I never met my grandfather. Even so, I feel like I intimately know him. When my baby cousins were born, my mother told me about how he adored children. When I complained about our mandatory family dinners, she told me about his emphasis on family bonding time. When we were in China on the Qingming Festival, we laid his favorite foods down in front of his tombstone. Through her descriptions of him, I feel the presence of his warm heart and steady character.
She’s told me a lot about him, but what she doesn’t have to tell me is how rapidly leukemia began to destroy his body, and how devastating the news was. I’ve seen pictures of my mom, barely 30, sitting next to his hospital bed wearing a flimsy surgical mask. I’ve studied her face and wondered what she thought when she heard the diagnosis from halfway around the world, or when she boarded the plane back to China, or when she saw him again for the first time in that tiny hospital room.
The more I think about it, the more one thing resonates with me: I’m so blessed to not know the feeling of losing a parent to cancer.
Although my grandfather passed away from leukemia before I ever met him, he still holds an integral place in our family. My mom shares bits of his story with me, and I hope to continue to share his story with larger audiences. Cancer took him away much too quickly, but as long as people who love him keep his spirit alive, I don’t think he will ever truly leave us. I ride for him, and for all the people I know his story will influence as I make my way to Alaska.
In the fall of my freshman year, I pledged Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity. As part of our pledge process, our pledge class had to pick a charitable cause to fundraise for. During one of our late-night bonding sessions, our pledge brother Mobin told us that his mother, back home in Pakistan, was battling cancer. He was struggling to justify staying in college so far away when he was so worried about her health.
After an emotional discussion, our pledge class decided to dedicate our fundraising efforts towards Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a pediatric cancer charity. Over the next few months, we made it our mission to fundraise towards the fight against cancer and spread awareness for our cause. That semester, I spent most of my free time fundraising for donations across Austin. It was the first time I truly understood the transformative value that service can have for both individuals and a community.
In November of 2016, Mobin learned that his mother had passed away. It was devastating news. Some of us helped him book his flight, and he flew back as soon as possible. Even so, it wasn’t soon enough for him to be a part of the funeral prayers and the burial.
The weight of the situation will never fade for me. I will always remember the dedication which drove us to fundraise, the hope that was shared among us and strangers affected by cancer, and the helplessness that set in as we realized the suffering that this terrible disease caused. I ride for Mobin, his mother, and my Alpha Omicron pledge class.
Health is an incredible blessing. This is a seemingly obvious fact, but it has taken me an incredibly long time to realize it. Throughout my entire life, I have struggled (as most adolescents do) with self-esteem. I’ve spent the majority of my life critiquing my body’s shape, size, and color. These intrinsic habits are difficult to unlearn. However, the more I learn about the complex individuals in the world around me, the more I realize how lucky I am to be in my body. My body is strong, healthy, and it does exactly what I need it to do quite perfectly. I am able to live in it, strengthen it, and use it to spread hope, knowledge, and charity for the fight against cancer.
I ride for those who aren’t healthy. I ride for those who have conditioned themselves to hate their bodies. I ride for those who are trying to get stronger. I ride for those who need some hope, or laughter, or light in their lives.
I ride for those who can’t themselves.
Cancer is one of the most horrible, isolating, and terrifying experiences that individuals and their loved ones can go through. Texas 4000 pushes us to shine hope and light in one of life’s darkest places. I ride to carry that torch for as long as I can, all the way to Alaska.