I was pretty insulated from cancer for most of my life. My direct experience was minimal; a wife who had melanoma before I knew her a lifetime ago, an uncle I barely knew, a boss from early in my career. “I don’t have much family history” I said to myself, reassuringly. Forty-nine years spent avoiding the subject even with my cancer survivor-wife. Staying away from a fearful unseen but ever-present abyss I neither understood nor wanted to know much about.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer.
In a few short weeks I went from a lifetime of avoidance to living at the edge of the abyss. Now I was one of THOSE people. You’ve seen us; the ones with no eyebrows who maybe are wearing a scarf or a hat to cover a hairless, chemo-induced head, or someone who’s skin color just doesn’t look quite right. Or maybe we have no visible signs at all, but we silently and anonymously live with and manage our health and cancer, keeping the fear or sadness and illness at bay every day. I was now living out the very fear I had avoided.
What I didn’t know but learned during my cancer treatment was that living at the edge of the abyss didn’t mean I needed to go into it. Bend, Oregon as it turns out, has a thriving, talented cancer care community; passionate and skilled community members – nurses, doctors, physical and occupational therapists, massage therapists, volunteers and counselors – who dedicate some part of their lives to helping the rest of us survive. And it was through my treatment as someone was explaining some of the supportive services I had access to that I was introduced to the Tour des Chutes. I am a cyclist, so I had heard about the Tour but didn’t know about it. Learning about it would have required me to abandon my cancer avoidance strategy. But now, I was one of THOSE people, and I felt foolish and embarrassed for not having noticed that, in many cases, they were in the fight of their lives.
My caregivers also taught me about my cancer, and what the odds of a successful outcome were. Cancer makes some of us instant statisticians; learning and memorizing the percentages and the likelihood our treatment will help us go into remission, or be cured, or just buy some time. Others learn to ignore the odds, hoping their case is the exception to the data. Whatever the situation, all of us develop a deep appreciation for hope.
(Jim Morris, in blue, has been our morning emcee for the past two TdC events.)
Hope isn’t medicine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t healing. And when I ride the Tour, I am surrounded by the hope and care of thousands of people who are there to support the cause, or a person, or the notion that love makes a difference, even when it comes to treating cancer. Hope in the expressions of love of those who wear “In Memory of…” for those who they have lost. Hope for recovery and healing, honoring those who are surviving cancer every day. Hope for those who donate goods, money and time to the Tour to create an uplifting, inspiring and fun experience for everyone who rides, runs or walks it. And most of all the Tour des Chutes reminds us of the hope of connection, that none of us are as alone as we might think.
Practically speaking, the funds raised through the Tour provide cancer patients and their families the with the material support they need to love, care and show-up for one another while bravely moving away from the abyss.
Love is as love does. Ride.
~Jim Morris, former TdC Board Member and morning emcee for the last few years