My name is Ryan Hart and I am 33 years old. I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) in August of 2008 at the age of 25. It has been nearly eight years since that time, and though many of those years of treatment were depressed and dark, these days I find myself more open to the light and beautiful than I ever was before. Cancer and proximity to death have changed the very fabric of who I am, and I am currently in the process of learning about this new person I have become and his place in the world.
In 2013, I volunteered at the Tour des Chutes with a group of teens from the Boys & Girls Club where I was the Teen Director. A few years earlier, I had acquired an old Schwinn road bike that became my primary source of transportation. Growing up in Central Oregon, I had never thought much of road biking, but I fell in love with the speed and the constant dance with other vehicles. Biking became a part of my therapy, providing a place to work out my energy, to feel strength and courage, and to remind myself of the beauty and health of the world around me while surrounded by so much suffering and pain. Watching the bikers come across the finish line, especially seeing the cancer survivors cross the line and receive their roses, was deeply moving and inspiring to me and awoke in me a hunger to compete myself.
Since that day in 2013, I have lost friends and compatriots to cancer, loved ones to other diseases, and have faced many of the great challenges of my first 33 years of existence. In the last year, my life has changed. Gone is the isolation and illness that defined me for so much of my journey through cancer, and in its place is a new family I could never have wished or hoped for that has reminded me how wonderful it is to be alive and how tenuous that hold can be. Although 2014 and 2015 brought with them new medications that kept me from competing in those years, my hunger has not subsided and I plan on signing up for the 25 mile race this year with an eye to the longer races in years to come.
I had occasion to ask a young gentleman fresh off of a 100 mile bike race if he felt a sense of accomplishment or empowerment from the race he had just completed. “I’m just glad I don’t have to pedal anymore” he replied. I doubt he knew the impact of that statement but it has come to be a guiding principle in my life, reminding me that the accomplishing of our goals for health, for self, for well-being don’t come with fanfare or parades at the end but with sore legs and aching lungs and exhaustion as we stumble across our respective finish lines. In those moments, it is our faith, in gods or philosophy or ourselves, that provide the courage and energy needed to carry on.
In many ways, the Tour des Chutes is a sign that my own pedaling is coming to an end. Cancer is in full retreat and I am stronger every day. I am close to finishing my master’s degree in Behavioral Psychology which I intend to put to use helping other chronically ill patients improve their quality of life and gain mastery over their illness. For the better part of the last decade, I have struggled with depression and despair and pain, as do most cancer patients, often seeing no end in sight. I’m not sure exactly what it is that kept me alive while so many I knew succumbed to their illness, but I feel a great sense of purpose and joy in my life and plan on living well both for my fallen friends and for myself. My education combined with my personal experience puts me in a good position to do just that.
I recently bought a new road bike from Sunnyside Sports, completely ignorant of the fact that Mr. Bonacker was a partial owner. My journey has come back around, full circle, as journeys are wont to do, and I can feel this detour into cancer coming to an end, the larger highways of life again coming into opening before me. Finishing the Tour des Chutes will be the achievement of goals a long time coming, as well as a symbol of the resilience of humanity in the face of grave illness and distress. I think we lionize survivors sometimes, looking only at the gritty endurance and quiet heroism so many of us embody, and not enough at the dark and ugly days of suffering that our resilience is built on. As I ride this summer, I will think of the people I’ve lost, of the hard lessons I’ve had to learn, and of the fact that, no matter how tired I am, I’m damned lucky to be able to pedal at all.