Name: Mark DeLong
Hometown: Vancouver, Washington
Occupation: Consultant in Medical Hematology
Cycling time: 15 years old
Reason for the bike: My wife, Sue, and I wanted to be cyclists after volunteering at the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. After Hawaii, we decided to sign up for a local triathlon in Oregon. Our long walks in the countryside near home changed us – we got in physical shape, but unexpectedly our cycling together provided the time of emotional and spiritual solitude and reflection we needed after losing our youngest son due to pediatric bone cancer.
Before my son, Peter, was diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone at the age of 14 in 2004, my life with three children was the normal kind of ‘madman’ many young families face today: challenges of balancing work, of training my children in soccer, gymnastics, piano lessons and taxi for our children’s events. Yet our weekends were spent together on adventurous outings exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest, hiking, skiing, easy mountain biking and camping to connect with the family. We did not know that a storm was coming in our lives.
When Peter was 14 he had recurring hip injuries that we and his medical team attributed to football or skiing. Still, our family doctor was concerned, and after testing, in February 2004, we found out that Peter had rare bone cancer — called Ewing’s sarcoma — in his pelvis.
Peter, our youngest, was a kind and wise soul who brought a lot of laughter and tenderness to our family, and his battle with cancer brought our family, extended family and friends together in a new and deep way so that we have seen his strong and positive will to conquer him.
Sadly, Peter passed away on October 6, 2005. Our family suffered from deep emotional grief, and our “new normal” lived with that grief, especially in the first few years after he left us. Yet we lived with more than one purpose. We became more sensitive and able to help our friends and family who were suffering from loss, depression and life trauma. Our priorities on faith, family and friends are now lived in a deeper and more authentic way. Over time, the grief has become less intense, but the compassion remains.
On the first anniversary of Peter’s death, we were invited by the family to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii to help overcome our grief. The Ironman World Championship was going on at that time, and we decided to volunteer at the finish line. We were so inspired by the non-professional athletes running that we made a life changing decision and signed up for a local triathlon.
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As my wife Sue and I were already swimmers and joggers, we decided to focus on cycling. We hired a triathlon trainer to teach us how to ride a bike and give us running and swimming tips. I still remember how proud we were on our first 10 mile drive. As our journeys became longer and more frequent, the physical exertion pushed us emotionally and spiritually. We often said “we can do this” because our rough journeys were so much easier than Peter’s chemotherapy and cancer treatments.
Since then, cycling has become a way of life for 15 years. As we cycled the country roads near home, it gave us time to be together, to cry and to reflect on the last two years of cancer treatments that were experienced in an era of exhaustion. There is something about nature, cycling and doing it as a team that heals the soul. And the cycling community that we are now associated with is also very supportive.
In 2017, I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. After losing our son to cancer, it was disheartening news for our family. Shortly after this harsh news, the cancer was surgically removed. As I recovered, our family life returned to normal and we were grateful. So we were devastated to receive the unexpected news that the cancer we thought was cured had reappeared in 2019. Once again he was back at the medical center for tests and treatment.
Ironically, a bike ride to raise funds for cancer patients saved my life. Sue was participating in the 70.3 Hawaiian Ironman in 2019, and she used this event as a fundraiser for our small non-profit organization for pediatric cancer patients. While training in Hawaii, she met and became friends with Lynn, a nurse and Ironman competitor, who changed our lives. When Lynn heard about my cancer recurrence, she told us about a clinical trial in California that helped my oncology staff cure my cancer. As a result, I am cured and start cycling again three to four times a week.
As a double cancer survivor, I now experience each new day as a gift. During and after my year of cancer treatments, cycling has helped me to fully recover physically, emotionally and spiritually as I have found great healing in loneliness and renewed strength cycling. In addition, the cycling community that we met in our gym, and eventually in our local cycling club, has been very supportive.
A typical week of cycling for us now is three to four bike rides per week, which range from 25 to 70 miles each. By January 1, 2021, I had officially completed cancer treatments and started training for the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer (C2C4C) ride, a hike across the country in support of the V Foundation, which raises funds for cancer research. The bicycle has once again become a means of healing. At the end of our workout I was riding four days a week which ranged from 35 to 70 miles – a huge challenge and an accomplishment for me personally as I regained muscle strength and confidence.
I just completed a drive from Cannon Beach, Oregon to Walla Walla, WA covering over 240 miles in three days. Our small Bristol Myers Squibb team, Hope Warriors, has been able to raise over $ 110,000 for the V Foundation, and our corporate team has so far raised over $ 1.5 million for cancer research. . I hiked the 240 miles in honor of my son, Peter, who encouraged our family to “live every day as a gift”. When Pierre learned that he only had a few more weeks to live, he said these words which haunt me and inspire me at the same time: “We will all be together in paradise one day. Whether you live 16 or 100, thank you mom and dad for teaching me how to live for my faith, friends and family. Thank you for being the best parents ever.
Cycling has been life changing for my wife and I as we cried, healed and most importantly reflected and encouraged each other as we traveled the country roads near our home. In short, the bike gave us space to take the time to get closer to each other, God, and our friends that we met along the way.
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