In August 2013, my only son was getting ready to go to college, entering the University of Portland for his freshman year, leaving my wife and I as “empty nesters”. Our very close friend Bonnie was going through the same thing since her only son Sam was heading off to American University in Washington, D.C. We could not have been more proud of our boys and many of our friends with more than one child asked what we would do with our free time.
Then in the second week in August, Bonnie started feeling like she had a cold and sore throat. After a couple of days her throat hurt more than it should and she became concerned. She went to the doctor and found out that her blood counts were off, way off and something was wrong. The doctors soon found out that Bonnie had acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Bonnie first entered Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley on August 16, gravely ill. Sam left for college the morning of August 17, torn up inside with his mother in the hospital. She underwent chemotherapy for 30 days and was kept in quarantine to prevent illnesses. Even with the chemo, we knew she would need a bone marrow transplant. Her siblings were the best possible options and they were both hoping to be a match for the transplant. At day 14 she had a bone marrow biopsy and we were thrilled to find out the chemo was working! She was in initial remission and now her doctors just had to keep her there until she can get the bone marrow transplant. Then we found out even more good news. Bonnie’s bother Dan was a match for the transplant and was thrilled to be his sister’s donor.
While Bonnie was going through these first rounds of chemo in anticipation of the transplant, I needed to do something. I am not a doctor or a miracle worker and could think of only one thing to do – ride. I first rode with Team in Training (TNT) in 2002 and completed my first event at the 2003 Solvang Century. I will admit, at that time my motives were personal. I had turned 40 (it seemed old then) that year and, while a life-long cyclist, I wanted to get better at riding. I wanted to ride 100 miles and needed help, and as fate would have it TNT reached out to me with a direct mail piece practically the same week. Back then, I did not realize how much of an impact TNT would have on my life and how little cycling would have to do with it.
The A Team – (from left to right) Beth, me, Tim, Barry and Marc
I had no personal experience with blood cancer at the time, so I joined my first TNT team unaware that I was not only going to get better at riding but I was going to meet people who would change my life. For example, Jessi, the daughter of my first coach and mentor Marc, who had been diagnosed with blood cancer in high school and managed to stay in school and graduate near the top of her class while undergoing two years of treatment. Jessi is still with us because of the research done by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and she is one of my personal heroes. I have now trained and fundraised for five Solvang Centuries with TNT and am now riding again. I am riding for my friend and for all your friends, maybe even you, who have had their lives turned upside down and their joy ripped from their hearts with similar news from out of the blue.
Bonnie had her bone marrow transplant at UCSF on the November 14 and it went perfectly with no immediate issues. Her Day Zero, the day of her transplant, was marked by all the floor nurses singing Happy Birthday and bringing her a birthday cupcake, which was very moving for her. Over the first two weeks there were some of the normal, expected side effects. Then on the worst day, the afternoon of the 25th, it changed. Bonnie’s blood counts start rising and rising fast. They said she may be able to go home in a couple of days. It went from the worst morning to the greatest afternoon in just a couple of hours. Then, on November 30th, the same day as her son’s 19th birthday, Bonnie came home.
Bonnie on Day Zero
In one of my fundraising letters this season, I wrote “My goal is … well, my ultimate goal is a CURE! … but for this particular ride, let me tell you what we are going to do together. Together we are going to set records and get people cheering; together we are going to get you and the rest of the world out of their seats clapping, with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes (it amazes me how much of my time with TNT is spent smiling and crying together); together we are going to make a difference!”
Like I said, with TNT you spend a lot of time crying and laughing at the same time which is what I am doing now. I am very happy to have Bonnie back home again.