Training for a cross country bike ride has put the fear of dying from cancer in Donna DiMaggio’s rearview mirror and instead has her focusing on something larger than herself. Donna, along with Bonni Norwood and 107 other Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) employees, will cycle across the country as part of the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer (C2C4C) 2018 ride to raise money and support the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
This year, all funds raised will benefit the V Foundation to support its groundbreaking cancer research program. The V Foundation funds research across the country for all types of cancer, and is committed to funding projects and people who will make the largest impact. Money raised will be matched dollar-for-dollar by BMS (up to a $500,000 donation).
“The ride is a commitment to oncology patients, in the form of a fundraiser for research support, but also to raise awareness of the fight that many are going through daily,” Bonni says.
Donna and Bonni will each be taking on a section of the nearly 3,000-mile ride, which spans from Oregon to New Jersey. Donna is riding 225 miles from Kansas City, MO, to Indianapolis, IN, and Bonni will be picking up where Donna left off, riding more than 200 miles from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh, PA.
A Personal Journey
Many of the C2C4C team members have been personally affected by cancer; many, like Donna and Bonni, are cancer survivors.
In 2012, Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer (early-stage ductal carcinoma in situ) and after having a bilateral mastectomy she hoped to be done with it once and for all. However, in spring 2016, her cancer returned, and it was recommended that her ovaries be removed and she undergo several months of therapy.
Bonni was diagnosed with melanoma in 2002. Her melanoma was surgically removed, came back, and was removed again. Every year, she gets a full-body skin exam—the best defense to catch melanoma early.
Five years ago, Bonni heard the first C2C4C team members present their experience at a companywide meeting. She was inspired by the difference her colleagues were making.
“I knew I wanted to be involved, someday. I am a cancer survivor, and the commitment this team made inspired me,” she says. “I had not ridden a bike in 45 years and decided that 2017 was that ‘someday.’ Last year’s ride was my introduction to Spandex and skinny seats, and I loved it! I loved it so much that I wanted to ride again this year.”
Similarly, Donna was inspired after hearing so many positive stories from BMS colleagues who had participated in past rides and knew that she was ready for her “someday,” despite having very little experience with endurance bike riding.
“This is my first time doing the race or any type of long-distance activity. I’ve never ridden a cycling bike before, and I’ve never clicked in to bike pedals, which, to be candid, is kind of scary, but a nice challenge at the same time. I am used to just riding my beach cruiser to the ice cream shop at the beach,” Donna said.
To get in shape Donna joined a gym and started spinning, personal training, and Pilates for core strength. In April 2018, all 109 C2C4C team members started a 5-month training program that includes strapping into pedals, road safety and how to cycle in group on the road, and how to build endurance to ride 75 miles per day.
Training for a ride this long would be challenging for most people, but for a cancer survivor like Donna, who is still feeling the effects of cancer treatment, it can be grueling. “I hadn’t done any type of exercise since treatment, because of tendonitis in my shoulders after my bilateral mastectomy, arthralgia (joint pain), and some side effects from my breast cancer medicine,” she explains.
“This training has me focusing on something larger than myself. All I prayed for during therapy was to see my daughter graduate from college, see my boys play baseball, and live a long healthy life with my loving husband. During therapy I could barely walk to the bathroom some days, so to think that I can push myself beyond anything imaginable makes me believe I am stronger than I ever could have imagined,” Donna says.
She hopes that the people she meets along this journey will realize that the riders are ordinary people trying to do an extraordinary thing. “We are not Olympic athletes. We are trying to show ourselves and others that anything is possible,” she said.
More Than a Physical Challenge
Despite her determination, Donna has a lingering fear that she may not be able to go the distance. Bonni knows firsthand some of the mental and physical challenges Donna will face when she’s out on the ride.
“It is so much more than a physical battle. This ride embodies the physical grit, the emotional fortitude, and the mental resilience needed to finish strong,” Bonnie says. “It’s a journey of getting comfortable being uncomfortable!”
Donna and Bonni’s experience battling cancer has helped them to get ready for the uncomfortable. And much like C2C4C riders, patients with cancer have to put themselves in unfamiliar territory and develop the strength and discipline to get through treatment.
The Team Is My Support System
Bonni believes that one of the key components of pushing through treatment and the ride is a strong support system.
“The team is critical in the ride and for the patient. It’s a built-in support system. It’s a hand on your back pushing you up a hill, or words of encouragement, or the belief in you that ‘you can do this’ when you think you can’t,” Bonni says.
Photo © 2017 Rich Cruse
When she’s out on the ride, Donna plans to keep in mind all the people in the world who are still battling cancer and who won’t or can’t quit.
For Donna and Bonni, C2C4C is a personal journey that intertwines their own experience with cancer and their desire to help other people facing cancer. For them, this ride demonstrates that one person can truly make a difference.
“Cancer is part of my story. This ride is part of my story. The monies raised for cancer research is part of my story,” Bonni says. “Every patient, current and future, becomes part of my story.”