PEDALING FOR A CURE FOR CANCER. We ride because we can. We ride for those who can not. We ride because the training rides and the 192 miles on the two days of the Pan Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) are nothing compared to living with or dying from cancer.
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Cancer is a Beautiful Type of Pain - By Ethan Hawes
Cancer is a beautiful type of pain. Through falling harder and more times than one ever should by the age of 25, I now stand taller, stronger than I ever would have otherwise.Through blood, sweat and tears, I limped my way to the finish line of this three-year marathon. I wouldn’t have been able to however, if it weren’t for all my supporters – my E-TEAM, who have served as my backbone. This goes beyond being a cancer survivor. This is a story of what matters most at the end of the day, the relationships that ultimately help shape us in who we are.
After running the Rock n’ Roll Madrid Marathon on April 29th 2013, I returned home a few weeks later from my semester abroad in Sevilla, Spain with my medal hanging over my neck along with a devastating limp. The infamous phone call I received later in July felt like a fatal blow. My life flashed in front of my eyes as I dropped to the floor overcome with a deafening roar of white noise. After numerous tests and x-rays, I found myself in the foreign waiting rooms of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A malignant Plasmacytoma was discovered to be the source of my hip pain, a tumor eroding the femoral head. Like a thief in the night, my sense of security was stolen along with the world as I knew it. Overnight I had gone from an ordinary 22-year-old senior at UMaine, to one of the youngest documentedpatients diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. An incurable form of blood cancer predominately found in people ages 65-70.
Dr. Robert Schlossman and my amazing team at Dana-Farber were quick to put the plan in place. Radiation, hip surgery, chemo, then a stem-cell transplant the following summer, concluded with a two-year maintenance (which I just completed) for the deepest state of remission.My life has been filled with beautiful gifts and silver linings since then. One that shines the brightest is the friendship I’ve developed with Ellen Fisher. She is one of the most selfless people I’ve had the privilege to know. Right before, the start of my chemo that October of 2013, she surprised me with a PMC kids ride that was put together in Portsmouth, NH. There, the E-TEAM was born. 50 or so bikers rode in my name wearing “ETHAN’S E-TEAM” hats and t-shirts. It was a day I never wanted to end. A few weeks later I had the honor of receiving a phone call from Robert Kraft wishing me the best in my recovery and invited me to meet him down on the field prior to a Patriots-Dolphins game. When we met, I presented Mr. Kraft with an E-TEAM hat. I felt the authenticity of his kind words and support as we smiled for pictures.I knew that I would be tested to great lengths in the following months but it was moments like these that I have cherished and hold close to me.
Around that time my mom decided that she was going to start fundraising and training for the 2014 Boston Marathon, for Dana Farber, to run for her son. Our family has used this turbulent experience to fight back like hell and make the most of each and every day. My mom, Betsy, is the strongest woman I have ever met. She showcased this strength in the most significant way she knew how. My dad, sister, and I all cheered at the finish line where she completed the arduous 26.2 marathon. In a way, we have all ran this together.
Fortunately, I was able to stay in school that year and received my treatment in Bangor, Maine. As the year progressed however, the wear and tear was taking its toll on me mentally and physically. My anxiety became palpable that spring knowing that a risky stem-cell transplant was on the horizon. My last final exam that May was in Finance. The isolating feeling of having cancer in college was always left at the door when I went to my classes and replaced with a semblance of normalcy. Sadly, that little slice of solace was coming to an end. I mindlessly filled out my bubble sheet and handed it to Professor Pank. Tears forming, he gave me one of the most genuine hugs I’ve ever felt and said to me, “Do not worry about this exam, Ethan. You have already passed the exam of life.” This has since served as my mantra.
Nothing could have ever prepared me for what it was going to be like in quarantine while having a stem-cell transplant. My world was now confined to this room, isolated from the world.My red and white blood cells were obliterated from my Melfalin conditioning chemo. My second birthday had arrived, a birthday of hope and new beginnings on June 23rd as my “healthy” harvested stem cells were administered into my IV. My immune system was essentially re-starting. A potentially fatal blow occurred a week after my discharge as what seemed like an innocent cough turned into pneumonia. Not knowing if I would survive resulted in a traumatic black hole that I fell myself slipping farther and farther into. I had sunken into the abyss and although I was able to fight off the sickness, I felt defeated. I spent the next 6-12 months recovering mentally and physically. I mustered all the strength in my reserve tank to go back to school spring of 2015 where I triumphantly achieved my greatest achievement in holding my business degree. I’m incredibly thankful for how graciously my professors in the business school served in helping me accomplish my goal there at the University of Maine.
I feel as if I also have a PhD in life experiences on top of my degree. The literal and figurative scars I wear is my resume – my proof that we are stronger than we ever thought possible. My most recent one is a 12-inch incision on my right hip that I had done three weeks ago at Brigham & Williams. Due to chronic acute pain and a fractured hip, I received a posterior and anterior total hip replacement. I broke down following the successful procedure when the incredible Dr. John Ready told my parents “Now I know why your son was in so much pain, his hip cracked in halfwhen I took out the dynamic hip screw.”The past three years have accumulated many “recovery” periods. Fortunately, this is the last of them as I am ready to keep moving forward.
Originally I felt as if my struggle was the greatest – unable to relate or connect with so many. I realize though, that my greatest gift is that I’m not alone. The hurricane that ripped through my life seemed overwhelming at times. I’m grateful everyday for everyone who has helped me pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that hard times hit us all, in some form or another. These hard times aren’t here to stay though. Even when I felt otherwise, I didn’t have to look far for people like you, pedaling for a cure forpatients like me. The supporters for myself and anyone else in the cancer community has given me the fuel to keep climbing. In a time of upheaval, knowing how much time and energy is going into research for the Multiple Myeloma and blood cancer community at Dana-Farber specifically, has instilled a sense of peace about the future that I couldn’t find when this journey began after the diagnosis. The gratitude and appreciation I have for every text, letter, note, and email filled with love and support is something I hope I can equally pay forward. Cancer took many things from me, but it has given me more.