Four years ago, when I started the LessCancer.org bicycle ride, I was grieving. At that time, I had suffered several losses -- including the death of my best friend, Aileen.
Aileen's passing was not sudden. It was a long, drawn-out bout with Breast Cancer that waged on for several years before it eventually took her life. By then, not only the disease, but also the treatment had impacted everyone and everything in her life--physically, emotionally, and financially--it was devastating.
Her last few weeks brought out the best and the worst in everyone who loved Aileen. I remember being there--willing to do anything in my power to help her, to encourage her, and to empathize and understand her pain. I also remember being furious that she was dying and enraged that I couldn't fix the problem. How can it be that we cannot get the upper hand on this disease? Why are Cancer rates growing? Why must people suffer this way?
In the months after Losing Aileen, the only thing that helped me to feel normal was riding my bike. Cycling took me far away from the sadness I felt during those dark days. It helped me clear my head and was a reminder of happy times with her--we rode our bikes everywhere when we were kids. For us, bikes meant independence and I was able to find that freedom on my bike. It was in the course of those miles after her death that I decided to honor Aileen with a 300-mile ride across Michigan where we grew up. I knew it would be tough--but it would be nothing compared to the crucible that she endured.
Of course, this was all a dream until the unstoppable Bill Couzens, founder and president of LessCancer.org, caught wind of my idea and scheduled a meeting. He thought my tribute to Aileen would be a great way to raise awareness on Cancer prevention. From that fantastical encounter, the LessCancer.org "Split the Mitt" bike ride was born.
For the past three years, the Less Cancer caravan has traversed Michigan. We have met many people and have made many friends along the way. We have amazing stories of our experiences--when you're on the road you never know what's over the next hill or around the next bend.
Each ride has its own special memories. The first year, we had a man track us down in Bay City because he wanted to thank us for riding--his wife was suffering with Cancer and she enjoyed following our journey across the state. On the last stretch into Mackinac, we came upon people lining the highway cheering for us--with cash donations in their hands. The second year, a CNN film crew and Dr. Sanjay Gupta joined us as they documented Team LessCancer.org member Miles O'Brien, Aileen's older brother, as he participated in the ride. The third year we found ourselves being cheered on by huge crowds along Woodward Avenue as Team Less Cancer found our little peloton surrounded by three thousand classic cars during the famous Woodward Dream Cruise. Nobody knows what we will encounter this year--but we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way.
Riding a bicycle that far is not always sunshine and lollipops. 300-miles on a bike saddle can be excruciating and the weather can change in an instant. We've had plenty of wind and rain to contend with over the years and all of us experience our own personal struggles. I've certainly had my share. One year, I was actually falling asleep while riding my bike--I was that tired!
No matter what malady I am suffering, whether it's fatigue, or pain, or both, I have a lifeline. Aileen's initials are printed on the collar of my bike jersey. When I begin to question my ability to carry-on, I take hold of my collar and think of Aileen--and all she went through. It is a great way to refocus my energy, get myself out of a negative thinking rut, and put myself back on the right track. It works every time.
I believe the current approach to Cancer needs to be put on a better track to include prevention. The break and fix model that is currently in place is outmoded and incongruous with the technological age in which we live. Not to mention the fact that it will devastate our health care system if it continues on the current trajectory. We need to focus on stopping Cancer before it starts. Recent research has shown that up to 50% of Cancer is preventable and we can all take part in eradicating this insidious disease.
The LessCancer.org "Split the Mitt" ride has been an amazing experience and tremendous grass roots campaign of educating people on proven ways to prevent Cancer. It is a fact that a healthy lifestyle; physical fitness; sunblock; and stress reduction are just a few ways we can help prevent Cancer. Bicycles are also helpful tools in creating a world with Less Cancer.
Please follow our progress as we embark on our journey this Saturday (June 25th and 26th). For information on supporting the ride, go to www.lesscancer.org.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and lesscancer.org, in conjunction with the "Split the Mitt" Bike Ride June 25 and 26, 2016. The ride goes from Detroit to Petoskey, Michigan. Less Cancer was founded in 2004 under its official name of Next Generation Choices Foundation with the mission of reducing incidences of cancer. The organization does its work by addressing preventable cancers through education about lifestyle and the environment and works to support policies that protect the public. The organization is the founder of National Cancer Prevention Day and it's panel on Capitol Hill connecting science to policy makers, and initiated the first-ever Congressional Cancer Prevention Caucus. For more information, please visit lesscancer.org.