As many readers already know, two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was lucky in that the tumor was small—stage one—as well as slow-growing and nonaggressive. I had surgery and radiation treatment, and although my prognosis is excellent, I go for regular check-ups at the Harrold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, about 14 miles from where I live.
Last year, when I was the heaviest I had ever been, I decided the time had come to lose weight, exercise, and, in general, start taking good care of this body, which, after all, is the only one I have. Fortunately, I love to ride my bike. Not only is it great exercise, but it is also easy on the joints. For me, there is something very satisfying about pedaling and the forward movement of the bike. It sounds crazy, I know, but pedaling really is a pleasure for me.
One of the things I like to do is set challenges for myself, especially when it comes to biking. Now, I know that challenges have a down side. They can drain all the fun out of an activity and turn a person into a driven, humorless Puritan, a real partypooper. But, approached in the right spirit, challenges can add fun and excitement to life. They can be positive goals for a person to focus on, which in turn can be a way to relieve stress. For me, challenges definitely fall into the second, non-partypooper category, and my husband, Clif, and I have a lot of fun with our biking challenges.
Over the past year, as I began to lose weight and became a stronger biker, I decided that I wanted to bike to the Cancer Center for my summer check-up. It would be a way of saying, “All right, I had cancer. But look how strong I am now.” I would also be riding in honor of the many friends and family members who have had cancer.
Well, yesterday, I did it. I biked to the Cancer Center. I left Winthrop and pedaled on busy Route 202, which fortunately has a wide break-down lane so it’s not as bad as it might be. I rode past cattails, Queen Ann’s lace, and purple loosestrife, which I know I’m not supposed to like but I do anyway. I zoomed past Winthrop Veterinary Hospital, and looked to see if Dr. Dave was working. He was. His motorcycle was parked by the building.
I went up hill and down hill and into Manchester, the worst part of the ride. There is no breakdown lane, and as soon as the lights allow, the cars speed by at 50+ miles an hour. I, on the other hand, slogged up Pelton Hill, and I prayed I wouldn’t get clipped as I felt the wind of the rushing cars. I guess the god of biking was smiling down on me because I made it safely through Manchester and onto back roads leading to the Cancer Center.
I got to the Cancer Center in one piece and in good time—an hour and a half. I had lunch on the terrace overlooking a man-made pond. The sound of the fountain in the pond was soothing, and I felt comfortable, relaxed, and, I must admit, very pleased with myself as I ate my peanut butter sandwich and my apple.
When the nurses, the lab technicians, and my doctor realized I had biked to the Cancer Center—the helmet and the biking shorts were give-aways—they clucked and fussed over me in a very satisfying way. Everyone likes a success story, and unfortunately, this is not the only story at the Cancer Center.
My doctor urged me to come the upcoming Cancer Survivor Day next weekend so that everyone could see how healthy and strong I was, even though I had had cancer.
“It would give a lot of cancer patients hope,” she said.
So, next weekend, weather permitting, Clif and I will be biking to the Cancer Center for Cancer Survivor Day.
I would like to conclude with a few comments about wellness, healthy eating, and exercise. First of all, I am never smug about my health. I know that people can take good care of themselves and still get sick. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck and the way a person’s genes interacts with the environment. Second, I don’t know if healthy eating and exercise will help me live longer. They might or they might not. But here’s what I do know: they will help me feel better while I live, and that alone makes the effort—and it is effort—worthwhile.
Now, on to the next challenge! A 50-mile bike trip. If not this summer then next summer.