By Richard Spayde, Cure on Wheels, Inc. co-founder
This morning the Cure on Wheels cyclists hit the road for the third day of the journey to the State Capitol. The 108-mile trek to reach Tally started off with a cool, windy morning and lots of cloud cover, but as the day wore on, riders were greeted by pleasant temps in the low 70s. To top it off, they hit a nice tailwind around Monticello, helping them to an early arrival in Tallahassee.
This year, I'm covering the miles in the comfort of an SUV. I’ve done almost all of the Capitol Rides on a bike, but some foot and ankle issues have relegated me to one of several vehicles we affectionately refer to as “sag wagons” that provide support for the riders. Believe me, I’d much rather be out there pedaling with this year’s 30+ riders.
I co-founded the charitable organization Cure on Wheels that organizes this ride and others for Moffitt because of my experience as a patient. In 2005, at age 38, I was diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly form of leukemia called acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. My doctors in St. Petersburg told me there was nothing to be done but to go home and make some memories with my family, including two daughters who were just 1 and 5 years old at the time. I told them they had the wrong guy if they thought I was giving up so quickly.
A friend managed to connect me with Moffitt Cancer Center, where I underwent two stem cell transplants in just over 30 days with life-saving cells donated by my brother. It was a daunting experience, but I am so grateful to be alive. I’ve been able to watch my daughters grow up. One is at Florida State University, the other a sophomore at St. Pete High School. How could I ever thank Moffitt for that gift? Cure on Wheels and the Capitol Ride are a big part of my answer.
Every person who rides the 326-mile backroads route from Tampa to Tallahassee has their own reasons for doing it. Some former patients like me do it to prove to themselves that cancer didn’t win. We’ve had people ride while still in the midst of chemo, which is unbelievable to me. And then there are caregivers, family and friends who ride for those who can’t. We all ride to make a difference, to increase awareness of Moffitt and funding for its research and patient services. And through the ride, we all become a family, offering encouragement and assistance. When a rider “hits the wall” of mental or physical endurance, you’ll see fellow riders slowing to pace them in front and back in a cradle of support until they’re ready to charge again.
For me, when the urge to quit has hit in the midst of the ride, I think back to my days in the hospital. When I was told I might not survive, I would have given anything to trade places with where I am today, riding through any kind of weather. You just focus and remind yourself of what patients endure in hopes of a cure.
Most of us don’t appreciate how lucky we are to have Moffitt Cancer Center until we need it. We ride to remind lawmakers — and everyone — that Moffitt needs our support to continue its life-saving mission.