Below is a story from Team LIVESTRONG Challenge Mentor and Advocate, Steve Bartolucci. Steve will be participating in the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Davis. Want to join him? Visit www.livestrong.org/DavisChallenge today. Can’t make it to California but want to get involved? Visit www.teamlivestrong.org for a listing of walks, runs, tris and rides.
I’m amazed to see that title. It was 12 years ago, on May 18, 2000, when I looked at an X-Ray in my GP’s office that contained a shadowy mass the size of a cycling water bottle. Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), this unwelcome parasite provoked the “End of The Innocence,” at the age of 49.
My cancer journey was punctuated by a friend giving me “It’s Not About The Bike” right when I began “de-bulking” chemotherapy late June of that year. I discovered the Tour de France, and used both as the spark of inspiration to make me a Warrior & Survivor, and NOT A VICTIM.
Active Lymphoma was a part of my life, at one level or another, from 2000 through July of 2008, when Zevalin finally knocked me into remission. Being “NED” with NHL, is always a fragile condition, looking over your shoulder for that eventual, inevitable relapse. Remain Vigilant was the watch-phrase.
Meanwhile, LIVESTRONG became a significant part of my life, beginning with the Tour of Hope in 2003, as my bike riding for health & wellness became more than a weekend-warrior hobby. Never thought I’d wear out a set of road bike tires! Bicycling a few thousand miles a year became the new norm, as my motorcycle was relegated to the role of running to UCLA for treatment, scans & follow-ups.
Since 2003, I’ve raised over $150,000 for LIVESTRONG via family, friends and other supporters. I’ve participated in as many Team LIVESTRONG events as geographically possible; Ride for The Roses in Austin 8 years and counting, and Team LIVESTRONG Mentor for the past 5 years. LIVESTRONG Leader for several years as well, just trying to provide the same inspiration to those newly-diagnosed as when I began this New Life.
But, just as what was foretold, I approach my 12th Cancerversary not closing-in on 4 years cancer-free, but with a new NHL recurrence, first detected in early March. We were doing very well, with my membership in “Club NED” fully in place for 3 years. All was silent, until I found an olive-pit-sized node in my groin. It took some time to get the calendar aligned, but a PET/CT at UCLA on May 1 confirmed activity “consistent with recurrence of disease.”
So what is this really all about? Well, for me, it’s about being a Survivor, EVERY DAY! Every day is LIVESTRONG Day for me, because as I’ve just learned, you never know when you have to gear-up for battle. You need to remain fit, mentally & physically, and have that “Attitude Is Everything” approach to what you’ve been through and what lies ahead.
Not to be cavalier or glib about this, but I’ve been “blessed” with a cancer that my body (and mind) can coexist with. I live and ride in tribute to those who have a much tougher path than I, and I’ve lost too many friends along the way. NHL is in fact moving toward being treated as a “chronic disease,” as treatment options expand, and survival rates improve. However, it does relapse, it can become aggressive, and people still die from it.
As Lance said in a Q&A during March’s LIVESTRONG Leader Assembly, “I respect it,” and that’s exactly what is required. I’ve had enough long hours riding my bike to explore end-of-life scenarios in my mind, and getting to being a 12-year Survivor, even with this latest episode, is a goal I was not sure of achieving.
I am Steve Bartolucci, a SURVIVOR, not a Victim