17 September 2011

The Inaugural Mamma Jamma Ride - 2009


(. . . You can find Part IV here)

Over 182,000 women were diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2008 and 182,000 stories that could be told. This is just one of those stories. 
This bandana has over 100 names written on its borders, 
each one representing a different breast cancer story...

After my last infusion on May 5, 2009, the 3 weeks of recovery from chemo passed quickly and were NOT the worst like I was expecting. Learning about a charity bike ride in October that would raise money to support breast cancer patients gave me the mental edge I needed over any physical side effects.

May 14, 2009 was the Kick-Off Party for the Inaugural Mamma Jamma Bike Ride that would be held on October 10. The party was outdoors on a beautiful cool night in Austin, TX; I went with the purpose of learning more and to register for the ride.

I talked with representatives for the ten non-profits that were the ride beneficiaries. I listened to the Ride Director - David C. Smith, and the Honorary Ride Chair - Kerry Tate, speak about what the ride would mean for patients and families dealing with this disease. Three things became evident:

1. I felt like a selfish cancer patient. I had been so self-absorbed in my own cancer treatment that I hadn't thought about what it was like for others:
  • Women in their 20's or 30's have young children who can't understand why mommy's hair is falling out. 
  • Some face the disease alone and have no one to cook meals for them, or no transportation to treatment. 
  • Others have no medical insurance and can't afford the care they need to save their lives ... just to name a few...
Compared to any one of these, my cancer treatment - though difficult - had been a breeze. I always had someone to mentor or help me every step of the way. What a blessing to have these people in my life, making my cancer treatment "manageable". It could have been so much worse like it is for many.

2. The Mamma Jamma was different kind of fundraiser - A Gala on a Bike, money raised by the ride would provide numerous services & support to patients and their families. The impact is immediate - improving the lives from those newly diagnosed, to those whose cancer has metastasized.  It is a ride to let cancer patients know they are not alone. The 10 beneficiaries form a continuum of care for our community.

3. I needed to form a team and try to encourage as many friends as I could to join me. Signing up to do the ride myself would not be enough. Instead of just asking for donations from my biking friends, together our fundraising efforts could do so much more. I left the party that night feeling as if I had been given the biggest gift ever - the gift to "pay it forward".

By the end of May, the "Big Guns" chemo had ended, but the Herceptin infusions would continue once every 3 weeks for the remainder of the year. Fortunately the only side effect was an occasional runny nose AND I started noticing some stubble ... my hair was growing back!!!!

I was SO ready to get back on my bike. My first training ride was a little frustrating. A year prior I was able to ride a hilly 65 miles, but the hint of a small incline that day had me panting for breath. Mark and my friend Samantha rode with me and we did about 12 miles. At the end I was elated, but exhausted and I went home and took a long nap.

Samantha & I, she had voluntarily shaved her head
as a fundraiser for children with cancer.
 She was an example of hope that my hair would come back.

I made the decision to ride 100 miles in October, I couldn't think of any better way to convince myself that I had looked Breast Cancer straight in the eye & kicked its butt than to ride my first Century Ride for Mamma Jamma. Two mornings a week Mark & I would ride before he went to work. My friend Jane would join me for long rides on Thursdays (take THAT Puny Thursdays!) and Mamma Jamma offered free training rides for us on the weekends. I regained my strength quickly and by September, I was averaging 150 miles each week.


Fall weather in Texas can be hit or miss. The forecast on Ride Day, called for cool temperatures and early clouds/drizzle with clearing by the afternoon. I was pumped and it was a struggle to keep my emotions in check. Just before the start for the 100-milers, I found the Capital of Texas Team Survivor MJ team and posed for a pre-race photo with them:

Ride start for the Main Group

Samantha had joined my team along with 2 of her coworkers, Keith & Andy - they were doing the 100 mile route with Mark & I. About 50 riders were taking on this challenge and we got an hour head start as the rest of the riders cheered us on. The small numbers made it easier for us to ride together and enjoy the Hill Country of Texas. It was wonderful!!

One of the volunteer SAG vehicles that provided route support

90 minutes into the ride, Mark got a flat tire. Instead of waiting for mechanical help he changed it himself. This proved to be instrumental in finishing the ride because it took him less than 5 minutes and we were on our way again.

The lunch pit stop in Joppa, TX - the half-way point

There were pit stops about every 12-15 miles where we could stop for water and food. Each one had a party atmosphere, staffed by volunteers who were cheering us on. The lunch pit stop was especially fun; there was great music, carnival games to play, and delicious food. 

We almost lingered there too long. As we were getting back on our bikes, a woman walked onto the road with a sign saying 100 milers needed to turn around and go back. Panic set in as I rode up to talk to her. She told me there was a cut-off time but since we were getting on our bikes she would let us go through. I told her 3 more in our group were in the bathroom and she said if they hurried she would also let them continue. I rode back to tell Samantha, and then Mark & I took off. If Mark had taken any longer to change his flat tire, we might not have been so lucky. My mind was racing: I couldn't believe it ... I had trained so hard ... I told my donors I was riding 100 miles ... I couldn't let them down.

The weather matched my mood. Instead of clearing, it was getting colder and drearier. The woman in the road said there were cut-off times at all the remaining pit stops. Instead of waiting for the others, we picked up our pace. Mark had not trained as much as I and was getting tired. He finally told me to go on without him. We had reached the hilliest part of the course and I was worried about him so I waited at the next pit stop. I didn't have to wait long but once again he told me to go on - he would wait for the others. I felt better knowing he would have someone to ride with.

My bike - "ArVi"

As much as I loved riding with my husband and my friends, I realized I needed this time alone to reflect on events from the past year. But I wasn't really alone - I could feel the presence of my mom and dad with each pedal stroke. My mom, Virginia, passed away in 1999; my dad Art, passed away in April during my chemo treatments. I decided to name my bike after them - ArVi so I have them with me whenever I ride.

Beautiful Scenery
One of the many signs along the route, reminding us why we ride

With no other riders around, I was able to let all the emotions from the previous year come pouring out. I thought about the fears I had buried deep inside; fears of not being there for my daughters' weddings, not being there for grandchildren, not growing old with the love of my life - and the tears finally came, real tears. Up until now, most of the tears had been silent as I tried to stay strong for family and friends.

Oops, then came a hill, time to focus. More miles went by and I remembered each milestone that had come and gone the past year; the diagnosis, doctor appointments, the surgeries ... and ... oh, here was another hill to climb. I thought of the people I had met because of my cancer, fellow survivors, skilled physicians and the kind, gentle nurses in the infusion room. More tears came, and more hills. With each hill, I remembered the names I had written on the blue bandana that I carried on my bike. I thought of all the strength each one had showed through their treatments, and for some through their death. Their strength became my strength.

The feelings culminated with a one-sided conversation I had with my parents. I remember tearfully saying out loud, "Mom & Dad, I hope I've made you proud." (Isn't that what we all want?) I wasn't sure I had done enough with my life up until then. This cancer was a wake up call and by gosh I was going to step out of my complacency and do something with my life that WOULD make them proud.

I was cold & I was tired and there was another really long and steep hill ahead. Suddenly it dawned on me, you know what ... if I could make it through chemotherapy, I could make it up that hill. I realized at that moment that cancer had made me a stronger woman, and I was grateful. Then I noticed a sign that said "One mile to the next pit stop". Funny what that sign did for me, I wasn't tired any more!

A short rest refreshed me and I got a surprise call from my BFF, Glenda. She had joined my team and was doing the 46 mile route. "Where are you?", she said. It turned out she had left that same pit stop a few minutes earlier. It felt like forever, but I finally caught up with her. As we rode I learned she had been talked into doing the 70 mile route, even though she had not been riding much. Before the ride, I was sad that our start times were different and I wouldn't get to ride with her. Another blessing just came my way.

I called Mark and learned he and the others were about 10 minutes behind me. This was going to work into my plan. I had been disappointed to find out the actual mileage for the ride was 98.2 miles. How could I "legally" say I had ridden my first Century ride? I was familiar with the area so instead of making a right turn I went straight and rode an extra mile out and back. Shortly after I got back to the turn, Mark, Samantha, Keith & Andy came riding up. We had 5 more miles to go.

Finish Line Cheerleaders
WE DID IT!!! 100 Miles!!!

The finish line soon came into sight. Once again I could not hold back the tears. As we crossed the finish line I could see not only my team members lined up to greet us, but also our middle daughter Sarah. The adrenaline in my body made me want to keep riding further, but it was time to stop and enjoy the moment. I'll let the pictures do the talking because words are inadequate:

Most of my 2009 Mamma Jamma Team. Instead of the $500 check I was going to write if I rode by myself, we raised over $25,000!!
My ride bandana also went 100 miles.
Written on it were the names of the breast cancer
 men and women I was riding in honor of, and in memory of.
Getting a hug from David, the Ride Director and Kerry, the Honorary Ride Chair
Parade of the SAG wagons, the last rider was back safely.
  My friends Deb Carroll, Alice Wilson and Sandy Kugelman

At the end of the day, there was time for reflection on loved ones lost and the seriousness of this disease. There is still so much more to be done. 

Together our team of 20 raised just over $25,000. WOW! Originally I had planned to just write a check for my $500 fundraising obligation. This was enough to pay for an entire year of cancer treatment for one individual with $11,000 left over to spend on some many other things like mammograms, biopsies, bloodwork and so much more.

If you have a diagnosis of Breast Cancer, Austin, TX is a good place to be. There are groups here to help you if you need it. I have learned that many other communities are not so fortunate. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream." My hope is that someone out there will read a post about one of the local non-profits here in Austin and decide to start a similar one in their area. My BIG DREAM, is that every state will have their own Mamma Jamma Ride.

I don't know how my story will end, whether the cancer will ever return or not, but for now it doesn't end here. I am enjoying a life filled with wonderful family and dear friends. These loved ones are what life is all about, and I am so blessed. (Update, almost 6 years and counting...)

Other members of the Breast Cancer Club that have come into my life are also part of my story. These men and women continue to inspire me and I want to share their stories with you in future posts. I hope you come back to read them, and ... thanks for reading my story.

As a way to pay it forward for those who have breast cancer right now but don't know it, please help me raise much needed funds for cancer services. You can visit my donation page here:


Oh, one more thing, here is the Mamma Jamma kickoff party video that first inspired me:

1 comment:

  1. Just an amazing, inspirational and uplifting series you have shared. I have so much respect and admiration for you and in the manner in which you faced your battle with cancer and how you decided to pay it foward with not only participating in the Mamma Jamma but for everything you are doing to further promote it through your blog etc. Of all the wonderful and poignant pictures and video clips you have shared, I think for me, the most touching was the one of you and your husband, after the ride where he has his hand on your back. The looks on both your faces just speaks volumns of what you had both been through since your diagnosis and it all culminating at the glorious end of your incredulous ride of hope.


I would love to hear from you, please leave me a comment!