“Dad, we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together with God’s help.” That’s what my son Peter told me after he was diagnosed at age 14 with Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.
At the time, I wanted so badly to take his cancer from him and shield him from the pain, but Peter had an unwavering trust in his faith, his family, and his community to support him through whatever lay ahead. He knew that with this support system he could handle this battle with cancer.
Faith and Resilience
For 18 months, Peter fought, and our family—my wife, Peter’s brother and sister, and me—fought right alongside him. After months of scans and blood work, radiation and chemotherapy, and multiple surgeries to remove the tumor growing in his pelvis, we thought he was cured.
Peter was a passionate athlete who enjoyed playing soccer and skiing. I remember his orthopedic surgeon telling him that he wouldn’t be able to do those sports, or even run again, after the surgery to remove the tumor from his pelvis. However, the doctor said, Peter could probably golf, a sport that was new to him.
When we walked out of that appointment, Peter looked at me, and without any sense of sadness, said, “I guess I need to work on my golf game.” Moments like that, which encapsulate Peter’s resilience, motivate me to this day.
Shortly after finishing his treatment, however, what we thought was pneumonia in Peter’s lungs turned out to be a recurrence of the cancer, which had spread throughout his body. Peter quickly enrolled in a clinical trial, but the treatment being investigated in that study ultimately did not stop the spread of his disease. In 2005, at age 16, Peter passed away.
Riding in Peter’s Memory
Peter’s strength and resilience was part of the reason I signed up to ride in his honor in the Bristol Myers Squibb’s Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer, a cross-country bike ride to help raise funds for cancer research, through the V Foundation. This foundation gives 100% of the donations to cancer research and programs.
As I was training for the bike ride, I often thought about Peter’s journey with cancer. The training rides were 60 and 70 miles long, with hill workouts. I had never ridden that long before. Rain or shine, hot or cold, it didn’t matter, I was riding.
There were times I asked, “What am I doing out here?” Then I would think about my son, the suffering he went through, the treatments he endured, and how his positive attitude was unwavering. During those hard moments of training I reminded myself that this was minor in comparison to what Peter went through.
On September 8, 2021, I set out from Cannon Beach, Oregon, and on September 10, I finished riding more than 200 miles away in Walla Walla, Washington.
Overall, 18 teams of riders relayed across the country before the final riders finished at the Jersey Shore, on October 1. I’m just a small cog in this big wheel, but it’s all the small parts coming together that make something great, from the organizers to the riders, to all those who have supported us along the way.
Together for a Cause
When I began fundraising efforts for the ride, I would share Peter’s story, sometimes on social media, with new colleagues, or with anyone who asked what I was training for. The response was amazing.
Peter’s high school friends reached out to show their support. Some of the neighborhood children even set up a lemonade stand to raise funds. It was supposed to last an hour, but it lasted 4 hours. People came and stayed and hung out in our front yard, and we raised $2,356—all from a lemonade stand.
It’s been a humbling experience to witness my community, near and far, rally around this cause.
Vulnerability & Strength
I once read that vulnerability and shared life stories draw people together. As I shared Peter’s story—his moments of strength and resilience, but also of pain and grief—so many people opened up to me about their personal experience with cancer.
I learned about colleagues who had cancer themselves, and others who had a parent or siblings who had recently passed away from cancer. I even met a barista at the coffee shop I visit who had a rare pediatric bone cancer similar to Peter’s. She donated her tip money for my ride.
I participate in this coast-to-coast ride in honor of Peter, but I also ride for my friends, family, colleagues, and all the other people who have been affected by cancer.
I think back to when Peter was first diagnosed, when he told me that we were going to get through it together. That is still true today—we’re all in this fight with cancer together.