Laurey Bikes – a bit of my story
For starters it is important to say I am a 21 year ovarian cancer survivor. And a 30 year uterine cancer survivor. I just turned 55 and feel as healthy and vibrant as I ever have. Life is a good thing.
Last year, when I was 54 I read that one might feel the urge to do something significant in one’s “Golden Year,” that is, the year that your age and birth year match. I had just gone through a big heartbreak and, wanting to shift my thinking and find something really good in life, I decided to do a big project in celebration of that Golden Year. And then I realized that it was my 20th anniversary of having ovarian cancer. And, just like that, I decided to ride my bicycle across the United States as a commemoration of that Golden Year and the fact that I lived through such huge, scary times.
One important thing is that I run a restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina and leaving for more than two months was not easy. But I felt compelled to do this project and my team rallied and made it so that I was able to leave. I also teamed up with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance who became the primary beneficiary of my fundraising efforts and who supported me and encouraged me as I went along as did Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, the professional organization of which I am a board member.
The ride, across the Southern Tier of the United States, was almost 3200 miles long. I rode with 21 other women, all of whom had their own reasons for doing their rides. Some raised money for breast cancer, diabetes, paralyzed veterans, Parkinson’s Disease or simply to prove to themselves that they could do such a thing. Our ages ranged from 42 to 70. Every one of us stayed on the ride for the entire trip, which was supported by WomanTours.
There were lots of joyous parts of this ride. Some soaring downhills, some challenging uphills and yes, some times of monotony. But I kept in mind all the people I knew who had struggled or were struggling with a cancer diagnosis and that kept me going on the tougher days.
I think one of the most significant days for me was the day when a piece of my clothing fell out of my pocket and landed in my rear derailleur, stopping me instantly, sending me over the handlebars and wrecking my bicycle. I got lots of help that day. I was helped by the boyfriend of one of my fellow riders who volunteered to take my bike to be repaired. I was helped by another rider who loaned me her bike for the day as she was driving the support vehicle and was not going to be using her bike. And I was helped by my friends, who gathered around, wiped my skinned knee, hugged me, and told me they would wait for me to gather myself. I missed 9 miles that day but it seemed inconsequential after I realized all that I learned in the course of that experience.
Doing this ride and being so open about my cancer survivorship have both been hard. I felt like I held my breath for a long time. I mean, I had uterine cancer when I was 25. I sailed past the 5 year mark and forgot all about it but then got ovarian cancer, 9 years after the uterine. So then I felt like I had to hold my breath for the next 9 years, to make sure I got past THAT mark. My mother died when she was 52 and so, even though I had survived two rounds of cancer, I felt like I had to hold my breath again, until I made it past that 52 year mark. I don’t like just going through life holding my breath, however. So now this time feels precious to me and also I am finally beginning to trust that I’ll get to stick around for more years, which gives me the courage to speak out a bit more, to be out of the closet as a cancer survivor and not feel like it will come back to get me.
I have felt the need to protect myself through this, however, because so many people wanted to talk to me about cancer and I felt like I have had to be the brave one who is not scared of these conversations. I AM scared of them, but I realize that these are conversations that most people don’t want to have at all and they need someone to talk to and I can listen. I am also aware of how unusual it is to be a 20 year survivor of ovarian cancer and as such I feel like it is really important to stand up and speak out and be an example and an advocate for spreading the word about early detection, which can be a life saving thing.
I hope that my ride will be helpful in some way to someone somewhere. I don’t know how that will happen or when or even if it will. But the spirit and real voices that guide me told me that the whole thing was bigger than me and that it was something I had to do. So now I’ve done it and, as someone said, the ride was merely the prologue. We’ll see how it turns out from now on.
Riding across the country was a life-altering event for me, allowing me to be much more open about being a cancer survivor, allowing me to ask for help, and giving me permission to have some days of unbridled fun too. It’s not necessary to be serious all the time after all. My business motto is “Don’t Postpone Joy®” and, in this case, I can say I did not!
Proprietor, Laurey’s (yum!) Catering and Gourmet to Go
Asheville, NC 28801