Why we ride

With the permission of the family, we share the story of one rider’s commitment in the face of a dire diagnosis.  Her story was relayed to us by Billy Starr and is shared here verbatim. It certainly moved me and I believe it will move you as well.

The story is part of the fabric of our PMC culture and the reveals the bittersweet nature of our work and underlies the reason why we ride.

Three years ago, at the age of 37, Traci Blais Thomassen, of Pawtucket, RI was the picture of health. She ate right, exercised regularly and even placed in her age bracket in a few road races. So, when she went to the emergency room for pain and swelling in her abdomen she fully expected to walk out with a clean bill of health.

Instead, Thomassen was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer which had spread to her intestine and lungs. An emergency hysterectomy followed and Thomassen spent the next three weeks in the hospital.

Before she was diagnosed with cancer, Thomassen had registered to ride the 2009 Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. But after the diagnosis and surgery, riding the 50-mile Wellesley to Wellesley route seemed impossible. “Someone had already donated to my ride,” said Thomassen. “To earn their donation I had to at least get on my bike.”

Thomassen said that if she could make it out of the parking lot she would feel like she had participated but she first needed to be assured she could at least do that. She cautiously mounted the bike. “It was a miracle,” she said. “I could ride, I could move, it was amazing.” The freedom she felt while riding was so liberating Thomassen rode every day that week for a total of 75 miles.

By the time of the event she was ready. With her brother Mark beside her and her brother Kevin’s van in front of her, fully equipped with food, drinks and a port-a-potty because “people on chemo shouldn’t be using public rest rooms,” she pedaled the entire 50-mile route. The experience was so rewarding that Thomassen signed up for the 89 mile route in January, 2010 believing it would be easy because her treatment would be over.

As summer began, however, the cancer resurfaced and she found herself in her third round of chemo on PMC weekend. Once again she rode and once again she completed her goal.

Thomassen was signed up to ride in PMC 2011 and agreed to be one of the riders highlighted through our media efforts. Just 10 days before PMC 2011, Starr received an email from Traci that was stunning and chilling, in its clarity, grace and tone of finality. She wrote:

Hi! I have news to report, although it’s not my happiest ever. I have developed a blood borne infection we believe at the site of my PICC line. And I have made the decision not to be treated for the infection. We believe the sepsis will take over within the next few days and that I will not live to participate in this year’s PMC ride. Thankfully, my fundraising is well on its way, and my team (Team Bike Heroes) will still put together a fantastic effort. I know this isn’t what we were originally thinking, but I would suggest that it would still be possible to do a story on our team, which we anticipate will be riding in my memory this year.. Thanks so much for all of your work with this. I’m sorry it isn’t working out so that I can participate in the campaign directly. I still feel strongly that it’s such a good cause, and I hope it works out that a team story would still be of interest.

Be well.

Traci Was a PMCer, about to lose her life to cancer, passing the baton and wishing us well? Sadly, she was. This week, Don Thomassen said a final good-bye to his wife, Traci. People like Traci Blais Thomassen, whose composure and clarity are rare, motivate us all. In memory of Traci and so many others lost to cancer, we share this story.


From the Boston Globe on Monday, September 6, 2010:

Like she does most every night, Karyn Slomski gathered her young children close to her and read to them — first a story about a day of kindergarten for her 4-year-old daughter, Maggie, then Dr. Seuss for 6-year-old Brendan.

This storytime was different than the rest. It was recorded on video, intended as a living memory.

On the day of filming in August, Slomski hadn’t told her children yet, but she was dying and had only weeks to live. They knew their mother is sick, that something called cancer has ravaged her body over the past four years. But they don’t yet know she will soon be gone.

“I want them to be able to see me when I’m gone, to see us all together as a family,’’ said Slomski, 38, as the videographer prepared for the session. “I wanted something more than pictures, for them to remember me. And to remember how happy we all were.’’

So for 90 minutes in front of the camera, the Slomskis huddled close on the couch in their sunlit living room in Auburn. Karyn Slomski read, laughed and talked with her children, reminisced with her husband, and declared her love for her family and the life they’ve had together.  She created this video as a lasting memory.

Slomski died yesterday.

Here is an excerpt from the video:

The PMC ride is 192 miles long, and it’s the largest athletic fund-raising event in the country. But it’s the little people who make the big difference.  For the last two years, we have ridden in honor of our pedal partner Emily.  In the video below, you can see what that is all about.  And it even features Emily and our teammate Scott Young.

A few days ago, I sent out a note to the Milford High Class of 1979 about the PMC and Phil’s Phriends’ ride. Phil was the President of that class. A few hours later, I received a note from Joanne, a classmate and friend of Phil which I must share:

Hi Jeff:

I ‘m forwarding to you a speech my daughter wrote and gave at last year’s National Honor Society Banquet . She was asked to speak on “Character” . As I read your email this morning and remembered Phil , my mind wandered to how much I have to be thankful for, I have been blessed. Thank you for remembering Phil in this way and give my best to all his Phriends through your travels.

Joanne Featherstone

We are all dealt a different hand of cards. We are given some high cards, and some low, some good, and others bad, but it is how we use the cards we are given that decide whether we will win or lose. Life, like a game of cards, is often unexpected and how we react to these unforeseen occurrences often defines our character.

My family was dealt a bad card about eight months ago when my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. While this event brought about an unforeseeable amount of emotional pain and struggle, it also taught me a lot about a person’s character. My dad is one of the strongest people I know, and in the last few months I have seen his true character. He is brave, loving, and he is also human. The latter fact did not hit me until the day my parent’s told me about my dad’s cancer. I was scared, upset, and most of all confused. All my life my dad was my superhero; he was supposed to be invincible, but even my dad couldn’t escape this horrific disease.

On February 8, 2008 my parents told my brother and me that my dad had cancer; and that day he proved he was still the superhero we thought he was when we were kids. That day revealed my dad’s character, his strength, and his love for my family and me. Character is often defined by a person’s words, but it is a person’s actions that truly exemplify their personality. My dad sought help when he knew he was no longer in control of his own body; he sought out doctors, family, and friends to help him understand his cancer, and my dad remained optimistic throughout the days leading up to his surgery. The actions of my father taught me about his character, but it was the actions of the people closest to me, and the people closest to my family that taught me even more.

As John Lennon said “I get by with a little help from my friends” Last year, my friends became my rock, and it became clear to me that the true character of an individual, better yet a true friend, is revealed when life deals you an unexpected card. The way my friends reacted to my bad card, displayed their personality, their true strength, and their true kindness. You can never understand the generosity of another human being until you truly need a friend by your side. My friends reacted to my dad’s cancer by being there for me, allowing me to be selfish, and by texting me non-stop as I waited for my dad to come out of surgery.

Character is defined as the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing. Those features and traits that we all possess are defined by the way we react to the cards we are dealt. A really bad card that turned into an incredible hand initiated my appreciation of a character. I learned about the character of my family, my friends, and myself through this horrific ordeal. We all need to learn how to react to the hands we are given, and turn them a positive aspect of our personality. Our inner qualities are revealed through an infinite number of factors, but remember that you always have the power to define yourself. This anonymous quote speaks true to my idea of character; “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Reading that reminded me why we ride! It’s off to Sturbridge in a few hours, Godspeed.

There must be an easier way to fight cancer. That’s what was going through my mind this morning as I was trudging along on my 50 mile journey in yet another rainy Sunday morning.

But the fact is, there isn’t an easy way. Cancer doesn’t pause in a time of recession; and its symptoms are not dependant on the weather. Cancer doesn’t offer respite to father’s on Father’s Day, and it doesn’t take it easy on anyone affected by the disease. So how are we to expect perfect weather for our training rides? If anything, riding in crappy weather helps develop empathy, and helps me understand that there is a great deal of work to be done, no matter the conditions.

The goal in starting off this morning was to hit the 50 mile mark. With the ride just six weeks away, that’s a good benchmark. That prospect looked grim as we faced yet another forecast for rain. I had almost given up on riding today, and was leaving the parking lot at 6:32 am, when I saw Julie pulling in to join me. She gave me that look, and said: “Where are you going? We have to ride.” I dutifully turned around, returned to the starting line, and plotted along with her on the journey. Our path is shown at the right. I’m glad she showed up!

The rain held off well, until we made it to the halfway point in Natick (of course). It was a steady drizzle, but wasn’t bad enough to abandon the ride. Besides, what were we going to do about it when we were 25 miles from home at 8 am on a Sunday morning? So we persevered, chugged on, and made it home in good time. We had a 15.9 mph pace, which was pretty good considering the conditions. We stopped and rested for a total of 14 minutes, and made it back to the club by 10 am so we could both go home and enjoy a Happy Father’s Day.

I learned a good lesson today. No matter what the conditions, we have to continue this work and we have to continue to raise money to fight cancer. We have met some very interesting people along this journey and we will continue to do so. It will be so much more special when this pedaling brings us closer to a cure.

The Pedal Partner Program is an inspiring way for PMC cyclists to connect with pediatric oncology patients of the Jimmy Fund Clinic – the very children who receive more advanced treatments and state-of-the-art care as a result of the funds raised by the PMC.

Through this program, registered PMC teams are matched up with and ride in honor of Jimmy Fund Clinic patients, whom we affectionately refer to as our “Pedal Partners.” This year we have the honor and privilege to have Emily as our pedal partner.

Emily is a wonderful and vibrant 6 year old who just began Kindergarten! She loves playing outside with her 4 year old brother Sam and her best friend stuffed animal dog Bailey!

On June 2, 2008, following a sinus infection that she couldn’t seem to shake, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and immediately entered Children’s Hospital Boston for treatment. After a long 52 days in the hospital she made it through Induction, Consolidation I, CNS Therapy and is currently at home and receiving treatment on an out-patient basis at the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana Farber until at least September of 2010.

You can follow her progress online at: http://www.carepages.com/carepages/EmilyPTaylor.

As the riding season approaches each year, I think of the many reasons for riding. I think of the Phil and the other phriend’s names who adorn my shirt. And when I think of the people and the reasons, inevitably I see a story, a picture, or a show that brings it all back.

This year is no exception.

The weather this weekend was absolutely superb and ideal for a ride. Unfortunately, I didn’t take to the road, but I did receive an e-mail about a story which reinforced why we ride.

A group of Boston ironworkers is building more than just a new cancer treatment center. The ironworkers are sending a powerful message to hundreds of young cancer patients — one name at a time. Each day, the children, many of whom are being treated for aggressive cancers, raise signs in a window with their names written on them for the construction workers to see. “You put your name on a piece of paper and then hold it up to the window and the people will see and then they’ll spray paint your name on,” said 10-year-old Tommy.

The workers paint the names of the children on girders in bright-colored spray paint. The patients watch intently and cheer as the I-beams with their first names painted brightly on them are hoisted into place for a new building; a building that will later be used by Dana-Farber to treat them.

You can view the ABC News report on the story by clicking here.

This is a further reminder that we have miles to go, and that there is an event and a team that is helping us reach a cure.

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