This is the third part in the series Sometimes It Is About The Bike.
A few weeks after returning from the ski trip in Tahoe, Eddie would tell me that he had ran up the stairs of his home with a basket full of laundry and had to sit gasping on his bed to regain his breath once again. On this occasion he had also coughed up small amounts of blood. Something was wrong.
He went to his general practitioner to get checked out a few days later- the basics all seemed fine. His heart was strong, blood oxygen levels were fine- he was in terrific shape for a man of 60 years old. As almost an afterthought his doctor scheduled a chest x-ray. After a series of tests, examinations and evaluations were made over the following weeks the diagnosis of Stage III non-small-cell carcinoma was made. He had developed an inoperable grapefruit-sized tumor that had surrounded his aorta and completely closed off the airway to his left lung.
At this point in the telling of this story it would seem fitting to launch into a recitation of my Father’s decline over the next 3 years- going into the endless chemotherapy treatments (27 of them), radiation treatments (over 100), various medications and their respective side effects, countless hospital and doctor visits. However, this would detract from the underlying greatness of his struggle. Neither am I minimizing what I can only consider the miraculous medical treatment he received, the angels in the chemo clinic, and the most amazing medical team a person could ever have hoped for. Being sick with cancer is alot of hard work, and while all of these things “Medical” filled more and more of his days- ultimately buying him more days, the work of being sick never overcame him. He was never a cancer patient.
The truth is, he would not want me talking about his illness at all. In my conversations with him about his sickness and treatments, he would only tell me enough so that I would not go to Jeannie for all of the information (which I would do anyway). This is not out of shame, misplaced machismo or false sense of pride, refusal to acknowledge an obviously severe situation or an attempt on his part to obfuscate the fact that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would likely die from this condition. Quite to the contrary, Eddie had the ability, more than anyone I know to simply accept the situation that was before him and set out on a course of action.
“It is what it is” was perhaps one of my Father’s most common and endearing sayings. There is an absolute truth that “it” is infact always exactly what “it” is, regardless of our desires for “it” to be something different or our efforts to change “it” to something more to our liking….something more palatable. I still struggle with this simple concept, but I see the is strength in his ability to see something for what it is, and I think it takes the highest form of courage to do so: honesty and humility.
Back in my Atlanta garage I began to remove the parts of my Dad’s roadbike from the box where they had sat for the previous weeks. The bike had originally been Dan’s and even though it was now over 20 years old, the paint was in good shape and the unmistakable Dura Ace gruppo looked to be in decent order. At some point Eddie had upgraded the fork to a clear-finished carbon fork. I remarked how light and feather-like the frame felt in my hand as I removed the protective foam packaging. It was easily 15 pounds lighter than the KHS.
The bike went together quickly and perfectly. Fighting off another round of tears, I also found in the box my Dad’s helmet, water bottles and complete tool kit- everything he owned that was bike related. His brand new riding shoes were in there too- we have the same size feet. After inflating the tires I took the Specialized out for an awkward test ride the steep racing geometry felt squirrely in the turns compared to the yachty feel of KHS. Also unlike the KHS, the bike fairly lept out from under me at turning the cranks. This bike felt very, very good- stiff and responsive.
It would be several rides before I would become fully accustomed to the more aggressive riding position- but I found that even after 6-8 hours in the saddle that my knees, neck and shoulders no longer ached. Being able to ride for longer and at a faster pace coupled with my decreasing waistline and increasing anaerobic threshold gave me an opportunity to graduate from my lovely cruising TNT ladies and into the slower fast group that I would ultimately ride Tahoe with. My confidence and heart were beaming- all thanks to the bike my father gave me.