Thousands of bicyclists will descend on Bourne and Sandwich once again this weekend as the 35th Pan-Mass Challenge comes to the region.
Cyclists from 38 states and five countries ride in the annual event. More than 300 riders are cancer survivors or current patients. Among them is Shawn G. MacInnes of East Sandwich, riding in the PMC for the first time.
Mr. MacInnes was diagnosed with kidney cancer last September. He had the kidney removed and said that he is now cancer-free, but the experience of having the disease led the 43-year-old to want to do more in the fight against cancer.
“It was life-altering, eye-opening,” he said, adding that he considered himself lucky because at least he still has one healthy kidney.
He pointed out that while a lot is known about cancer, there is still much that remains unknown about the disease; thus the need for research funding. He recalled his own doctor being unable to answer some of his questions.
“I asked him, ‘How did I get this?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know’,” Mr. MacInnes said.
He said that friends of his have been involved in the annual bike ride for a number of years and he decided to join them this year. An avid runner and ice hockey player who has also participated in Tough Mudder obstacle races, Mr. MacInnes said that biking is not one of his sports. In fact, he did not even own a bicycle and had to buy one to train for the PMC. He said that he started training about three months ago, doing 10 to 12 miles at first. He is now up to 50 to 60 miles per ride, and despite his lack of experience as a cyclist, he will be doing the longest of the 12 courses offered to riders, the two-day 192-mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown.
Mr. MacInnes will be among 5,800 cyclists that will ride with the collective goal of raising $40 million to support adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through The Jimmy Fund.
Since 1980, the PMC has raised more than $414 million for cancer research. Last year, the PMC was Dana-Farber’s largest single contributor and the event raises more than 50 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. More than 230,000 individual contributions were made to last year’s fundraising campaign, with 100 percent of every dollar raised by riders going directly to The Jimmy Fund.
Mr. MacInnes said that his participation in the PMC requires him to raise $5,000, and so far, he has raised around $4,500. He said that it is amazing how generous people can be.
“Friends of friends have donated. They hear my story and want to help,” he said.
Mr. MacInnes said he will be riding as part of a team called ROAR, or Reindeers on a Ride. A portion of the funds raised by the group goes toward helping children who are battling cancer, and their families, during the Christmas holiday season.
Cancer also touched the life of Rebecca Hemsley-Gakidis of Onset who will be riding in her third Pan-Mass Challenge this weekend. Ms. Hemsley-Gakidis said that she lost a close friend, John W. Thomas, to lung cancer four years ago.
“That prompted me to do something more meaningful and with purpose,” she said, adding that she will be riding alongside a friend, Marlissa Briggett of Arlington.
Ms. Hemsley-Gakidis said that, like Mr. MacInnes, she and her father, Maarten D. Hemsley, also ride with a group. Theirs is the Patriots Platelet Pedalers (PPP). Group members raise money for research into multiple myeloma conducted by Dr. Kenneth Anderson, the Kraft Family Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
She explained that her father has ridden on the PPP team for years, and Dr. Anderson is also the doctor of a close friend of hers, David Wiley of Wareham, who is battling cancer. Mr. Wiley had a stem cell transplant procedure last year that was done by Dr. Anderson, she said.
Ms. Hemsley-Gakidis said that on day two of last year’s ride, she had a serendipitous moment when she pulled over at an intersection in Sandwich to wait for her sister. A man standing at the corner complimenting her on her PPP riding jersey, pointed to himself and said, “I’m that guy!” It took awhile, but she finally realized that the man was Dr. Anderson.
“I broke down in tears and hugged him,” she said.
Her friend, Mr. Wiley had just gone through his stem cell transplant procedure, so meeting Dr. Anderson was “an inspirational moment,” she said.
The Pan-Mass Challenge has also become a family cause for Ms. Hemsley-Gakidis. She said that the first year she took part, 2012, she rode with her sister, Deborah L. Schultz, and the two did the ride from Babson College to Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The two rode that year in place of their father, who was attending the Olympic games in London that summer. She said that her father has ridden in the PMC for more than two decades, and he likely became involved because both his parents died from cancer.
Last year, she extended her participation, opting to do a two-day ride and going from Babson College all the way out to Provincetown. She said the toughest part of the ride comes on a hill in Acushnet that she calls “the double black diamond.” She said that the first year, the hill “kicked my ass!”
At the top of the hill, however, was her reward—a bagpiper playing.
“I said, ‘Thank you! This is amazing! They’re playing for me!’” she said.
Last year, with a better bike and better trained, she said that she scooted up the hill, passing people, eager to hear the bagpiper once again, only to be greeted with disappointment—no bagpiper.
“I’m hoping he’ll be there this year,” she said.
Ms. Hemsley-Gakidis said that she still has $1,600 of the $4,400 she is required to raise, but she has until October 1 to come up with the total. She said that anything not raised through donations comes out of her own pocket. However, she is not worried about meeting her goal.
“People always come through; it’s amazing,” she said.