Turning adversity into inspiration: Mike’s battle with cancer.
Today I want to write about a recent event that hit very close to home, and has affected me greatly. This is something I’ve not been able to talk about until now.
Late last year my close friend and frequent riding partner Mike Simmons learned that he had stomach cancer.
The news came out of nowhere and–to put it mildly–I was stunned and, obviously, extremely upset. When Mike told me what was going on, my mind started racing in a million directions. I thought about Mike, his wife, his son, his family, his many friends…
I knew a little about stomach cancer, but as I began to further educate myself I realized that the diagnosis was even more serious than I’d initially thought. Rather than get into stuff like stomach cancer survivability rates and so forth, I’ll simply say that it became clear that Mike was in for the fight of his life. Of course Mike understood what he was up against better than anyone, but he was defiant. He knew he was going to beat it. He knew he was going to live.
Mike’s my age, and in the prime of his life. He has a beautiful wife, a young son and a great career. He is in excellent shape, he mountain bikes almost daily, he doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t do drugs. No one could have seen this coming.
I tried to empathize as best I could, but can anyone truly understand how another man is feeling when he finds himself suddenly staring down his own mortality? Unless you’ve been in the same situation–I have not–I don’t see how that’s possible. So I won’t pretend that I truly grasped what Mike and his family were going through, but what I can tell you is that he faced the situation with staggering bravery. Whenever Mike and I talked about the cancer I never saw even the slightest glimmer of fear, not a trace of self-pity.
Making a very tough situation even worse, shortly before Mike’s surgery his doctors discovered yet another mass–this one in his colon. That mass would obviously have to come out, too.
A few short weeks ago Mike endured a long and difficult nine hour surgery. The surgeons removed 95% of his stomach, part of his esophagus and a section of his colon. They also had to remove a piece of rib and deflate one of his lungs to gain access.
Mike was in ICU for several days following the surgery. Even after he was put in a private room, Mike had to endure many extraordinarily painful days and nights. Denise, his wife, never left his side. When I went to visit Mike in the hospital he was clearly in a significant amount of pain, but there was at least one reason to smile: he was cancer-free.
Mike’s been home for a few weeks now and is doing better, but making a full recovery from a major surgery like the one he underwent is a long and painful process…
Good thing Mike’s a fighter. Not long after he was able to return home Mike was up and around: first it was moving about the house, then he was able to do walks around the neighborhood and, starting last week, he’s somehow been managing light rides on his mountain bike!
A little over a week ago I saw that Mike had ridden his bike for the first time since the surgery. That was a wonderful moment because I knew that event was an important taste of “normal” for him.
Yesterday I cycled over to Mike’s house and I got to ride with him for a few miles. It was awesome to see Mike smiling and riding his bike again… and so soon after the surgery! I can’t describe it, really.
The cancer may gone, but Mike is still facing months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Added to that, Mike’s body is still learning how to deal with no longer having a stomach. He suffers from extreme nausea, and still has to take most of his nutrition through a feeding tube in his body. It’s a long and grueling ride, but Mike’s never shied away from those.
As we rode along yesterday Mike turned towards a steep climb. I thought I saw a wry grin on his face as he turned the cranks, painfully heading skyward. I rode behind him and smiled to myself as he crested the hill, knowing he was already thinking about beating the next one.
Inspirational? That word doesn’t even come close.