It’s called Epithelioid Hemangioendothelioma. I can't pronounce it either. They are the nasty little tumors I've been fighting over a period of four years, four surgeries, and one round of radiation treatment.
The tumors eat away at your bone and tissue. They chomped a good amount of both from my right ankle and foot. There's now bone cement where my talus and navicular bones once resided. The tissue is gone. It's painful to walk and I can't run or jump.
Although only 1 percent of all tumors fall into this category, I was lucky. They are benign. They left my spine and brain alone. And I'm still able to participate in my favorite activity: bicycling. I have to wear a brace, but the pain drops from 8/10 (walking) to about 3/10 (bicycling).
I’ve been an active recreational cyclist for more than 25 years. This has been my first full season of riding since the tumors were discovered. I’ve already written about my August ride to Boston. It was during that trip I decided that my ankle and foot had a lot more pavement to conquer.
The rest of this column is dedicated to those who have faced a monster and kicked its butt to Woe-Is-Me-Ville and back! And at the end of this, I'm going to extend an invitation.
On Sunday I rode the heck out of my bike! Even as a perfect storm of circumstances tried to stop me from completing my first Century ride (100 miles in a day) since 1999.
It was an organized ride to raise money for charity. I wanted to finish in less than seven hours (including stops).
The morning drizzle was only a prelude to the downpour of mishaps that pelted me throughout the ride:
~My riding partner backed out two days earlier due to an injury.
~I’d forgotten my bike computer (a cyclist’s best friend). I would depend on limited iPhone power and MapMyRide for average speed and distance.
~My anxiety swelled during the first mile. My breath spent the next five trying to catch up
~I missed a turn at mile 25. Add an extra 15 miles.
~My route map flew out of my pocket along with emergency contact numbers.
~I missed the first rest stop.
~Broken back spoke at mile 50. I rode 10 miles feeling like I was dragging a tree before I realized my tire was rubbing the brakes. The severity of the wobble forced me to ride without back brakes.
~Downpour! Falling leaves now covered route markings on the road.
~Missed another turn and last two rest stops.
~Saddle sores (don't ask).
~Forty miles without water and food (I considered slurping from a puddle).
By now I was in pain, tired, mad, confused, drenched, cold, hungry, thirsty, and hallucinating. I saw Big Bird, Jim Morrison, and those little M&M guys. I had a conversation with my deceased mother (she didn't know the way back either). My hair product had been reactivated by the rain and dripping down my forehead - stinging my eyes before seeping through my lips.
I was swallowing my last gulp of spit and gel just as a lovely couple appeared in a driveway. I asked for water (please) and told them where I needed to go. “Oh my God, you’re not even close,” said the man. The woman was shaking her head.
Many pedal rotations later, a General Store appeared. I grabbed two baked goods and a Diet Coke (no M&Ms?). I asked to use the bathroom. The two girls looked at each other – each afraid to deny my request. Walnuts make my throat and ears itch terribly... you guessed it. The guy I passed in the mirror looked a hundred miles older. He was still able to muster a smile.
Sometime after 6 p.m., as I pedaled further towards somewhere, hoping my legs could out-sprint the darkness, a face appeared from the passenger-side window of a car: "Are you Ron?"
“Yes, I'm Ron.”
"We've been looking for you. Do you want a ride back?"
(No, I think I'd rather die out here.) "Yes. Thank you! I feel like an idiot."
He loaded my bike and I called my wife. They had been close to checking local hospitals and alerting the police that I was missing. But somehow I was on the right route. I'd ridden more than 120 miles and had been on the roads of somewhere for 10 1/2 hours.
Back at my car I was given a bag of rest stop items and a warm tray of apple crisp. I gave one of my saviors a tight hug and drove away towards my own somewhere.
Now for the part that includes you. And by you, I mean the over forty type - the over weight type - the post injury type - the trying something new type - the doing something old type - the I can't do it type - and the let's just ride type.
Let's start a cycling group, name it something clever, and roll smaller rides into bigger ones on our way to somewhere.
Are you in? I'm thinking that getting lost is way more fun with a group of friends.
You can read more details on my blog. Yes, there is more!