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my journey with aids lifecycle

 

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For the past 14 years, during the first week in June, nearly 3,000 men and women meet to begin one heroic challenge and one common goal: riding a bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles to help end AIDS and HIV.

Orientation, day one, a whirlwind of what was I thinking, followed by…where did these people come from….followed by….does his jersey really say that… followed by an astounding sense of trust and love.

I started the day two climb. We were 30 miles into the day. I was used to riding flat and not prepared for the challenge I had in front of me. Directly in front of me.

I wasn’t thinking about quad-busters, or what they call the evil twins, I was taking it mile by mile on a bad knee. The climb was probably nothing to a seasoned cyclist, but for me it looked as if I was hitting a stage of the Tour de France. It’s okay. I got over it—literally.

So there I was, four miles into this obscene grind (obscene by my standards) and I saw another rider pulled over on the road. I stopped to check on him, and if I may be completely honest, take a break. I didn’t like to stop on climbs for fear that my bike wouldn’t move forward again.

Oddly enough he asked me if I was okay. I told him that my knee was not thrilled with me. I tried to hide the pain.

“What are you in for?” I asked. He said “I need a breather. Cancer.” He tried to hide his exhaustion.

I extended my hand and unknowingly part of my heart to him. “I’m Ronna. “ “Nick.” We were both out of breath and nearly spent. He looked tired. I knew I was. I asked him if he had a full bottle of water to drink. “Drink,” I said. “We get to the top together. I’m not finishing without you.” It was at that moment I started to understand the community that is Aids/Lifecycle.

image-250x187 Aids/Lifecycle isn’t just a fundraising event. Yes, they have training    rides to teach you how become better in group rides. It showed be  how to become better in groups of people. Period. You see, Aids/lifecycle is indeed a community. It is an awareness. It is the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever been honored to be a part of.

When I was trudging up that climb, thinking that my body was going to collapse, I thought of the cyclists who were HIV positive. I thought of the men and women who couldn’t ride because they had become too sick or who had just lost their partner. I thought of my own close call.

I thought of the riders who rode so that when my heterosexual, non-drug-using boyfriend lied to me about his HIV status, I had help. My apologies for putting a dent in the stigma, but he was not gay. He is the reason I ride.

Most of the ride was truly surreal. I wouldn’t think that there were words for the feeling I had when Nick and I clipped back in to get to the top of that climb, but I would liken it to being in the front row of Wembley Stadium and Liam Gallagher (insert name of favorite rock star here) looks you in the eye while he’s belting out…oh…anything.

The following days allowed me time with the sports medicine tent. Adhesive spray, KT Tape and mass quantities of ice and Advil were involved. My knee wasn’t sexy, but I kept my spirit up.

Day six I rode almost every mile. I did not know it would be the night my life would forever change. That night at the dinner tent a story was told about a woman. I had come in a bit late and didn’t hear the start of it, or even her name, but I heard what I needed to hear. They told my story that night; my reason for riding, only her ending was not the same. She died. Her life was cut short. She is my reason for riding. She is the reason I tell my story now. She is why I need to be part of the solution and end the stigma. She is my hero.

Fifty miles in I was on the last day of the ride. It was as beautiful as it was painful. My leg was now taped from mid-calf to thigh, and blistered from my knee up.

I was fighting my way down the Pacific Coast Highway as I saw our team captain for UTAC, Until There’s A Cure. We pulled over because I needed to smoke, and I did. Full cycling kit. PCH. Two thousand cyclists, and a cigarette.

And as I clipped out off my bike, and put my right foot down, barely grazing the ground a pain unlike anything I can recall started in my toes and shot up my leg. I doubled over. There was no putting pressure of any kind on my foot—but I could pedal. The guys looked at me. ”Do you want to sweep in?” No. No fucking way. I’m nine miles out. I didn’t know how, but I was going to finish. Because she couldn’t.

I put out my Camel Light with my good foot, loosened the buckles on my shoes and clipped in.

Motor safety carried both me and my bike through the PCH tunnel.The last grind was less than a mile away. I should take this moment to point out that nothing feels worse to an injured knee than any type of climb, except maybe a sledgehammer. I looked up at Chattaqua Street. It wasn’t going to happen.

I got a quarter of the way up and just as I was about to lay my bike down, I felt a hand on my back and a voice said, “C’mon girl you’ve got this”! And that hand pushed me to the top of Chattaqua Street. Do you know that I never even saw his face?

The last three miles were grueling. The moment I crossed that finish line was bittersweet. My eyes welled up with tears of relief, pain, and pure joy. My heart filled with accomplishment. There is nothing to describe what ALC gave me that week, and there may be no way I can ever give back to the people who have changed my life forever.

All I can do is keep fighting for those who can’t. And I will not stop until we, together, have won the fight.

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my father is cancer free

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“There is no cancer in your body.”

Those were the words my father’s doctor spoke at his follow up last week.

There are no cells left.

I hadn’t seen my parents for quite some time—I’ll admit, it was way too long. I recently moved closer to them; it wasn’t necessarily out of concern, but it was important to me to be closer than a five hour flight.

My father has gotten in to the habit of scaring us—us being his family. He had three visits to the emergency room this year. The first time he was complaining of stomach problems; it turned out his appendix was about to rupture. They kept him for surgery.

The second time was in Paris. He fell, hit his head and need stitches. (I should interject that my parents are adorable. My mom told my dad at age 74 she had never seen Paris. He took her. They still go on dates and he still buys her flowers after 54 years of marriage. I love what they have.)

His next trip to the ER, he was complaining of headaches. It turns out that they never did an MRI in Paris. He had a subdural hematoma from the fall and once more, he ended up in emergency surgery. His complaint while healing in ICU was that he looked like Herman Munster.

My dad has always had a dry sense of humor. My brother and I grew up on Monty Python and Masterpiece Theatre. Truth be told, I never made it all the way though an episode of MasterpieceTheatre back then. I was eight. I inherited the same humor. My father and I can banter for days…and no matter what he goes through I will never stop trying to get a laugh out of him.

It was at this point I said to him, Hey Dad…you’re allowed three scares a year. Knock it off. You’ve met your quota.

Last month I went up to visit them for a family event. One of my favorite things to listen to is my dad telling stories about his childhood, more specifically my grandfather. I love my father’s stories. I love history. I soak it up like a sponge…I digress.

I went back home with my parents after the second party. The three of us reminisced for a while before my mom went to bed. And then my father sat me down at the kitchen table. In my family, when someone your senior asks you to sit down, it is typically not good news. It was always one of three things: I was grounded, I was about to hear something that could potentially traumatize me, or someone had died. Since I hadn’t skipped school in over 20 years, my heart lodged itself in my throat.

This time was no different. My father told me that when they had taken part of his appendix out, they found cancer cells in the part that was removed. I do not know all the technical terms, nor do I care.

The moment I heard the word cancer, memories with my father flooded my head.

I recalled my father teaching me how to ride a bike and the sound of my own laughter when I peeked behind me and realized I was half way down the street..the vacations spent in Pennsylvania in our cabin. His signing me up for the summer camp program that his company offered. It was for children with special needs.

Sure, there was an indoor and outdoor pool, there were also peers that needed me. I promise you that I learned much more from them than I could have possibly given. My father, in his infinite wisdom, taught me that summer that everyone is special. He taught me that anyone can learn from another human being. I thought of our family Thanksgivings which were always held at my house. There were never less than 25 family members and as my mom calls them, the strays (aka my friends who always stopped by.) They were always welcome.

I sat at that table, scared. I was angry that they had known for three months and didn’t say anything. I stared at my father, my eyes as big as saucers and lined with tears. He sat to my right with his head lowered as he spoke. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone. They knew I would have spent every dime I had just to get on a plane the moment they told me.

He continued:When they removed the appendix, the doctors found what they call carcinoid cells. The surgery is on Thursday. They are removing the rest of the appendix, and part of the colon as a prevention. While I’m under they are doing a procedure called a chemo wash. It’s not like chemotherapy. I started to cry.

At that moment, my dad looked up at me and had tears in his eyes. We wiped them away with a handkerchief. He has kept one in his pocket as long as I can remember. He said, Don’t make me cry. You know, Ronna, I’ve only cried twice; when I married your mother and when my brother died. I said, I know, Dad.

Seeing my dad with tears on his face hurt my heart. Seeing him scared broke it in 1,000 pieces. My father died from colon cancer. His next words ripped my heart completely out of my chest. I’m not ready to go. I want to watch my grandchildren grow up.

It was the most honest and loving moment my dad and I have ever had. It doesn’t get more real than that. Dad you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to be ok. I know you are, and you know that I haven’t been wrong yet.

I hugged my dad so hard that night and I didn’t want to let him go.

No family is perfect and I’m not claiming that mine is, but I’ll tell you something…nothing in this entire world is more important.

There is no greater love.

I got to end my night tonight with one call. Hi Daddy…I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.


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