On March 2, 2016, Mike Young told me that he was diagnosed with Stage 1 Esophageal Cancer. Mike is a retired space engineering technologist, an avid member of the San Antonio Astronomical Association, a lover of coffee (and ham sandwiches), and my wonderful high school astronomy mentor. While his mentorship, stargazing nights, and coffee drinking couldn’t continue as he underwent treatment in Houston, he didn’t let this sudden change stop him from being cheerful and punny. Every week, as I emailed him updates on my senior year and my astronomy project, Mike responded with positive updates about his chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trial status. Despite the pain and stress that this disease and its treatment were causing him and his family, he never once lost hope. Throughout it all, he remained optimistic because he knew that he was not alone in his fight. Finally, on August 31, 2016, Mike Young told me that was cancer free. I ride for Mike’s happy ending and his endless faith.
In November of 2014, my cousin Anjali Srinivasan underwent a six-hour skull base surgery to remove a tumor between her carotid artery and jugular vein. Though it was benign, any error in this surgery could have left her with brain damage or severe facial muscle and throat problems, dramatically affecting her career as a glass artist. Sitting up with my mom waiting to hear how the surgery was going, I remembered dancing with Anjali in the garden of my aunt’s house in India, calling her “fiffer” because I couldn’t pronounce “sister”. I remembered the weeks she spent devoted to teaching me how to make pom-poms out of yarn and a horse out of a cardboard box (though I don’t know why). I remembered the best Christmas morning of my life when a large box appeared at my front door and she popped out and surprised me. It seemed unfair that someone as hardworking and loving as my fiffer had to face such a terrifying ordeal. A long night of prayers later, we heard that the surgery was successful and that Anjali would be fine. Her recovery process was painful and difficult, but with the support and love of our family she was able to overcome it. She moved from India to the UAE to develop and expand her own glass business (ChoChoMa Studios) and has since been praised and awarded for many of the beautiful glass pieces she’s created. I ride for Anjali’s happy ending and her future success.
Every day, people hear the news that their loved ones have developed a tumor or have been diagnosed with cancer. Some of these stories may end well and some may not. Every story is different, but one thing remains common: these are stories that should never be faced alone. I ride to show those that are fighting, including my teammates, that they are not and never will be alone.
As we travel from Austin to Alaska, I hope to inspire others, no matter the age or personal affiliations with cancer to join the fight: to donate to the cause, volunteer at a hospital, or simply spread the knowledge about cancer prevention. I ride to show those who can’t ride with us that making a difference is still possible.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to make an impact in the fight against cancer, so I want to seize it by the handlebars and ride it all the way to Alaska.