Cancer is an invasive, insidious, unquenchable disease. What it takes from you differs for each person afflicted by it. But over time, I’ve concluded there are some core elements of being human that it relentlessly attacks.
Self confidence, Peace of mind, Patience, Control — these have all been casualties in one way or another as I’ve pushed through treatment, recovery and being a survivor. They are a big reason I put so much of my self into cycling. By shear force of will, I can take back a lot of those things that the disease tried to take away.
For me, I have the ‘bonus’ of some outward facing and quite permanent signs of my treatment.
The large bald patch on the back left side of my noggin is hard to miss. I’ve begun making the self effacing remark that while Athens, Georgia may be a center for Southeastern Hipster Culture, my unique haircut will NOT be replacing the man-bun anytime soon.
But seriously, do I make people uncomfortable when I take my hat off? What about potential employers or new coworkers? I feel like I always have to be on offense explaining my appearance.
Sometimes I just want to be another face in the crowd. With my cap and helmet on, I can sort of blend in. Yes, my skin is spotty from vitiligo which was a side effect of treatment, and the left side of my neck shows the signs of the 7 hours of surgery, but you have to be really up close to notice. I have no excuses for poor performance except lack of hard work, but my successes are mine, too. There is a pretty solid ‘No Gifts’ policy on group rides with the vaunted Athens Winter Bike League. So while my cycling friends encourage me, they sure as hell are not taking pity for the spotty guy with the odd coiffure.
But a good friend, Pelotonia Midnight Train From Georgia teammate, and fellow survivor reminded me that when we outwardly broadcast our ‘status’, we are reminding those around us that a diagnosis is not a death sentence.
On a recent family vacation, I had a gentleman on the train spot my Pelotonia hat and strike up a conversation about it. I prattled on for 10 minutes (wife and kids — massive eye rolling) about what an amazing experience the ride is and how incredible the impact of the fund raising is on Cancer research.
At the end of it, he called me a ‘hero’ — right there in front of my family. I always cringe at that appellation. I still hold to the idea that when presented with my diagnosis, I really only had two choices — treatment or do nothing. That’s a pretty easy one to make when you have lots more living to do and people to do it for. Heroes throw themselves in harm’s way when they could just as easily sit back in safety.
Then today, I read Doug Ulman’s piece in the Huffington Post about survivorship and what he called the ‘obligation of the cured.’ It re-forged for me the idea that if I am a member of one of the crappiest clubs around, I have the power to make it a positive — not a negative.
Here is what I want to leave you with today. In the not-too-distant future, I’d like to be able to say, “Hi I’m Charlie and I’m the only cancer survivor you know.” That will be because we’ve reached the goal of ending cancer, and we will have no new patients to make survivors. We are making progress, but we need more time and more money.
Please consider a donation to Pelotonia today a step in that direction. Every penny you donate goes to research and gets us closer to that goal. I am closing in on my personal goal for this year’s ride but need your help to reach the line. If you can, share with others. If they need a survivor to talk to, no matter the type of Cancer, I’ll be there. #livingproof
Some team members will contribute periodically throughout the season as we ramp up to Pelotonia weekend in August.