Long ago in a land far away I was driving between two distant points in the sales unit I managed for M&M/Mars. It was a long drive. About midway through my five hour drive I bent my head down and felt a shock go down my spine. I kept testing. Each time my head bent thirty degrees a small shock went with it. I pulled over and slept. "I'm just tired," I thought. I was experiencing L'Hermitte's sign usually associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Many painful tests later I was diagnosed with MS. I was thirty years old.
My relapsing/remitting MS has behaved except for one eye problem five years after discovering L'Hermitte's sign. Even doctors have a hard time knowing I have MS. Life proceeded. When I was forty eight, four years ago, I got a cold that wouldn't go away. I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I had cancer making me a rare cancer / MS patient.
Constant colds was the biggest problem from CLL for a few years. Then my counts spiked and before you could say "cure cancer" I was having chemotherapy (over two years ago now). For a few years after chemo even thinking about riding a bicycle was impossible. Life consisted of difficult conversations, draining treatments, waiting and seeing. Life wasn’t over. Life, at 48, was just beginning. Cancer treatment filled life with new meaning, value, experience, friends and a desire to live an adventurous dream.
Why are dreams so hard to realize? Cancer isn’t my first health challenge. Remitting MS, diagnosed at 30, made me determined to live dreams immediately. Life happens while you are doing other things. I didn’t listen to urgent telegrams someone was sending. Then people I didn’t know saved my life.
I wasn’t alone my first day of chemotherapy. Chemo patients, some weekly visitors, were seated around me. They watched over and saved my life; special strangers, great doctors, caring nurses and miracles of modern medicine created a desire to give back, to develop Martin’s Fund for asynchronous cancer research and to ride a bicycle from Durham to Santa Monica.
Kindness of strangers is critical once again. I need help, email subscriptions, information on rides for a cause, donations, and positive thoughts. Chances of having some cancer are about 1 in 2 for men slightly less for women, so cancer affects everyone. We cure cancer in our lifetime by insisting it be so, by setting a World Record for a trans-USA bicycle ride and by living dreams instead of ignoring them.
Martin Marty Smith,
Founder Martin's Ride
* Stats from American Cancer Society (Cancer.org).
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