Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer: Mom, This Ride is For You

Everyone can reflect on their life-defining moments. Those moments when you have to make a pivotal decision or when an experience rocks you in a way that changes life forever.

One of my life-defining moments happened at a very young age, when I woke up on my 11th birthday to find out my mom passed away the night before. I still remember that morning, sitting on our living room couch with my brother as my father told us that our mother had died from metastatic melanoma. Back in 1974, not much was known about cancer. It wasn’t spoken about in public and for most of the six months my mom was undergoing treatment, we did not speak the word “cancer.”

As with most life-defining moments, my mom’s death was the first proverbial domino to fall. It caused a chain reaction that impacted nearly all other areas of my life, including school. I missed a lot of fifth grade and ended up in summer school. Suddenly, I had so much responsibility, including riding my bike to and from summer school for math classes so I could make it to sixth grade.

I had a tight knit group of neighborhood friends who were my age and in my classes. I didn’t want to stay behind and miss all our adventures in the woods, fishing, playing football, wiffleball, street hockey and trading baseball cards. I made it through math and onto sixth grade with my friends.

Reflecting back, I am so thankful to my friends for all their support. Unbeknownst to them, they lifted me up and helped me to smile again. I am also thankful to my church and pastor. Their support was critical to help me and my family get through a tough time and inspired me to always pay it forward.

As I prepare for the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer ride, it seems like things have come full circle to once again be turning to a bike because of cancer – just like I did to get to summer school all those years ago. Only this time, I’m riding for patients, as all of the money we raise will be donated to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. While riding with my Bristol-Myers Squibb colleagues, I’m once again reminded of the power of leaning on others. Even though we are novice cyclists, as a group, we are strong because we support one another and work together so that we can make a difference for the cancer community.

The training has been hard, especially the hills, but it pales in comparison to what my mom and dad faced as a patient and caregiver, respectively. The long rides have provided me with time to reflect on what my mom went through.

Today, I often think of this quote from Jimmy Valvano: “To me, there are three things we all should do every day… If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

This quote lives with me every day. It’s my focus during training, with my family and of my work. This is how my mom would want me to live my life. Mom, this ride is for you!!!

Mark Peters is a Bristol-Myers Squibb employee who volunteered to participate in the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer ride to support the V Foundation for Cancer Research.