Jessica is a 42-year old wife and mother of 2. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer just over seven years ago and doctors recently declared her with no evidence of disease. As a young woman with breast cancer, she became affiliated with the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) and this year completed her fourth 3-day, 220-mile Tour de Pink across California. I was fortunate to ride on her team, Chi-town Cyclists along with other teammates. 3 days and 220 miles on a bike provides ample opportunity to get to know your fellow riders. A lot of time passes as you pedal to hear about survivor’s experiences and hear from the perspective of supporters/caregivers in their battle against cancer. Along with Jessica were other supporters/caregivers whose families have been touched by this disease. You hear about their concerns, fears, hopes and dreams. Sometimes the questions are more medical related. At the rest stops you meet others who perhaps received chemotherapy a week ago and have ridden a bike farther than they ever have in their entire life.
As I mentioned in a recent post, “Riding a Bike Versus the Hard Part”, all the riders come together for dinner at the hotel for the evening along the ride and stories are shared about respective experiences with breast cancer. Jessica spoke on Friday night to kick off the personal experiences and hers was a story of hope, inspiration and getting through Sunday towards a total of 800 miles for Tour de Pink. She spoke for those who could not speak and the importance of supporting one another and organizations such as YSC having resources to support conferences and programs that provide educational resources and social support for young women with breast cancer. You are once again reminded there are larger obstacles than uphill climbs or busy traffic lanes or car doors flying open at you on a downhill! Along the way the scenery provides a backdrop for the “backstory” on how they were told they had cancer, their first reactions and how they spoke to their children about it. Jessica spoke about being told at work, calling to be picked up after hearing the news over the telephone and assembling her family and friends to start to process the information and think about the weeks leading up to surgery and the weeks after.
Through it all, Jessica was an inspiration to the entire group and our team. 143 riders with 43 cancer survivors set out on the journey. Three of us set out as a team and were joined by a couple of others, led through Ventura, Malibu, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Camp Pendleton, Carlsbad and Encinitas, among other towns and cities by Jessica and her goal to finish clipped in the whole way towards further raising awareness, funding and support to her fellow riders.
Again, the experience, the ride, watching Cubs baseball with Jessica and other survivors, all hoping to see a World Series, reminds me of the work that I and other pathologists do every day for patients and their families and how critical the decisions we make impact the decisions they make. These experiences have been welcome reminders of why I went to medical school and who we ultimately work for and where our obligations belong. Sometimes I think you can lose sense of that among the numbered slides and cancer reporting templates.
My many thanks to Jessica, John, Dave and Mark for letting me ride along. Hope to do it again next year!