,000 feet after you’ve climbed several miles into the sky.

I hope I more than survive.

This kind of risk isn’t worth spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. And, selfishly, I imagine I wouldn’t receive the sympathy that you get from having cancer because I would’ve done this to myself. No one made me go to Durango. No one made me ride that bike into the sky.

A few weeks ago I rode 100 miles up Wachusett Mountain with my best friend in 96-degree weather. I could’ve done something less risky. I could still do something less risky. A hike, maybe. A run.

But this race is a calculated risk of feeling fully alive.

I will be cautious. I will start slow. Do 80 percent so I have energy for the rest.

My friend tells me not to clutch the brakes too much during the descent. To relax my shoulders. Counterintuitive—but this way my hands won’t go numb. I’ll have better control if I really need to use the brakes.

There’s a suspense to this.

I don’t want to lose another body part, and yet I’ll do this race the way someone scared of snakes becomes a snake tamer. Psychiatrists call this “reaction formation.” I’m sneaking in a joyride, testing the boundaries.

It’s easy for me to want to caution others to listen to the limits of their bodies. But we all struggle with the inevitable changes of aging. Is there a difference between testing the limits of our aging bodies and being in denial? I heard about a 90-year-old man in Turkey who is still biking. He broke his hip before a trip and refused to go to rehab. Sent his doctor a picture in his recovery of him rock climbing. We cheer these intrepid souls.

We don’t know what lies ahead for us. All we can do is prepare as best we can.

And then enjoy the ride.

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. I finished the race!
Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. I finished the race!
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