By Aaron Hoxworth, first year graduate student at Grand Valley State University. In the summer of 2014, Aaron is traveling with a group of college students on a 70 day, 4,000 mile bike ride from Baltimore, Md. to Portland, Ore. http://4kforcancer.org/profiles/aaron-hoxworth/
The leading cause of disease-related death in young adults is cancer. Unlike the improvements that have been seen in other age groups – younger and older – the survival rate of young adults living with some of the most common types of cancer have not improved in over 30 years. This reality is staggering, especially when coupled with the fact that nearly 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year.
I would suggest that nearly 100% of people in the world are in some way — through family, friends, or a personal experience — affected by cancer. Yet, most of us go through a typical day without thinking about it or believing that we could do anything to change it. That was me. I was fully aware of the grisliness of cancer, but its reality escaped me. I am not a scientist or a medical expert (not even close), and an impoverished college student to boot – so what could I possibly contribute to the fight? A walk here or a dollar there seemed trivial, so what good could I do?
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine, an avid cycler, confided in me that she was thinking about signing up for a program of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults called 4k for Cancer. This is a 4,000 mile bike ride during the summer months beginning in Baltimore, Md. to one of four different locations on the west coast. I thought she was crazy, but told her if she believed she could do it, it would turn out to be one of the greatest experiences of her life. Upon further investigating the background on this program along with the specifics of the ride itself, I became intrigued about the possibility of embarking on this journey myself. I was no avid cycler. And cancer? I think I knew someone with it at some point, but the memories were gray. As the days went on, the more I fell in love with the idea. The more I fell in love with the idea, the more I realized I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to apply for this opportunity.
Within the application was a question about how I was personally connected to the cancer community. I froze. I texted my mom and my dad and asked them who in my life had been diagnosed with cancer. Before receiving a response, it hit me: my hero, my grandpa Beecher had been diagnosed four times and eventually lost the battle to prostate cancer. It was during this application process that I had an epiphany; a substantial shift or change in my thinking about cancer and my purpose here. My grandpa may not have been a young adult when he was diagnosed, but cancer is cancer; if I could do something about it, why wouldn’t I take that opportunity? After a few tears shed on a cold, late night in a public parking lot, I knew I didn’t just need to do this, I was meant to do it. For grandpa.
This experience, the mental and physical preparation for the ride, hasn’t just changed me, it has transformed me. I am no longer a bystander, I am an advocate. Because the opportunity was there, I took it. I don’t expect each and every one of you to ride 4,000 miles across the country to fight cancer. And perhaps fighting cancer isn’t what you’re passionate about. But I will challenge you: if you have passion for a cause and an opportunity to help — by bike, by time or by wallet, what’s stopping you?