On July 20, 2013, Suzi Tobias, David Toutant and Jim Weitzmann set out from Port Huron, Michigan, on a 300-mile, two-day bike ride to draw attention to cancer prevention.
The Port Huron-Mackinac Bike Ride for Lesscancer.org was the brainchild of Suzi Tobias, who envisioned the bike ride as the onshore version of the famed Port Huron-Mackinac sailboat race. Suzi even designed the biking “kits” with such touches as including the initials of her lifelong friend Aileen O’Brien Graef, sister to Lesscancer.org board member and broadcast journalist Miles O’Brien. Suzi also included the initials of my siblings who died of cancer, Anne Couzens and Frank Couzens III. The back of the collar was inscribed with my mantra, “Lead with your heart.”
My small role was as chief cheerleader and supporter, but we had an amazing team of people that included John Kretzschmar, Trudy Weitzmann and Janice Lovchuk. And then there were others who met us along the way to ride with us, including Barrie Fires, who created amazing graphics for the ride, and Suzi’s brother Dan Schaitberger, who joined in toward the end and were there to follow Suzi, David and Jim across the finish line.
In reflecting on the epic Lesscancer.org bike ride from Port Huron to Mackinac this past week, I was reminded of reporter Alison Rose Levy, who asked, “How did this bike ride change your life? How did this touch your heart, move you.…What did this do for you, Bill?”
The bike ride certainly did move me in a way I had not expected.
I, of course, was surprised by the media coverage on television, network news, radio and even Deepak Chopra’s website intent.com.
But what really caught me off guard was when we would get stopped by someone or a group of people, and down the road there would be yet more people, and they would say, “Hey, are you the Less Cancer people? We are really grateful for everything you’re doing” or “I wanted to follow you to show my support” or “My wife is sick and I just want to thank you for all you’re doing.”
As I traveled the trail north, keeping fingers crossed and making deals with God to get our riders there without incident, I was moved by the miracles, the stories and the people who found their way to us. For 300 miles, we would be traveling through farmland and open space and then I would come upon a lone thumbs-up from a man standing in the back of a pickup…then a little way down the road, a honking horn and a cheer of “Go Less Cancer!”
People could track the Less Cancer cyclists online from a GPS device that the Bayview Port Huron-Mackinac racing officials had given us. Because of the tracker, people could tell when we were coming their way, and there are no words to describe the faces of the people on their lawns and front porches waving to us.
I find myself not really understanding what to do with this very human and heart-filled validation for our cause…
At one point, I pinched the top of my nose near my eyes, but it didn’t work. The inevitable happened, and the tears squeaked out of the sides of my eyes, creating a stream that branded my cheeks.
I though, Grrrrrrr…am I having a General Foods International moment? And suddenly I find myself in a touchy-feely coffee commercial.
So that was the first time…
The second, third and fourth times, the tears just flowed.
But it wasn’t just my tears but tears among our cyclists, passers-by and supporters.
The whole event made a statement: “We’re all in this together, and we may not be able to do much about it right now…but we won’t give up our work to make cancer a thing of the past.”
There was something very raw and transparent about these new people we were meeting as we navigated north in Michigan.
It felt like hope…the whole ride felt like hope. For the first time, I felt a sea of validation of the work we have been devoted to for the past decade.
It was clear that others, too, were understanding that they were part of creating the shift that would keep cancer prevention at the forefront of the cancer conversation.
While we have been successful as founders of National Cancer Prevention Day and Cancer Prevention Day in individual states, we have been well networked on the web with over 100,000 regular followers in the social networks. Our success has also been evident in prevention education, advocacy, research and programing collaborating with individuals to include, lawmakers, scientists, physicians, educators and with institutions to include universities, medical centers, schools and communities.
As I proceeded from one town to the next, waves of thoughts and emotions came flooding to the surface. Those many words of encouragement and welcome continued on to Mackinac Island, when Suzi was pursued by those who just wanted to say “Hi” and “Thank you”; the media met us and radio interviews started before breakfast. The Bayview Port Huron-Mackinac team of Kerrie Barno, Mark Stefke and Jon Witz, along with many others, really helped in making all the difference for the Less Cancer cause. Sponsors included Acura, Chevy Chase Trust, Whole Foods, Locust Hill Farm and Barrie Fires Graphics.
We certainly do not have all the answers on cancer or cancer prevention, but what we know is that since Richard Nixon launched the war on cancer in 1971 little headway has been made for a world without cancer…in fact, we now have more cancer, not less. And while our focus is on prevention as opposed to early diagnosis or treatment, we understand how important those pieces are; if there was anything I could do to bring back the loved ones in my life, I would.
That said, it becomes clearer every day why prevention must take the lead in the cancer conversation so that one day we have fewer incidences of cancer.
We must create a universal literacy for prevention where people understand the scientific fact that many or most cancers are preventable as opposed to being caused by genetics or luck of the draw. That convenience and money should not be what shape human health and the environment.
Healthy lifestyles can and do reduce risk. Prevention should not be confused with intention or a diagnosis. When scientists speak of preventable cancers, they are not assigning blame or responsibility. In any situation where precautions are taken — such as wearing a seat belt in a car —injury cannot always be prevented. Likewise, taking all possible precautions to reduce cancer risks is not a guarantee that cancer will be prevented.
This year, more than 1 million Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, a disease commonly believed to be preventable. Only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle.
Please join in the work of Lesscancer.org and consider a donation to Lesscancer.org to keep prevention in the forefront for your community and your family.