Why I PMC - GRIT by Monique Gipps

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Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - GRIT by Monique Gipps

Guest blog by Monique Gipps

Even as a long-time avid cyclist, I never really paid much attention to the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) before last year. Sure, I had heard of it. I knew it raised money for cancer research. I even knew several people who had ridden it and I had seen their strong display of camaraderie when they crossed paths with another participant. But I didn’t think it was my kind of thing, I never thought I would want to ride it. Perhaps it was because I don’t like to ask people for money. Or perhaps it was because I lost my older brother to Osteosarcoma when he was only 16, and a boyfriend to melanoma when he was 38 that made me not want to think about cancer at all. It wasn’t until I was at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, as a patient on my way to a chemotherapy infusion, standing in front of the impressive donor wall with my bald head hidden under a cozy hat and my reality crushed, that I finally understood the profound impact the PMC has had on cancer research.

 

“Since 2007, 100% of every dollar PMC cyclists raise go directly to the Jimmy Fund. Since 1980, the PMC has contributed $500 million, which finances research in its earliest stages. Known as seed money, PMC funds enable clinicians and scientists to pursue innovative research that has the potential to achieve the results that will warrant National Institutes of Health (NIH), or other private and government grants. In so many cases, this early support has fostered the development of some of the most important advances made in cancer research; Raising money for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is the core of the PMC mission.” It bears repeating, a cycling event has contributed half a billion dollars toward curing cancer! Toward curing my cancer. And 100% of every dollar raised goes directly to funding cancer research.

 

 

Cancer invaded my body when I least expected it, because that’s what cancer does. In 2012, after taking a few years off my bike to make new humans (now 4 and 6) I made a decision to get back into cycling, back to my pre-mommy body. And I did it with vigor! In 2013, I rode 4,500 miles including six or seven century rides. I have to say I was amazed at how quickly I got strong and fit. The following year, I pushed myself even harder. I accomplished 5,500 miles including a few races, and 12 century rides, a few of which were back to back. And I rode at a pace I never thought my body was capable of. I felt awesome! I was strong, fit, confident and fast. I was at the pinnacle of my physical fitness. I was inspired and wondered what 2015 would have in store for me. How could I top such a phenomenal year on my bicycle? How much stronger could this body of mine become? What great adventures and new friends would cycling bring into my life next, as it has already opened so many doors and opportunities for me? These were the questions I was asking myself. I was thrilled with excitement and anticipation. At that moment, it seemed as though I had everything I could ever want: a wonderful supportive husband, two beautiful healthy sons, a job in the cycling industry, a growing women’s cycling club that I had founded three years prior, and I had a passion – cycling! And that’s when I found it. The lump. In my breast. Just two days before my 40th birthday. Forty marks the age when women “should” begin getting annual mammograms. Well for me, it was already too late.

 

In October of 2014, ironically also Breast Cancer Awareness month, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes. I was completely blindsided. I felt as though I had worked incredibly hard for years to get to the top of the mountain only to discover an entire mountain range on the other side, and getting beyond it would require an entirely different skillset. I was not prepared, or so I thought. In retrospect, I could not have prepared myself any better for this life or death battle by getting my body and mind strong, and cultivating a community through cycling to cheer me on. Not knowing where to begin, I shared the devastating news with my best friend, and cycling rival Michelle. She is a 13-year survivor of Ewing’s Sarcoma who was treated at Dana-Farber, as well as a former PMC rider. She told me firmly, “You’re going to Dana. Call and make the appointment.” I did. Cycling remained an integral part of my life throughout treatment and recovery. Somehow, despite five months of chemotherapy, two surgeries, the worst bicycle crash of my life (which happened on day 1 of 30 days of radiation… talk about some bad luck), buying a house and moving, and mothering a couple of wild little boys, I still managed to log over 2,000 miles on my bicycle in 2015. Cycling kept me strong. It kept me hopeful and moving toward better days ahead. It kept me in awe of the strength and fortitude of which my body and mind are capable. On those rides, I felt in touch with the essence of my being. The word that popped into my head over and over, the word that became my mantra, the one word I told myself to remind me to never ever ever give up – GRIT. And I had it, lots of it. I finally and truly understood what it meant to have grit. And on those dark days when I ran out of grit, my family and friends were there to support me. I finished treatment on August 2, 2015. I am living proof that the Pan-Mass Challenge saves lives, with grace and dignity. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my first year as a cancer survivor than riding 186 miles and raising $46 million (total PMC2016 fundraising goal) for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in support of furthering cancer research. It’s the least I can do to give back to the researchers and doctors that saved my life and made it possible for me to be writing this story and riding my bicycle in a simple act of gratitude. The worst part of my entire experience is knowing that 1 in every 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer and wondering which one of my friends and family members will be next to face this terrible disease. Please help me raise money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute by supporting my ride with a donation. Thanks for taking the time to read my story. http://profile.pmc.org/MG0337

With gratitude,

Monique Gipps