Let’s explore the true meaning of “survivor” and connect my own personal challenges with recovery to others who have experienced disfigurement trauma.
Anyone who knows me knows my story and understands why I care so much about educating and serving the motorcyclists of the world. Most of those who know me also remember my epic CONGA ride last year and what a passion I have for long-distance touring because of it.
Thanks to my 4200-mile-long trip to Wyoming and back, I was able to contribute to a cause that raised nearly $50,000 to fight Breast Cancer in 2011. While there, I met many amazing women, including Tamela Rich who has redefined what a “newbie rider” is truly capable of. In her most recent newsletter she challenged her readers (and, subsequently me) to consider other ways to contribute to the cause beyond just raising money. Tamela has chosen to spend her summer adventurecating (yes, I made that up) rather than fundraising. I’ve taken her cue to heart and have decided to narrow my focus as well. I’ve always related to breast cancer survivors as a trauma survivor myself. After all, I did sheer-off half of my left breast during my crash in 2005. Although I have never been diagnosed with cancer, I know what it is like to go through surgeries, medical treatment, and physical therapy only to find myself staring a lifelong recovery in the face. I just didn’t know how to connect the dots until I did a little bit of research…
THE BREAST CANCER CONNECTION
Patricia Ganz, MD is the Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention & Control Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA, among many other things. Patricia studies many of the aspects related to Breast Cancer Survivorship and the issues these women face post-treatment (both surgery and chemotherapy). In her study titled Breast cancer survivors: psychosocial concerns and quality of life, Patricia writes, “In spite of relatively good physical and emotional functioning on a generic measure of health status and quality of life, these breast cancer survivors reported a number of important and severe rehabilitation problems that persisted beyond one year after primary treatment. Especially frequent were problems associated with physical and recreational activities, body image, sexual interest, sexual function, and problems with dating for those who were single.”
Her study concluded that, “Breast cancer survivors appear to attain maximum recovery from the physical and psychological trauma of cancer treatment by one year after surgery. A number of aspects of quality of life and rehabilitation problems worsen after that time.”
In an article written by Margaret L. Polinski, much focus was placed on what she calls the “chronicity” of a breast cancer diagnosis. She writes, “For all cancer survivors what begins as a crisis involving diagnosis and treatment gradually becomes a chronic illness characterized by lifelong follow-up medical care, indelible psychological effects, and changes in social and employment relationships. In general, breast cancer survivorship is characterized by “mild morbidity” and non-life-threatening problems not likely to be mentioned to others. However, some studies have documented important longer-term effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.”
Margaret pointed readers in the direction of an International Support Network called Reach to Recovery. I was curious about the group as I had never heard of them before. I found some information on the American Cancer Society’s website, but wanted to know more. And then I found it: Reach to Recovery International. I spent about 10.5 seconds looking at the homepage before I was on the brink of tears. What pulled on my heartstrings so strongly, you ask? They publish an educational newsletter called BLOOM which “promotes the exchange of current information on training, advocacy, research, volunteer and peer support.” Sounds a little like Rock the Gear, eh? To top it all off, their next conference is in South Africa, the childhood home of my late friend Natasha Louis, who was killed in a motorcycle crash at the Jennings track earlier this year. That was all the sign I needed to indicate that I was on the right path. With that, my summer mission was born. So, without further ado, I dub this year’s adventure: The Survivor Ride.
THE SURVIVOR RIDE
In 2012, the sole purpose for my ride will be to bring attention to the often forgotten SURVIVORS of breast cancer who need ongoing medical attention, psychological care, hope and encouragement, and most of all: the help and support of others. When it comes to awareness prevention and finding a cure are at the forefront, but we mustn’t ignore the challenges of breast cancer survivorship. The women who do survive this terrible disease have a lifelong battle ahead of them. I aim to bring attention to this issue and the many programs offered for these women. I also hope to show everyone how they each have an opportunity to help. As an example, I’ve included photos from a campaign called THE SCAR PROJECT which aims to empower young breast cancer survivors by allowing them to cope with their battle by sharing images of their scars with the world. I truly identify with this group of women, because I share their struggle to accept my disfigurement on a daily basis. The best part? There are many ways to get involved regardless of your experiences, and I aim to encourage others to explore new ways to help while I trek across the country this summer.
I believe these women and I share a special connection and it’s time to shed some light on their struggle. I am truly honored to be partaking in such a mission and have charged myself with quite the task. I am confident that I am up for the challenge as a true survivor who knows there are no mountains too high, no valleys too low, no rivers too wide… and if I have to cross a million of them to take a stand, you can bet I’m all in.