Tuesday, 31 July 2012

My Reason to Ride – Confirmed!

Riding to Peter Mac to tour their research laboratories and radiation bunkers.

Ready to Roll

Riding – because that is how we are raising money.

Research – because that is what is going to help conquer.

The plan was to ride from home to the city. Regardless of how many people were going to join me, I wanted to take this journey. And I was not going to let anything come in my way of doing it. The weather tried – throwing a cold miserable wet day at me. The family tried – an overtired husband who really didn’t need a day of taking care of the kids on his own. The route – planned for bike tracks that had been flooded out due to the rain.

But, I dressed for the weather as best I could, the overtired husband knew how important this was to me and the route was changed. And off I went, with 2 other riders who will be doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer in October. We weaved our way from Lalor into the city. Via bike paths, streets, footpaths and gravel tracks, we made it to Peter Mac. Pelted with stinging hail, sliding on wet roads, pushing my new shiny bike through muddy puddles (wishing I had taken my older bike) but we made it. Cold and wet, but with smiles from ear to ear.

Coming up Brunswick Road, I caught a glimps of St Patricks Cathedral. And the eyes stung as tears wanted to form. I had a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest. In all the times of visiting Peter Mac, it is a building that I always looked to. I don’t believe in God, but found it comforting that such a beautiful church overlooked a place where people prayed for hope every second of the day.
St Patricks Church

Riding down Morrison Place and into Albert Street, there was the building we were here to visit. The Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute. I stopped to take a photo as it is a building that I didn’t spend much time observing from the outside. This 5 minutes of the entire day was the most emotional. It provided me with the reality of what I was doing. Bricks and mortar. Buildings that people walk past or drive past every day without knowing their significance. To me, it meant so much more. Peter Mac is the place that saved my brother-in-law. But is has also been the place where many people I know became angels.
Peter Mac

We cruised down to Peter Mac, passing the church car park that we would always park in when going to visit Vince. Memories.  We cruised around to the main entrance. Memories. But I smiled. Almost everywhere I looked, there was advertising for The Ride To Conquer Cancer. And here we were on our bikes that would take us on that journey and I felt as Giant as my bike!
Peter Mac 

Walking into the entrance gave me more memories. It has been years since I have been here but very little has changed. Other than the posters of cyclists and a new coffee brand, everything else remained the same. We registered for the Radiation Bunker and Research Lab Tour and waited in the foyer for the next group to leave. It was nice to be in the warmth.

Ready to go inside

RTCC advertising on the lift doors

RTCC advertising on the lift doors

The front of Peter Mac. You can't miss it :)

So, the tours started. First up – the radiation bunkers. This is where patients come and hope that radiation therapy will be their cure. We were told of the 3 main treatments for cancer. Surgery, Radiation or Drug Therapy (Chemo)  I was in a group that got to see the paediatric bunker. The first thing I could think of was of the little kids who get treatment here. In my time at Peter Mac, I had not seen kids getting treatment. Often they come in as outpatients from other hospitals. But here I was, walking down a rainbow coloured tunnel with beautiful fairy lights. Around the corner and here was the imposing machine that was set to deliver lifesaving radiation into little bodies. The stickers of Buzz Light Year made me smile. The stickers of the fairy princess reminded me of my daughter as Amy has the same sticker above her bed. Little kids, just like Sam, Amy and Mia would be strapped to the table and told not to move whilst soothing tunes were piped through iTunes for them to listen to. They made it sound oh so nice. But the reality would be something different for sure. We learnt the facts about radiation therapy and how it is used on patients. The staff themselves are not exposed to any risk as the bunkers are set up in a way that eliminates all risk. They are constantly monitored for their exposure to radiation, but funny enough, their expose is less than the average Jo Bloggs who walks the streets of Melbourne or a passenger on a plane.

Then we went back upstairs to wait for our tour of the research labs. 15 minutes later, we were in the lift and up to Level 2. Yes, Level 2. This is where Vince had spent most of his time.
But we got to go into a secret and secure door. Entry was into a bright fancy laboratory. It was exactly what I had witnessed in my first 6 months at Uni when I thought that a Bachelor of Science was what awaited me after school. Then I made the decision that I couldn’t spend my days hanging out in a lab. 20 years later and I am glad I made that decision. Pipettes, test tubes, microscopes .. it was all still there! We walked through the 2 year old lab into an area that resembled my high school science room from 25 years ago. This is where the scientists and clinicians set about their daily work to cure cancer. I was shocked that such important work was being carried out in such aging facilities. (Note – 2016 they get a brand new research centre, so I can understand why this area is not being maintained. And if the money is going into research and not fancy chairs etc, then that is fine too!)

We got to see T-cells under the microscope and got to see flies with big tumorous eyes. And we learnt about the research projects that are currently underway. It was here that I realised the importance of continuing to Fight Back after this journey has finished.
Imagine the day where you go to the doctor for a blood test. You go back 4 days later and they say “Everything is great now, but we have found an abnormality in your genetics that indicate that you are going to contract liver cancer between the age of 40 and 45. Therefore, we are going to intervene now and you won’t ever have to worry about it” … and you leave the doctor with an action plan in place to fight a chronic illness that you have not yet contracted.
Imagine a day where the doctor says “You have cancer. Take this pill 3 x daily for the next week and you will be fine”
These don’t have to be imaginary. They are possible. And they are possible now. The only thing that stops it being possible is that more medical research is necessary to make it easier, to make it more cost effective and available to everyone. 10 years ago this test took 2 years to complete and cost $100,000. Now, it takes 2 weeks to complete and costs around $10,000. But the government medical people won’t make it an option for people because of the lack of research.
Medical testing happens in 3 phases. First on flies who share 70% of their genetic make-up with humans. With a lifespan of 14 days, they make a perfect ‘guinea pig’ to experiment on. They can create human cancers in a fly, monitor drug therapies and see the results in a short amount of time. Once they have a breakthrough with the flies, they move onto mice. The next step is then humans. They have ethically decided that they only test on flies and mice.  From there, testing is then done on humans who are involved in drug testing. These people are patients of Peter Mac and sign up to these trials under their own expense hoping that the drug is that miracle they have been praying for.

So, that was the tour over. Plenty to see and plenty of hope. We got to speak with the real radiographers and real scientists who have dedicated their study and now their life to treating and hopefully curing cancer. But the one thing that always stops them is money. And that is why I will dedicate my spare time and part of my life to supporting them.

Our time was up and it was now time to walk back out in the cold and ride home. Daylight was not going to be on our side, but we have done what we came to do. In a way, the ride home was more reflective. It gave reason to why I ride. It instilled in me that no matter what the conditions, I will always be able to get on my bike and ride. No matter how wet, cold and miserable it was, I will always use that as my vehicle to raise money for cancer research. Because it is the only way I know how. (Plus – I still can’t see down those microscopes)

I don’t ride to win a race. I don’t ride for a medal or trophy. I don’t ride for personal fitness. I don’t ride as a way of getting around. I don’t ride for Personal Bests. My reason to ride is simple. I Ride to Conquer Cancer. I get on my Giant Road Bike and I do what it tells me. Ride Giant – Ride Life! 

Girl Power - changing Annette's tyre

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Pain only hurts

On Saturday after my hard ride with Cycle House, I was laying on the couch catching up on Facebook. It was here that I saw a post from a friend " Finished reading Rich Roll's book on his life and Ultra Tri's and now onto Scott Jureks Eat and Run. ultra marathon man. great quote I will take onboard. "PAIN ONLY HURTS" 

My response was "What I learnt today ... I overcome my fear and put myself to the mercy of the boys again. For almost 40kms I couldn't decide if I wanted to stop and vomit or if I should just keep going. I kept going! and I didn't vomit (although I still wish I could) Totally agree - Pain only Hurts. Quitting often hurts more though. That one is from the book of Bec. Now to try and vomit LOL!!" 

But it has stuck in my mind since Saturday. Pain does hurt, but sometimes it can be debilitating and makes you lose your focus. For something so physical, it takes a mental strength to overcome it. 

I am lucky in that I have a high pain tolerance. How do I know this. Well, I had 3 kids naturally without any pain relief. I am super woman!!! But in this process, I have learned to focus on pain and use it. I learned through the birthing process that you have to work with your pain rather than fight it. And I attribute my 3 relatively quick labours to this. (Sam = 9 hours, Amy = 55 minutes, Mia = about 45 minutes) By focusing on the pain and mentally pushing it away, it meant that I could then push it to the back of my mind and then focus on what needed to be done. (perhaps thinking about all that pushing helped too??)

On Monday night, I jumped on Mince out in the garage and I planned to spin out 60km. I got about 8kms into the ride (12 minutes) and the pain kicked in. My hip hurt, the ITB tightness kicked in which radiated into my knee and down into my ankle. And my lower back hurt. This is pain I get all day every day, but it is just a higher intensity when I ride. It stops me running, but it won't stop me riding! But it took all of my mental strength to keep going. 50 minutes later and I had got to 40kms. I couldn't ride any further. My whole right leg felt like it was on fire. What I learned was that I could have quit at 8kms, but I kept going. I could have got off after 10 minutes and decided that the pain hurt. But I didn't because of one thing - Pain only hurts!

There is another pain as well. Emotional pain. Through my life, emotional pain and I have become good friends. This is the other type of pain I have a high tolerance for. There have been days where I have been consumed by emotional pain. There have been days where I could not focus on anything for the pain in my heart was all too consuming and I literally could not function. Emotional pain is something that I have suffered from for as long as I can remember. But I always found a way to smile and push the pain to the back, just so I could focus on getting through the day. 

Mental toughness. 

This is where I am strongest. 

Now, I use my emotional and physical pain. I get on my bike and I think about all the shit that pisses me off. I think about people suffering. I think about people dying. I think about the toxic people in my life. I feel the pain in my legs. I feel the pain in my chest. I let my physical pain and my emotional pain collide. And this is where I can explode. I can let the dog out and get mad. I can get angry at Cancer. I can get angry at people who just don't get it. I can use that pain and put it all to good use. 

When I feel that I am suffering emotionally, I have to get out on the bike and push myself to the point that it hurts. And just when that pain threshold starts to bite, I try and kick it up another level. And I find the more it hurts, the better I feel afterwards. It's almost like I have to feel the pain to be able to process it. 

A Lance Armstrong quote:

“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain….Once; someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. ‘PLEASURE???? I said.’ ‘I don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t do it for the pleasure; I did it for the pain.”

Another quote from Lance Armstrong: 
"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." 

The people I ride for also have to face this barrier. They have an immense amount of physical pain they have to endure. They also have an immense amount of emotional pain that they face. Pain is pain - no matter what. But it is their mental toughness that gets them through the day. 


My bike is my vehicle to Fighting Back. And I will not Quit! 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Hard Road

Well, today I stepped out of my comfort zone and went out with the boys from Cycle House. These rides are nothing short of challenging and give me a reality check. The last few weeks, I have pushed myself, but also have really enjoyed a new found social aspect of cycling. I knew it was time to get serious again (not that my other rides are not!)

So, there is one place I go for this - Cycle House in Greensborough. Jordy the owner is great at riding beside me, coaching me on gears, chatting away and guiding me through the world of road cycling. He is a man of many disciplines and has been riding for many years, so I really value his time. And he does a great job of slowing down the rest of the boys to accommodate me!

The ride always starts at 6:30am. It is dark and it is cold. And the first km is all uphill. And it hurts. It is always as we start the ride I say in my head "Why am I doing this?" ... and for the next 10kms I think "Why am I doing this?" And for the next 10kms I think "Why am I doing this?" .... and so on ...

Every time I do one of these ride, I want to quit. Every time I do these rides I feel like I am out of my league. But, I never have quit and by the end of it, I am proud of myself for pushing though the pain and pushing through the negative thoughts.These rides are always a personal battle and rarely do I get the chance to think about my angels or fighters on these rides.

But today I did.

I was at the 13km mark and facing some decent hills. The rules of these rides are that we all try to stay together, but hills are different. Everyone gets to find their comfortable tempo and get to the top. Once at the top, you get the choice to wait or roll back down and do it again. (Wonder if I will ever get to that stage?) So here was I, deep in the thought of "why am I doing this?" and all that came to mind was this. 


I was in pain. I felt like I wanted to vomit (Note to self - never eat a banana again before a ride) I was cold. My glasses kept fogging up and I couldn't see. I couldn't feel my hands for the big gloves we must wear to stop us our fingers from freezing. I was tired. All I wanted to do was stop. I wanted to stop the pain. But that was my choice.

So I chose to not quit. Because my angels and fighters chose the same thing. They chose not to quit life. They chose to take the hard road. They chose to take the pain, the vomiting and all the other shit that goes along with fighting Cancer. So I would take all the hard times that go along with making me stronger to fight cancer.

And almost 12 hours later, I am still feeling the effects of today's effort. This is probably the most exhausted I have been after a ride. Although this is probably the biggest effort I have put in. Today, at least after the first 13kms - I made the choice that there were no excuses. I even got pissed off at my coach Jordy who wanted to push me up a hill. But he said "You are on my team. That means I help you out, then you have to learn to lean on your team members. You are not alone here"

Little does he know how important these words are or how much they will mean to me! And for what I have learnt from him today, I will get to teach tomorrow (well, not really tomorrow, but sometime in the future!)

And something that I thought of when I made the choice to keep going .... 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Epic Adventure - not on 2 wheels.

Well, it has been a few weeks and so much has been happening in the world of Bec. So this isn't really a blog with a distinct message or meaning, but more a blurt out of what I have been doing.

First there is cycling - and what a great few weeks I have had on the bike. I have covered over 100kms in the last 2 weeks on the road and I am so in love with Maverick. She is one very special bike and my confidence on her already is scary! (Thanks again to Jo at Liv/giant) Yes, I still look like a beginner at times, especially when I forget she is a little more frisky that Mince is! She likes to arc up a bit and throw her lack of weight around ... so I just have to remember this! (And keep strengthening those core muscles so I can show her who is boss)

It has been a great few weeks in the world of Fighting Back too! We are at the stage where our jersey has been finalised, team merchandise has been picked, necessary emails sent and now I am just waiting for the orders to roll in. I am getting very excited at the prospect that we are going to have our very own team stuff!

I feel like I spend about 15 hours on the PC each day at the moment - and in reality - it is almost true. Maybe it is 14. But it is all for the greater good! I can't get to where I want to go just by throwing my leg over the seat and taking off. Word does not get out about the team and what we are doing by riding down the road. We have all got to spend time networking, talking about our journey and keep telling people what we are achieving. And that is done via Facebook, email, other methods of social media, phone calls, emails etc.

The kids are really starting to understand why I am riding and the reasons. They know it is not about getting on the bike and riding to the corner. They know about Cancer. They know their Uncle Vince had cancer but he is better now. They know about a little boy called Talin who died this week. He was only 6 and was diagnosed with a brain tumor 13 weeks ago. They know people die and their mum is trying to help people not die by riding her bike.

Yesterday I walked out in ready for work and had put my LIVESTRONG hoodie on as I was going walking at lunch time. Mia spotted it (at the age of 25 months) and said "Mummy, Bike to work" ... It is amazing what kids pick up and know. Even she can associate the yellow colour and what I am doing!

Emotionally I am fried!!! The last few weeks have also been a time where I have seen 2 new angels take off. Not literally of course! But with the passing of Tash's Dad Tommaso and then little Talin, it just shows that this disease is just so much bigger than many of us know. If we are really unlucky, we know someone who will die from it. Given 1 in 2 people will get it - odds are that we will all have that stoke of bad luck. But doing what we are doing opens up the doors to hear everyone's story. Just tonight I went out to visit Mince in the garage. That bike is still a major part of my journey and even though I wasn't going to train, I sat and looked at the 23 names that are on Mince. 23 people's Cancer stories. 23 people who I cry for. 23 people I grieve for. 23 bags of emotion that I just carry around with me every day - using this as motivation so hopefully I don't have to ever make it 24!

I am already thinking about what next. I am already thinking that come October 28, 2012 at about 4pm, I'll be looking for my next way of raising money. Hence the 14 hours per day now on the PC. Thinking. Planning. Knowing. Believing. Hoping - that I never see the number 24.  So stay tuned Cyberland, because you have seen nothin yet!

Now, off to put my first batch of home made yoghurt in the fridge. All part of my clean living plan and attempt to loose a bit of weight so I can cope carrying those 23 bags up and down hills.

Monday, 2 July 2012

In Memory of Tommaso Billeci

This afternoon I logged into Facebook to see this post: 

"Today our loving & adored Dad/Nonno lost his battle to cancer. May you now RIP & be reunited with beautiful mum. Heart is so broken but Nella & I will keep your candle burning bright! Tanti amore xoxox"
I immediately broke down in tears knowing that my friend Tash had lost her dad. 
On May 18, the day of Tash's birthday, I put her dad's name on my bike knowing that he was facing the battle of his life. And not long after that, I had thought of Tommaso when out for a ride. Here was a man who had 2 beautiful daughters and a gorgeous little grand daughter who would spend their time cheering him up and trying to keep him in high spirits. They would hang out at Peter Mac and try and brighten his day, while he lay in a bed, fighting and hoping for just one more day. 
But today, their hearts are broken. And as a friend of hers, my heart breaks too. 
My first thoughts (to be honest) were "Why do we do this? Cancer still wins!" 
Well, why we do this is to try and stop this hurt. Try and stop this pain. Try and stop lives coming to an end by a disease that could have a cure. 
Yes - People die - but it shouldn't be like this. Everyone has a right to grow old and happy - and die in peace. And maybe that is what Tommaso has done - grown old, happy to see his daughters grow into the beautiful caring adults they are, see his grand daughter grow into the gorgeous 4 year old that she is. And now, hopefully happy as he will be reunited with his wife. They will be able to look down on their creations knowing that everything that they have done in their life, will now be carried forward into the lives of their family. 
But still, Cancer has taken Tommaso from his family and today they grieve. And we grieve with them. 
And we continue to fight - knowing there are too many people who still need saving! 

In memory of Tommaso Billeci - RIP
03 July 2012