Oncologist, Volunteer, Bike Valet: Reconnecting with the Why
At VeloSano 2017, a Cleveland Clinic oncologist reconnects with the people and purpose that drove him to a career fighting cancer.
By Prateek Mendiratta, MD
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy
VeloSano means “swift cure” in Latin. It is one of many amazing events around the country that raise money for cancer research in the hope of a cure for this disease. VeloSano is a road cycle race where people from all walks of life can come together with just a bike and determination to ride for research. The distances range from 12 miles to a 2-day, 200-mile journey through the city of Cleveland to support research being conducted at the Taussig Cancer Center at the Cleveland Clinic. With the current political climate and the threat of funding cuts to cancer research, these types of events are even more important and essential in providing hope for our patients. I am not a cyclist, yet could not miss the opportunity to help out such a worthy cause in my own backyard. I signed up to volunteer without a clue of what the day would bring, yet sure that I was in for a day that I would never forget.
Rain could not dampen the spirit of the day, and even after a torrential downpour, the sun found a way to pierce through long enough for the cyclists to safely maneuver the course. Going to one of these events, one can’t forget how it truly takes a community to battle cancer. Everywhere you are surrounded by people who are committed to making a difference. Patients who are blessed to have the ability to ride and hope for a chance for better tomorrow for themselves or their fellow patients. Caregivers riding to honor the courage and spirit of their loved ones. Researchers and medical professionals riding to pay tribute to the courageous patients that inspire them to do better when it comes to cancer care. Volunteers and community leaders riding as a motivated fellowship of men and women who want to support and be there for all touched by cancer. From start to finish, each person caries a story of whey they are there and to see it all firsthand, it is hard to not feel encouraged that we can win this battle ahead of us.
My role that weekend was to serve as a bike valet — I stored bikes for the cyclists while they checked in and waited for their race to start, and returned their bikes when it was their turn to commence. I was amazed at the range of people who decided to dedicate their weekend to the cause. Children who probably just mastered the skill of riding months ago rode alongside adults with many years of wisdom and life behind them (and still many great years ahead). Seasoned athletes with ripped muscles shared the course with weekend warriors who remind me of myself reliving my old glory days.
I was amazed also at how much variation there was in the bikes. Some bikes I could practically pick up with just my pinky, made of some high-tech metal with the weight of a feather. Another bike made me smile, decked out with a basket with flowers and a bell on the side; the words “FIGHT CANCER” were written across the basket. Some riders even had attached pictures of their loved ones who succumbed to their disease or were actively fighting cancer, adding special meaning to why we are all there. Each bike was the weapon that these riders would use to battle cancer.
As I was returning their bikes, I would thank each and every one of them and wish them a great ride ahead. I wanted to let them know as an oncologist, I truly value their commitment and time to this event. I was about to thank another rider when she smiled back at me and responded, “Doctor, thank you for helping my family and I plan many more rides ahead.” She was a former patient of mine who was getting specialized care elsewhere, riding during this event, and took the time to remember and acknowledge me. It was then and there the whole weekend came full circle for me. We embraced, and it is in moments like these you realize that those tough days in clinic and on wards really do matter to the patients who come into our lives.
As my former patient finished passed the finish line, I was honored to be there cheering and ringing my cowbell. The weekend was a wonderful success and raised valuable money for much-needed research. It also taught me that we can all make a difference. Never doubt that your voice and time matter when it comes to trying to change the world in a positive way. We as a community can come together and really make a difference, and you can see it firsthand any weekend in almost any city across the country. I challenge you to find causes that are close to your heart, and find a way to be involved in helping those who are suffering. Don’t let inertia and or a belief that your voice doesn’t matter stand in the way of what could be one of the most gratifying ways to spend your weekend. And you may be surprised, that the thanks you get from a patient, friend, family member or community member will motivate you to continue to volunteer.
Dr. Mendiratta is pursuing a clinical fellowship in experimental therapeutics at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center after almost a decade in community practice. Follow Dr. Mendiratta on Twitter @cancerdocinevo.
Originally published on Cancer Doc in Evolution; reprinted with permission.
Photo Credit: Gameface Media