3 Ways Motorcycle Riding is Like Breast Cancer

My dad’s dad on a Harley

The scariest thing I’ve ever done is learn to ride a motorcycle, in spite of growing up around Harleys. Being diagnosed with breast cancer was scary too, but it wasn’t a choice. Yet they both have a lot in common, which occurred to me when Bruce and I took his Harley Street Glide out for our first real spring ride yesterday.

1. Fellowship matters. Motorcycle riders who pass each other on the highway greet each other with a wave, left hand extended out and down. It doesn’t matter what brand of bike they’re on.

Same thing with breast cancer. It doesn’t matter if you’re stage 0 or stage IV. In the Twitter #bcsm (breast cancer social media) community, we call it the bat signal. You’re just a tweet away from someone who gets it.

2. Lean with the wind. It’s not uncommon to get knocked around by the wind when you’re on a motorcycle. If you waited until there was no wind, you wouldn’t get out much. And I don’t know how to explain this, but you just naturally lean into it. It used

Dad on his 1946 Harley

to amaze me when I was following other riders how they just naturally tilted with the wind. When they got to a buffer caused by trees or hills, they were upright again, and when it passed, the lean came back. I did it too and I have no idea how, I just did. Breast cancer also causes turbulence, and then some. If you can lean into it, you’ll eventually find a buffer that sets you upright again.

3. You‘ve got to ride your own game. That’s something my friend Cindy always used to tell me when I compared myself to other riders. I was never capable of doing 600 miles in one day like she and Bruce and some other friends did when they rode border to border, from Texas to Canada. If I did 100 miles in a day, I was good. After a couple of years of riding, I realized I was much happier as a passenger.

Bruce and me at Sturgis in 1998. (He always wears a helmet now.)

I’ve often said that telling us how we should feel about our diagnosis is like telling us we should be six feet tall or have brown eyes. You may dive into it as though it were a graduate course, or you may trust your doctor to tell you what you need to know. You may decide to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it, or you may determine less is more when it comes to treatment. The choice is ultimately yours.

Bruce and me on the 4th of July in Iowa, 1998 or 1999.

A Death in the Family

Last May I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever ArtBra KC event in Kansas City. All of the models either had been or were still being treated for breast cancer, including my friend Pam Van Compernolle, who had metastatic breast cancer. It was a joyful experience. Pam was their first model and the face of ArtBra 2011.

This year’s event on May 4 was dedicated to Pam, who died on April 9. The program included “Warrior Princess,” a poem I wrote for her. Pam loved the poem, and I will always be grateful to the women of ArtBra KC for including it.

Everyone involved with ArtBra KC fell as hard for Pam as the rest of us did. On their Facebook page, they talked about how spunky she was and how much they loved her and will miss her. If you knew her, you’d know why. This picture of her modeling the Angel/Devil bra is pure Pam. She had the face of a beauty queen and the heart of a lion. She never once let cancer rob her of her joy and zest for life.

There’s so much more I want you to know about my friend, but it’s not time. For now, I want you to know that ArtBra KC is a role model for events the same way Pam is a role model for facing cancer with grace.

I’ve heard about women with metastatic breast cancer who’ve been discouraged from taking part in survivor events. I can’t begin to imagine how horrible and lonely that would feel. Metastatic cancer is already isolating enough. To be told you don’t qualify as a survivor is worse than being told you don’t belong; it’s being told you aren’t alive.

In contrast, the women of ArtBra KC welcomed Pam. They understand that metastatic breast cancer isn’t contagious.They also understand that until cancer claims them, women with metastatic cancer are here. They’re alive. They’re surviving.

Just like the rest of us.