Among the various perks at Onshape is an indoor bike garage. Wanting to avoid Boston’s dismal morning commute, a diehard contingent of employees have ditched their cars for the joys of two wheels. Some of these Onshapers are applying their love for cycling this August to help others – people they know and millions they’ll never meet.
The ride attracts recreational cyclists and athletes alike, but it is not a race. Spanning from central Massachusetts to the tip of Cape Cod, the PMC has 12 different bike routes ranging from 25 to 192 miles to accommodate all levels of cycling proficiency and endurance.
At the recent Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cleveland, there was a moving ceremony for the Stand Up to Cancer charity campaign where players on the field and fans in the stands all held up signs reading “I stand up for: ___________.” Individuals wrote in the names of family and friends who have had or currently have cancer, and there was a sea of signs in the stadium.
The overall impression was that nearly everyone is impacted by cancer. The disease knows no boundaries. But the image also conveyed that no one is suffering alone, and the universal urgency to find a cure.
Look around you at work. Do you know what’s going on with the health of all your co-workers’ families? I certainly don’t. Cancer isn’t exactly a cheery topic you gravitate to first in the lunchroom.
I recently asked my co-workers riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge if there was anyone in their inner circle who made this ride all the more meaningful. Here are their responses:
Paul: “I lost my cousin Stephen.”
Paul Chastell – I have a lot of fond memories of family and my brother gave me a framed collection of family photographs for my 40th birthday. One of them shows him, me and my sister as early cyclists! Another pictures me, my sister and my cousin Stephen.
Sadly, while I will be taking new photographs with my siblings, there will be no more photos with Stephen. He was taken from us by cancer while he was still in his twenties. Of all those I have lost over the years, it is Stephen who I remember most – especially the helplessness and sadness I felt that he should lose his life at such an early age.
Every night now as I climb the stairs to bed, I see those photos in the hall and I see Stephen. But I’m not raising money for Stephen specifically. I’m doing it for all those who are still fighting or yet to be diagnosed, for all those who are helping loved ones through their fights. Although great progress is being made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, there is so much more to be done.
Greg: “My mother-in-law survived breast cancer.”
Greg Guarriello – Fitting the training in with all the other family demands is never easy – and it takes a little more each year to make it all happen. Each time we hop on the bike reminds me of all the battles that individuals have faced over the years. One that is near and dear to my family is the story of my mother-in-law, Earline Thompson. In October 2014, Earline was diagnosed with breast cancer. She sought strength and courage through months and months of chemo and radiation, never complaining, just happy to be alive. It was not an easy battle to fight, but she persevered and ultimately came out the other side stronger and cancer-free.
Her battle reinforces the mission of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The funds provide for expert, compassionate care to children and adults with cancer while advancing the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, and prevention of cancer and related diseases. As a result of the countless efforts at Dana-Farber and MANY other doctors, I am pleased to report Earline’s cancer has been in remission for over four years.
Phil: “I lost my wife Tracy.”
Philip Kania – It’s malignant. It’s back. It has spread. The therapy isn’t working. We’re out of options. The bad news finally ends with the sound of someone you love taking their last labored breath.
My wife Tracy was 36 and pregnant with our second child, Natalie, when she was diagnosed. Tracy lived long enough to attend Natalie’s kindergarten graduation. She attended in a wheelchair because she was too weak to walk. Two weeks later, our son Nick turned eight. Tracy was on a ventilator in the ICU by then. Nick and Natalie are in college now. Tracy did not get to see them graduate from high school or be part of the million other things, big and small, that have happened since she left us.
My father-in-law Bill was full of life and fun to be around. He and his wife, Jean, were enjoying retirement. They enjoyed traveling and had booked a trip to France. Those plans changed when Bill was diagnosed. The disease progressed rapidly. He chose to seek treatment in Boston instead of at home near Buffalo. Because of that, we were able to make the most of the short time he still had left.
My other father-in-law, Jon, an avid golfer, was active and energetic. After retiring to North Carolina, he got a part-time job to stay busy. Jon and Sandi planned to spend a few days with us on Cape Cod the summer before his death. But, before that could happen, Jon was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of spending a few enjoyable days with us, Jon and Sandi stayed home while they fought for Jon’s life. Jon wasn’t well enough to visit us on Christmas. When we realized how bad his condition had gotten, we hastily made arrangements for Nick and Natalie to fly down to see him one last time. They were too late. Instead, they spent that time consoling their grandmother.
Cancer doesn’t care what kind of person you are. It doesn’t care how much you are loved or how much you love life. Cancer doesn’t care that you want to see your children grow up. It doesn’t care that you want to grow old together. It doesn’t care about plans, wishes or dreams.
Cancer doesn’t care. We do.
Ethan: “My Dad survived prostate cancer.”
Ethan Keller – “I have prostate cancer,” my father sheepishly said, as though it might have been avoidable, as though he had let some healthy practices slip and this was the shameful result. My sister and I sat in the living room across the coffee table. There had been some hushed exchanges between mum and dad over the few days beforehand. I thought of my uncle Seth, my mother’s brother who died at age 21 from leukemia. I was born 14 years after he passed, but when mum told me of his existence when I was 6, I cried for hours, struggling to comprehend the weight of losing a sibling.
That side of the family rarely discussed Seth, but he walked, biked, and smiled in the family photos lining the walls of my grandparents’ house. He was an avid cyclist. Two years into college, on a cycling trip down South, he found his energy plummeting and he started sleeping 16 hours every night. He tested positive for leukemia. His brother, my uncle (who was only 13 years old at the time), donated bone marrow in an experimental and painful procedure. At first Seth seemed to be improving, but the cancer soon relapsed. My mother had taken the semester off to help my grandparents deal with the uncertainty and logistics of having a son with leukemia.
Would my dad have a similar end? Would it be quick? Would the garage we were building together ever get finished?
Dad began receiving radiology treatments in 2010. His cancer has since gone into remission. He makes a special smoothie every day with seaweed, flaxseed oil and kale in careful quantities. A friend of our family was diagnosed around the same time, but wasn’t as lucky.
Had my uncle been diagnosed with cancer today, he would have had a 65% chance of >5-year survival. At the time, the rate was 14%. My father’s cancer had spread beyond the prostate. It was only thanks to the advances in radiology that he was able to recover without needing risky invasive surgery. Cancer research is progressing by leaps and bounds, but it still has a long way to go. I ride because I’ve seen how damaging, challenging, and heartbreaking a fight with cancer can be. Please join me in helping to find a cure!
John: “My wife survived breast cancer.”
John Rousseau – I started riding the PMC in 2012 for the physical challenge of the ride. I only began riding a bicycle with any regularity in 2011, so this was, by far, the largest athletic feat I had ever attempted. I didn’t understand what I really was involved with until I was on that first ride. Seeing the thousands of people lined up along the roads, clapping, holding signs, playing instruments and giving you “high fives” as you pass by was inspiring.
What surprised me most is that many people in the crowd just said “thank you” as if I were doing something for them. It wasn’t until after the ride that I was truly able to connect the cycling with the cause I was riding for. I was riding so that other women could recover completely from breast cancer like my wife did after her diagnosis in 2009. I was also riding for the family of my friend Bjarne who died at age 36 after suffering from colon cancer for over three years, leaving a wife and two young daughters behind.
2019 will be my 8th year riding in the PMC. All year long, I look forward to the challenge of the ride, to the dunes, to the screaming girls at “The Hedge,” and to helping the people being treated at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – the people who are the reason behind that chorus of “thank yous.”
Kevin: “I lost my grandfather to prostate cancer.”
Kevin O’Toole – I am riding in memory of my Grandpa O'Toole, whose battle with prostate cancer ended in 2007. I had always looked up to my grandpa as someone capable of anything. I was equally riveted by stories of his medical life in the Air Force and of his career in oncology and cancer research. But after his own diagnosis came, his progression through the disease was, in a word, typical. I knew how hard it must have been for him, through all the ups and downs, knowing exactly what "typical" meant.
His timeline progressed through the same path that millions of others had, but through research, that path is becoming less and less typical. I ride because every tiny percentage point we can increase survival rates will save thousands upon thousands of real lives, every year. Real loved ones. Real heroes.
How You Can Help
For the third consecutive year, Team Onshape is pairing up with PMC “Pedal Partner” Kiara Deegan, who has Optic Pathway Glioma (a slow-growing brain tumor that presses on the optic nerve and worsens vision). The Pedal Partner Program is a way for riders to connect with children currently being treated at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There are fun Pedal Partner activities scheduled during the bike-a-thon and other social events. In a blog post about the 2018 PMC Ride, Onshape volunteer Diane Amadeo writes about bonding with Kiara over their shared affinity for dogs.
Of course, you don’t need to know anyone who has suffered with cancer to want to help find a cure. Unfortunately, the odds are that you probably already do. The PMC is devoted to the idea that hopefully cancer won’t have the chance to visit anyone in the near future.
(If you’d like to support ongoing research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, please donate to the Pan-Mass Challenge at the Team Onshape page.)