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Riding on love (1 day till “The Ride”)

June 22, 2012

Ride for Roswell Spielman 6 22 2012 better

Former Buffalo Bills linebacker Chris Spielman signs my wrist band during the Ride for Roswell opening ceremony. (Photo by Patrick McPartland)

   I’m nothing like a slave to fashion, mostly because I can’t afford to be. I even made sure when I established my new exercise and eating lifestyle 10 years ago that I wouldn’t reshape so much that I would have to buy a new wardrobe. But I do at least make sure that I’m presentable. I like to make sure I at least wear browns and blacks together separately, even if the fashion world now says it is acceptable to mix them. 

   I cursed my obsession with this today as I was preparing to head to the state University at Buffalo (which residents of this area lovingly refers to as UB) to retrieve team packets for tomorrow’s Ride. I worked a half day and couldn’t wait to replace those stuffy khakis with my favorite comfy jeans. Since I was wearing a milk-chocolate colored shirt, I wanted to make sure I wore the matching boots, which would be perfect for the cooler, drizzly afternoon. The right boot slipped on perfectly, but the left one stopped at mid-foot. The humidity and desire to wear ballet flats the past few days caught up with me. 

   Settling on the brown flats, I was ready to head to UB to get the Ride weekend started. Patrick and I found a sweet parking spot, right near the entrance to the registration building. We got lucky because most of the 8,330 participants would be seeking their packets after work. We returned later in the evening to attend the Opening Ceremony, only to find ourselves parked a half a mile away.

   It was a walk worth taking! The evening was everything that Ride organizers had proposed it would be – entertaining, emotional and inspirational. From the orange shirts signifying cancer survivors marching into the college’s football stadium before the festivities to the Peloton’s arrival to begin the event to Rick Springfield belting out “Jessie’s Girl” as we wandered back to our car at the end, the ceremony led to laughter, tears and a skip in our steps. It was all so exhilarating, giving us the motivation we needed to rise before the sun tomorrow to accomplish our goal.

   I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat of a tough little cookie when it comes to emotional events, mainly because of my previous profession. Combing through national and international stories about death and destruction and running to the scenes of robberies and stabbings on deadline to fill the pages of a newspaper has a hardening effect on a heart. As I stepped away from the hard news and dealt with my own mortality upon being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age, I seemed to become a softy. Understandably, the tears flow easier when one imagines children, family and friends who might have been left behind had I not been so lucky.

   This point was driven home as I found my name on the JumboTron among the list of survivors and as videos and speeches carried on during the Opening Ceremony. With each new “congratulations” to the riders and survivors, I felt myself growing both stronger and weaker – the praise lifted me up while the words weighed me down as I fought back tears.

   Listening to former Buffalo Bills linebacker Chris Spielman’s story about his wife, Stefanie, and her death in 2009 after five bouts with breast cancer was truly inspirational. He talked about living his dream as a pro athlete when his wife was diagnosed, asking her out of frustration, “Why us?” and her replying, “Why NOT us?” What a wonderful woman she must have been to think about all the good they had in their lives when she was struck by this horrible disease, and Spielman sang her praises for always being grateful for what the family had been given before tragedy struck. I hope I would be as strong after going through so much. I consider myself lucky because surgery corrected my cancer, so I didn’t have to experience the side effects of illness or hair loss that come with radiation or chemotherapy. I also would love to have his wife’s talents as an orator. He showed clips of his wife speaking passionately about how our work to cure cancer is nowhere near done, and he discussed how the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research is raising millions of dollars to find the answers. The fund hit
$10 million in April this year, around the time I began my riding lessons. It is scary to think that this amount of money isn’t even going to scratch the surface.

   The struggle to hold back the waterfall ended with a video message from Martina McBride that featured her song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” a story about a woman who discovers she has cancer: “When you’re weak, I’ll be strong / When you let go, I’ll hold on / When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes.” It’s funny how one closes her eyes when trying to calm down and hold it all in, but the eyelid is just the dam that, once opened, allows the river to flow forward.

   While my own story was reflected in the lyrics, I was more upset because I knew Patrick was also feeling the pain. I grabbed his hand immediately, knowing that not only was he thinking about me, the survivor, but he also was recalling his parents, who lost their own battles with cancer.

   So many other non-vocalized thoughts were undoubtedly transferred with the squeeze of a hand. I remembered the wonderful caretakers I had in my children, parents and siblings. On the flipside, I remembered how I was forced to undertake a divorce while fighting cancer because I didn’t have that support about which McBride crooned. It was easier for me to go through the Big C and the Big D simultaneously than to take on cancer together with a bad relationship. As I considered the past and listened to the line, “Just take my hand, together we can do this / I’m gonna love you through it,” I turned my head to my future … to Patrick … and I realized that if I ever again went through a similar tragedy, I could count on him to be there. This tough cookie who never really needed a man in order to tackle life’s challenges just realized that she wanted this man to be there. That, perhaps, was the most moving part of the night.

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