When Dana Vaughns gets on his bike, has that first push off, and starts riding, nothing hurts. He loses himself in his route and the music he’s listening to. It is motivating him to get out there and just get it done. Yes, sometimes it’s hard but that’s to be expected when training for a segment of a cross-country cycling relay. Yes, sometimes he feels like quitting, but then he remembers how 10 years ago he spent 4 days in the ICU after undergoing surgery to remove the cancer on his spine, and just nodding his head was a struggle.
A Rare Cancer
Dana knew something was wrong with his body even before the word “cancer” came out of his doctor’s mouth. He felt a tightness in his neck that persisted for a couple of months before his diagnosis; he was starting to get soreness in his chest, and it was painful to just cough or clear his throat. He had numbing and tingling in his arms and fingers and difficulty holding on to things.
Dana was diagnosed with plasmacytoma on the T1 vertebra at the top of his spine, a rare bone cancer that occurs mainly on the spine. In addition to several rounds of radiation therapy, he had to undergo a surgical procedure very similar to an open-heart surgery. Dana’s chest was opened to gain access to the T1 vertebra, which is located at the stem of the neck and the beginning of the back. The vertebra was removed along with the cancer.
“I knew that there were going to be some changes in how my body would respond to things following surgery, but I stayed focused on what was necessary to get back to the best that I could be. I did everything that I could just to try to get back to where I had been,” Dana said in an interview with CONQUER magazine.
Once he got there, nothing was stopping him from surpassing it.
Bike Ride Symbolic of Conquering Cancer
When Dana was approached by his coworker at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) about riding in his company’s annual Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer bike ride, he thought that there was no way he could do it. Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer is a cross-country relay bike ride that aims to raise money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
“At that moment, it was so daunting, but I thought about it and realized this would be pretty monumental if I could pull it off,” he said. “I never owned having cancer. I never called it ‘my cancer,’ and I don’t have any intention of ever claiming it—only defeating it. Crossing the finish line with the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer team will be symbolic of my victory over cancer for the past 10 years.”
Dana will be riding from Cannon Beach, Oregon, all the way over to Boise, Idaho, over the course of 3 days, for a total of 225 miles.
Dana has found that the support he needs while training for the ride is similar to what he needed when going through cancer treatment.
“You got to have a team of people who are competent enough to be able to get you through all of this stuff,” he said. “I had to have a team that helped me get from point A to point B when I was immobilized, and I couldn’t move. I had to rely on people. Even today, when it comes to training for this bike ride, it’s going to take all of us on the team to be able to pull through this thing, because it’s hard to do anything by yourself. But man, it sure does feel better when you’re doing the right thing with a lot of folks with the same goals.”
Dana Riding for His Dad
Although participating in Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer will be symbolic of Dana’s victory over cancer, it will also be in memory of his father who passed away from lung cancer in 1994.
“I think about it every single day, because that’s one of the things that really outside of him being my father, we definitely had in common. It’s not something genetic that he passed on to me, but it just happens to be that he had cancer and passed away, but I had it and I’m thriving and I’m living,” said Dana.
“I’m trying to carry this on, not only for him, but for myself and for other patients as well who are out there battling, for family members who have passed, and for those who are still fighting today.”
Mark Riding for His Mom
Mark Peters, another Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer participant, knows too well the drive that is pushing Dana every time he gets on his bike. Mark is also riding in memory of a parent who passed away—his mother died from metastatic melanoma on his 11th birthday, in 1974.
“Back in 1974, we knew very little to nothing about cancer. It wasn’t talked about publicly. And there wasn’t much patient and caregiver support back then either. As a child, I knew my mother was sick, but I didn’t know with what, and I knew it was serious, but I didn’t know that she was only going to live 6 months,” said Mark.
Much of his adult life has been dedicated to helping fight cancer. Mark is a clinical pharmacist and Director of US Oncology Advocacy and Policy at BMS. He has been a part of Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer for the past 5 years, but mostly behind the scenes, until this year.
“I thought it was time to dive in,” Mark said. “I really want to ride in memory of my mom, and obviously ride in the memory of other people I have lost in my life from cancer, and honor those who are battling the disease right now. It’s important to ride and raise money for the research, because we need to do more.”
Mark will be taking part in the 225-mile section between Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis, Indiana.
Training has been challenging, but he cannot help but compare it to the battle his mother had to face as she fought a disease that there were not very many treatments for at the time. Riding up a hill may be tough, but it’s not much compared with the hills his mother had to climb in her battle with cancer.
Although Mark’s mother has been on his mind for the past 45 years, he feels he is honoring her more now than ever before, as he undertakes this challenge.
Also on his mind during his cycling journey will be his high school classmate and school locker partner Jeffrey, “who is currently battling cancer. He says, ‘nobody fights alone.’ I think that’s absolutely true of patients with cancer,” Mark said. “But I take that one step further. I would say nobody rides alone, either. I’m confident that our loved ones will be with us every step of the way on this ride, inspiring us to go further.”
The first leg of Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer will depart from Cannon Beach, Oregon, on September 4, and conclude in Long Branch, New Jersey, on September 24. Participants hope to collectively raise $1 million, which will be donated to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. BMS will match all donations up to $500,000.