A couple months ago, after a Tour de Pink training ride, my friend and fellow cancer survivor, Karen Lawson, posted a selfie on Facebook, and wrote, “Love these legs and the 57 HILLY miles they just carried me up.”
I was surprised when my eyes welled up at reading her post.
In the nearly 5 years since my breast cancer diagnosis, one of the things I’m still working on is forgiving my body, and learning to develop compassion and even appreciation for my body – mutant genes and all. Cancer felt like a betrayal; my own body turned against me. I’ve learned that I am not alone in feeling this way. Many other cancer survivors are also working on developing healthier and more compassionate relationships with their own bodies.
This is one of the many ways in which connecting with a network of young breast cancer survivors through the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) has helped me in recovering from the physical and emotional toll of cancer and treatment.
For more on how the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) helped me, and other young women with breast cancer cope: Normalizing – in a good way
The big fundraiser for YSC each year is the Tour de Pink, a challenging, yet scenic 200+ mile bike ride, one on each coast.
It’s not a coincidence that YSC raises money with a bike ride – a physical activity that takes dedication, months of training, and builds strength and confidence in the participants. That’s right in line with what YSC is, and who they serve.
These photos and quotes are from dear friends of mine who participated in this year’s Tour de Pink.
People often ask why I would ride my bike 200 miles. My response is simple: “because I can.” I’m only 34. I’ve been through so much and lost so many friends because of breast cancer. I can’t cure cancer. I can’t bring the 40,000 that will die from this dreaded disease this year, but I can push myself for 200 miles and raise funds for YSC.
Yes, I ride because I can; and because I know that if ever I’m unable, my sisters will ride for me.
– Erin Johnson
Last year was my first TDP ride, and to be honest, I did it for myself. I wanted to challenge myself to ride 200 miles after taking up road bike riding just a few months before. I was really proud of myself when I finished the 2013 ride and couldn’t wait to ride again this year.
My reaction when I finished this year’s ride was quite different from the self-satisfaction I experienced last year, and it surprised me. While I was happy I had successfully completed the three-day ride, I felt another wave of emotion as I was sitting on the beach at Point Mugu. All the riders had crossed the finish line, had lunch, and were preparing to board the bus back to Thousand Oakes. I took a moment to sit quietly with myself, on a bench a bit removed from the heart of the activity, and just took it all in.
I looked at all the riders — survivors, supporters, friends and family — and realized that every one of them had some burden they were carrying, whether it was the angst associated with their own diagnosis, doctor’s bills, sore muscles, whatever. But at this moment, they were all lost in the revelry of having completed a really tough ride together.
Everyone was happy and celebrating, and forgetting — maybe just for this brief moment — all their other worries. It moved me to tears, and it was then that I realized that I do this ride not only for myself, but for everyone else participating as well.
It sounds cliche, but the collective burden carried by everyone else riding is so much heavier than my own. I HAVE to ride, even if it takes up my weekends to train, I need to juggle child care, and I have to ask my friends and family for donations (again).
I’m riding again next year.
– Sheila Cain
It’s #GivingTuesday. I love this new tradition. We are nearing the end of the year, so it’s time to think about giving, especially after a month of focusing on gratitude. I give my time and energy to the Young Survival Coalition, mostly because they helped me keep it together during and after cancer treatment.
You don’t have to ride a bike 200+ miles to help address the unique needs of young women with breast cancer. You can donate to YSC directly today. These funds are used to provide an online meeting place where young women can connect with others in similar situations to safely and discreetly discuss issues like the impact of cancer on body image, sexual dysfunction, raising children while going through treatment, pregnancy and cancer, fertility and many other issues. YSC also sponsors local groups were young women can meet up face to face, provides funding for educational programs, and treatment guides for young women who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
[Photos provided by Sheila Cain and Erin Johnson]