Every participant in the CT Challenge had his or her own personal reasons for “going the distance”. Perhaps they were survivors, or had a close friend or family member who was a survivor. Maybe they lost a loved one to cancer and were riding for them. Many health care professionals in the oncology world rode to honor their patients. Kert and I rode for all of those reasons.
As a medical oncologist at The Leever Cancer Center in Waterbury for nearly 25 years, Kert has had the privilege of caring for patients who continue to amaze and inspire him every day with their courage, fortitude and bravery through often difficult and trying times. As an oncology nutrition specialist at The Leever Center, I help to guide our patients through their treatment and beyond. We both find our jobs incredibly rewarding and feel good about the work that we do.
Our world turned upside down just over 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe I thought that by being married to an oncologist, I had some type of immunity, but that did not prove to be the case. Although we deal with cancer patients every day, all the rules go out the window when you are the one seated in an exam room or office having “the talk”. I am guessing that every survivor remembers every detail of the day they received their bad news. The treatment becomes a blur, but for me, that feeling of being punched in the gut when hearing the words “You have cancer” is permanently embedded in my memory.
My mind raced with the usual questions: How did this happen? I did everything right….why me? How could I tell my kids, my family members? What would the treatment be like? But, the unspoken question that was most difficult to face was: Would I live long enough to see my kids grow up? Would I die? Like many in my position, I spent a while ruminating and being scared and angry, then pulled myself together for the fight. I found that friends and family became my lifeline, and kept me going, moving me forward on this new journey into uncharted territory. They made me laugh, let me cry, let me vent, but never let me quit. And, after a somewhat rocky course, I completed my treatment. I was congratulated and sent on my way, with hugs and kisses from cancer center staff. Was that it? The letdown was palpable, but I felt guilty about it; after all, I should be elated. I tucked away my feelings and plowed ahead.
Well, the rest is history. Fast forward 10 years, and we met the great people at CT Challenge who articulated what I had been feeling for years. We were hooked, our cancer center was hooked, and before I knew it, Kert and I were co-captains of an awesome team of 27 riders, young and old, who raised over $35,000!!!!!
In many ways, the day of the ride was a metaphor for the journey each cancer patient makes. For me, it was a combination of nervous anticipation, tears and fears, worrying about the extremely hot weather, the hilly terrain, not knowing what to expect, wondering how it will feel to cross the finish line. Will I fall? What if I pass out? Will I make a fool out of myself? Will I let my team down if I can’t finish?
For Kert, it was a challenge of a different sort. He was going for the Century, and trained for months to push the envelope and meet his goal. There were 6 others on our team who were to join him as Century riders. They encountered lots of issues along the way; bike breakdowns, hydration issues and fatigue. But, they remained together, a team, and finished with fists held high, exhausted but elated. The way he led his “team” was a lot like the care he provides to patients by helping them navigate their journey; always remaining with them no matter what, until they cross the finish line.
The ride was definitely a challenge for each of us in different ways. As I tried to manage the hills and heat, my close friends and team members coaxed and cajoled me with words of inspiration, encouragement, jokes, songs and reminiscences of our lives together. As I crossed the finish line, sweaty, sticky, exhausted, but exhilarated, I realized once again, that whatever your journey may be, whatever challenge you are facing, your “team” will help you through the ups and downs, enabling you to accomplish what you thought was impossible.
We feel grateful to have become a part of this new survivorship community and to be a part of CT Challenge, an amazing organization that continues to reach out, educate and inspire all those they touch. And for us, the ride was a kick off for the survivorship program, “Stepping Forward” that is now being implemented at The Leever Cancer Center. The journey never ends.