Michele McGuinness - Looking Forward

A Survival Story

March 2018. I am biking across the country. Over 3000 miles. 50 riding days. When people find out, some enthusiastically say, "I would love to do that." But the most common question I get is -- why? Usually the words pause on their lips, their head tilts and their brows furrow, as if they are trying to to see the crazy.

Well, I'll tell you how this started. Later I'll blog about what else drives me.

My second chemo session was worse than the first. I was allergic to the chemo drugs and went into anaphylactic shock. As alarms went off, Lori, the nurse I’d already nicknamed Chemo Queen, was joined by two more nurses. Those little clear plastic needle caps popped off walls and bounced on the floor. They couldn’t pump drugs into me fast enough, I gasped through an oxygen mask, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

I knew it was bad, when afterward the oncologist called me into his office for an “extra visit”. He waltzed in, his usual distant coolness warmed a few degrees, his gray eyes actually touched me.    “I’m sorry. I hear you’ve been having some trouble with the chemo drugs. You know, we really weren’t trying to kill you.” “You could have fooled me,” was the only thing I could think to say and I went home to bed. A week later when I could get out of bed, I decided I had to get out of the house. I had to breathe some real air, even if it was January in Chicago. For 45 minutes, I crept around the block. I was afraid they had crossed a line. I mean, I know the whole point of chemo is that they are killing stuff, but I thought they had gone too far and were actually killing me. Then I started to get a little pissed. I decided if I lived through the next six months I wanted to bike a century. Yes, 100 miles on my bike in one day. And not in the distant future. That summer. And then I was gonna bike across the country when I was 50.

Maybe a century is not a big deal for a lot of you but I’m a recreational bike rider (read slow). I had only been biking a few years. My idea of a big ride was 25 or 30 miles on the Chicago lakefront path. I love the second hour, when I find a long smooth rhythm and it feels like I am flying, the lake on one side and the city on the other.

They changed my drugs and the rest of the chemo went uneventfully, not to say that it didn’t suck and I didn’t keep getting weaker and weaker. More surgery and June 12th, 2010, I got onto my bike for the first time since the summer of 2009, before breast cancer, a mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstruction. The best that can be said is that I made the pedals go around. I went 7 miles and it took an hour. Recovery consisted of 45 horizontal minutes examining my living room carpet before I was strong enough to stand up and shower. I was going so slowly I thought I might fall over. Longer rides. I got up to 11 miles an hour and thought I was a rock star. Then some intervals. And I got a trainer to help me build back muscle. Do you know how much muscle you lose sitting in a recliner for months watching the entire West Wing series and eating cake donuts?

The Apple Cider Century was September 26th, 2010. I was terrified of the last 25 miles. I shouldn’t have been. I should have been terrified of miles 50-75 when we were going north, onto the hilly section (ok, hilly for me) into a 15 mile an hour headwind. At 65 miles there was a turn; go left and you be done in 10 miles, a respectable 75 mile day. Go right, still into the ^#%#* headwind, and you take a 25 mile loop for the 100 miles. I so wanted to turn left. Desperately wanted to turn left. I stopped. I got off my bike and looked at all the young, healthy people lounging on this rural corner, laughing, joking about the cold wind. The van for the ride organizers sat there waiting to help people in trouble.

I got back on my bike. Eventually there was a tailwind. I love downhills and tailwinds. I finished the century. From bed in June to a 7 1/2 hour century in September, not too bad.

Author image
About MJM
The adventure begins. I'm preparing to bike across the United States. 3100 miles in 50 riding days. Come along with me...while I train, wander and search for chocolate.