LIVESTRONG Philly and Beyond: My Story

Posted: 11/08/2006 by Kenneth Youner


September 10, 2006. It was a beautiful sunny day with moderate temperature and little wind in Blue Bell, Pa. We were up early to get to the start line of the Livestrong challenge ride. I was to met the group of CCC riders who, like in the ride for the roses in Austin Texas the year before, would start the ride together. I was amazed that Cecile and I were there. Cecile has been battling metastatic breast cancer for 6 years. She was having increasing difficulty with shortness of breath and some back pain. We found out that she had an increase in the fluid in her chest and a new metastatic lesion in her spine. I had my routine CAT scan for follow-up of stage 4 renal cell cancer. The scan turned out to be anything but routine as it showed I still had some enlarged lymph nodes in my chest. A PET scan confirmed that there was still metastatic renal cancer in the nodes. We were determined to go and join with our friends in the Cyclists Combating Cancer (thus CCC). This is an online group of cancer surviving cyclists, who like myself, find inspiration through perspiration while riding a bike. We met for dinner Friday night for, this being Philadelphia, Philly cheese steaks. The plan was to meet at the staging area at 6:45 AM. Although we would be riding different mileage we all wanted to have pictures taken at the start and do the first few miles together. Some of the CCC'ers are in the active fight and due to their health issues could only do the shorter rides.

We all started off under a bright sun with promises for a good ride. The course was very well marked with signs and volunteers showing you the way and shouting words of encouragement. Not that I needed any. I was thrilled beyond words that we could be there and help represent all of my donors in the fight against cancer. After the first few miles I settled in to my pace and found that I was joined by a young (compared to me) Doug Belvin a sarcoma survivor from Maryland. We stopped at the second rest stop and there I was joined by my cousins fiancee, George. George is a cyclist who found out about the ride through my cousin and decided to join me for the ride. We worked our way through the beautiful Philadelphia suburbs and then to the city itself. Of course I had my camera with me. We made a mandatory stop at the Philadelphia art museum where I took some shots of us on the library steps. We were Rocky on wheels. We made our way through Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River and its famous boat house row. With our energy levels perking and our endorphins flowing we made only 3 stops along the route (of course picture stops don't count). As we reached mile 90 I called Cecile so that we could coordinate our meeting at the finish area. At the finish line there are 2 chutes for the cyclists. One is reserved for survivors who are given a yellow rose at the finish. Thus the name of the original ride for the roses that I did in Austin last year. We had some beer and pizza, said out good byes and drove home.

Then things got busy. Cecile was admitted and had a quart and a half of fluid removed from her chest. She had stereotactic radiosurgery to her spinal lesion (where 10 days of old fashioned radiation is given in one computer controlled session ). Cecile had some a terrible headache from her myelogram and nausea and poor appetite. This along with trouble swallowing from the radiation set us back. However she fought on and recovered enough for us to plan on a break.. As I now had to plan for medical therapy for the remaining disease in my chest, we decided to take some time and "run away from home". We went to Maui, paradise on earth. There we rested our psyche and took our minds far away from cancer. As I am on a quest to break my personal best in mileage for a year (5785 miles), I rented a bike and did 277 miles while in Maui. I remember years ago when I went with my children to Hawaii and saw a cyclist riding up Mauna Loa, I thought I can't believe that he could do it. Now what would be better to get your self ready for the challenge of intensive therapy than to ride up a volcano. So I set out to ride up Haleakala, Maui's 10023 foot dormant volcano. I set out from Paia at sea level. My initial goal was to reach the first visitor center at 7,000 feet. When I arrived at the park entrance the ranger told me that the visitor center was only about a mile up. So off I went. When I reached 7,000 feet it was quite cloudy. The ranger there said that if it is cloudy here it is usually sunny up on top, and after all its only 9 miles up (and 3023 additional feet). Well I was not going to stop there. So off I went, stopped every 1000 feet of vertical gain to stretch and eat and drink. Then I saw it, the domes of the science center up on the summit. I felt a rush of renewed energy and a flood of emotion and reached the top visitor center at 9700 feet. I rested for a short while and took off for the last 323 vertical feet. This was the steepest part of the ride and had to stand on the pedals the rest of the way. Some people up at the summit noted me riding up and started to cheer me on. That was all I needed to rocket up. When I finally stopped at the summit I then realized that it was quite cool. I had been sweating the whole was up and was only clothed in my CCC short sleeve jersey and shorts. One of the men who were cheering me on came over to congratulate me and offered me his windbreaker which I eagerly put on. Then they offered me lunch and fluids, Lance never had it this good. I rested for a while and then set off for my reward, a 38 mile downhill. As I descended I had to keep my speed down to prevent any melting of the brakes pads and damage to the rims. I did see 2 others riders on the way up. They were being followed by their wives in a sag vehicle. Again I was offered and eagerly accepted fluid and food. The riders wanted to know how hard was the ride up. I honestly said "I'm not sure I was on an endorphin high ". I descended into the clouds and it started to lightly rain. I did have a wind vest on, but I was going so fast that the rain evaporated as soon as it hit my vest. I did have to stop and rest my arms (from the constant breaking) and neck, and of course to do more photography. When I reached my car I called Cecile and told her I was ready.

During the last few weeks I have continued to ride. On October 30th I started on my treatment protocol receiving the first of 9 IV injections of Avastin. On November 4th I broke the 6,000 mile barrier and will continue to ride until I am admitted. I will be admitted for high dose interleukin 2 on Nov. 13th. I get the medication in an ICU setting so my vital signs can be closely monitored. I have pictures of my family, my 2 smiling granddaughters and me at the top of Haleakala. I am ready.

Cecile and I thank you for allowing us to represent you in our fight against cancer.

Kenneth D. Youner


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