Why I PMC - Dawn Phelps - Because Cancer Changed My Life

Bill Alfano's picture
Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - Dawn Phelps - Because Cancer Changed My Life

Guest post by Dawn Phelps

I ride for my sister Robin, because her life was about serving others and I want to honor her memory. She died at the age of 38 from a rare form of melanoma, having been sick only a year. She left behind a loving husband and two toddlers, twins newly adopted.  Cancer came without being invited and tore apart our family. This loss of my sister, my best friend, was not the first or the last meeting with cancer. My grandfather - stomach cancer, my aunt - brain cancer, and just this past December my sister in law, breast cancer.  Cancer doesn’t stop.  I found in the Pan-Mass Challenge a way to fight cancer and serve others by paying it forward.

For the past 29 years I have been fortunate enough to live along the Sturbridge route of the PMC. I have, encouraged, thanked and cried as I have watched the riders make the turn down Reynolds Street in Attleboro. Some of the riders were friends. I knew many rode for family members, in memory of and for those fighting now. I knew some were doctors and nurses that rode with their patients. I knew each rider had a story. I had a story and I wanted to ride. At this point only being a recreational rider, I talked myself out of riding, repeatedly.

Finally, at the age of 48, I made the decision that I would make the commitment to ride and raise money to support cancer research at least once before I turned 50. I would fight my fear and ride. My sister had not been given the opportunity to “choose” if she wanted cancer and I know she had been afraid.

I signed up in January of 2009. That was the easy part. I had a bike…a very heavy hybrid (oh mistake). I chose the route that passed by my house…Sturbridge start (oh, another mistake, I later read that this route “was the longest and most difficult of the legs…for the first 50 miles the riders face long grueling climbs and very fast descents”). I began the training schedule on the website on that first weekend in August I thought that I was ready.

At the opening ceremony at the Sturbridge Inn on the early August morning I realized the first of many things that I was not “ready” for. I was not ready to see the few hundred hands that went up in the air when Billy Starr called out a show of hands for our riders that were cancer survivors. These people were warriors, they had fought cancer and were here now fighting some more.  I was not ready to see the ribbons and the pictures on the bikes and shirts on the riders and volunteers of the people they loved that had battled and lost or were still fighting cancer. The signs that the people on the sides of the street held as they cheered us on, how cancer had touched their lives. (I am feeling tearful as these memories rush back through my head.)

I was not ready for the hills and the fast descents, the tired legs, the heat, the sore butt!  The fact that I finished this ride was by the grace of God. What I did learn was that cancer comes into our lives without invitation, it is terrifying for the person who has it. It is heartbreaking for their family and friends. It makes you feel out of control. I saw first hand that day riding in the PMC that every rider, volunteer and spectator has a story.

I climbed grueling hills that day and many times was one of the very last riders. Every hill that I climbed was dedicated to one of my cancer people. It was very, very hard, but not even close to what my sister had endured and knowing this is what pushed me to finish.

I learned how just many caring and awesome people are involved in this event, from the volunteers that greeted me at the water stops, filing my bottles, smiling as they fed you and even put sunscreen on me. The gentleman that ran out from his house to put my chain back on that first “grueling” hill.  The chase crews that constantly drove by and asked how was I doing and gave me that encouragement just when I needed it most. The spectator that walked with me up a hill that I couldn’t climb as told me her cancer story.

As I prepare for my 8th ride this year I recall these moments. I have a new “road” bike and I have followed the training schedule. My mother, who with my husband went to every water stop to meet me, is now a 7th year volunteer. She was so moved by the love and group effort that exudes from this event, that she has recruited 10 more family members that volunteer at the DR lunch every year. One of these volunteers is my sister in law Donna who this year with the fine doctors at Dana-Farber, beat cancer! Another is my daughter Chelsea Phelps, who volunteered for 5 years, and will now be making her 3rd PMC journey as a rider. She is also a platelet donor at the Kraft Blood Center.

 The PMC is more than just the largest charitable athletic event, it is a movement that people are committed to … eradicating cancer. We as riders, volunteers and a family are Committed.

 So, I shall ride as long as my legs will carry me. I will raise money for cancer research and treatment. I will wear my PMC hats, t-shirts and sport my PMC tattoo. Cancer changed my life, but the PMC has enabled me a way to fight back and I am COMMITTED! #NeverGiveUp #BikesFightCancer #RideOn