My Wide World: Brielle's Brigade hits the road for another go at the Pan Mass Challenge

The Republican

By Scott Coen The Republican
on July 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

What is their name?

What was your father's name, your mother's name, your sister's or brother's name? What's the name of that best friend you knew, your closest friend in high school, that person you worked with? What's the name of that person you loved and admired? The person you knew who was taken by cancer?

In two weeks the 34th annual Pan Mass Challenge will bring together thousands of bike riders from all over the world, all riding to raise money for people they knew and loved who were taken by, or are currently battling, cancer.

In East Longmeadow, a "brigade" of family and friends will ride like the wind, from the New York State border to Provincetown for a little girl we lost 11 months ago. She was 13 years old, and her name was Brielle LaPlante.

"Brielle's motto was 'Not Afraid,'" said Brielle's mom, Tammy LaPlante. "'Not Afraid' came from the Eminem song. We would listen to it on the ride back and forth from Dana Farber, and Brille just said one day that she wasn't afraid of her cancer. She always faced her illness with a smile. It's going to be really tough to not have her with us this year, but it was even tougher last year when she was just feeling so bad. She sat in her wheelchair with her team jersey on checking on the riders. She was out there no matter what, smiling through all the pain."

For those who don't know Brielle's story, she was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 4 and a half. For two years she underwent treatment until a bone marrow transplant, courtesy of her younger sister Jaclyn, gave her five cancer-free years. Then, just before her 13th birthday her cancer returned. Ostiosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, took Brielle four months shy of her 14th birthday.

"It's going to be really tough to not have her with us this year, but it was even tougher last year when she was just feeling so bad.

In 2006 Brielle's Brigade was formed to honor Brielle, and to raise money to help find a cure for cancer.

"Honestly, I hadn't ridden a bike since I was in high school," said Brielle's father, Bill LaPlante. "It just seemed like the natural thing to do to - try and raise money to fight the disease my daughter Brielle was battling. Family and friends got together, and since we've started riding we've been able to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000. My hope is we can raise $1 million for the Pan Mass Challenge.The motto of the Pan Mass Challenge is you fund-raise for 363 days and you get to ride for two days. Fundraising is the biggest part of all this, and we've had such great support from everyone."

And it's not just the bike riding that raises the money. During the year there's cocktail parties and silent auctions. Saturday at Heritage Park in East Longmeadow there will be an old-fashioned family carnival from noon until 4 p.m. But one of the most successful fund-raisers 'Brielle's Brigade' discovered was taking an old toilet, painting it purple (Brielle's favorite color), and dropping it on someone's front lawn.

"The 'Flushing Out Cancer' idea has just exploded," Bill said, no pun intended. "What happens is a toilet with 'Cancer Stinks' painted on it gets dropped off at someone's house. You then pay $10 to take it away, $20 to take it away and give it to a friend, or make a $30 donation that takes the toilet away, takes it to a friend's house, and gets you insurance that it won't end up back at your house. We even have a Facebook page so you can track where the toilet is. So if anyone is interested in helping us, please like the 'Flushing Out Cancer' Facebook page and get going."

Brielle's Brigade will begin its 8th annual Pan Mass Challenge on Aug. 3 and conclude on Aug. 5 - three days of riding close to 300 miles while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Dana Farber. Brielle's Brigade will be riding in memory of a little girl named Brielle LaPlante who was never afraid of her cancer.

To honor the name of that person you knew and loved, you can attend the carnival in East Longmeadow on Saturday, or make a donation to Brielle's Brigade on the Pan Mass Challenge website.