Riding with ghosts

When I think about it, it seems to me that holding fundraisers is an odd idea.  Not that I am against raising support for good causes, it is just that money raising events are an inefficient way to do it.  Form a committee, hold dozens of meetings, send hundreds of invitations, spend a lot of money and then pull people from their lives to eat rubber chicken and listen to stale speeches.  Why not just say, “Hey, we need money for widows and orphans,” and everyone sends a check.

You may answer that people are not that giving; most will not respond to a simple request for donations. The fundraiser, with its music, food, auctions, honorees, tricky-trays, tuxedos and special events like running, walking or sharing a sports venue, is a more devious way to pry dollars from wallets.  Given the success of this philanthropic institution, it must work.  Still, frankly, I was starting to have my reservations about this method of fund raising, until I received my invitation to next month’s Bike Ride for Amy.

The Amy Foundation Ride is the yearly outing to raise dollars to pay for mammograms for the uninsured.  Established six years ago in the honor of a patient of mine, a Central New Jersey woman who died from breast cancer, the Foundation has paid for several thousand mammograms in the New Jersey and saved multiple lives.   The ride draws bike riders from all over the region to cruise 25 flat miles, push 35 rolling miles or crush themselves over 50 miles of hills.

What I have come to understand is that the Amy Ride is not just about raising money, getting some exercise or sharing a beautiful spring morning together.  The real point is not just to protect women in the future by bringing in cash, but to honor women and men who have suffered from the disease and to remember those that have died.  The entire event, from gathering in the cool of an early morn, to the clatter and clink of bikes lined up during brief welcoming words, to the whirr of wheels down hills or the pain of burning thighs, is a ceremony of remembrance, and a celebration of lives lived and lives lost.  We do not ride alone, we ride with ghosts.

Thus, the purpose of many such events is not just to raise funds, but to raise consciousness.  Not just to bring in the big dollars, you can do that with email and crowd sourcing, but to educate, share and celebrate life.   We create awareness and a deeper understanding of the importance of certain causes, the sacrifice of those that have lead and those that have fallen. Whether we are raising money fight cancer, poverty, abuse or even to support a political belief, we come together to share in the vision and in memory.

Therefore, again, on Sunday, June 1, I will climb on my ancient bike and wheel my way through several hours of challenging rises and exhilarating descents.  Hopefully, I will contribute not only my sweat, but raise valuable dollars, which will save lives. I will not be alone.  Next to me are other riders, decked in bright colors and garish helmets.  But, on the road ahead, around and behind me will be stories, dreams and hopes of the ghosts that fought against breast cancer and lost their lives. We will never forget their sacrifice and will use their memories to ride forward so that soon the dread disease will be no more.


  • Thank you. I've lost many friends in my stage iv support groups; thank you for honoring them while giving your skill and knowledge to treat the living and your "sweat equity" to detection. Sharing this on the 30% page.
  • penelope egan
    simply................thank you.............
  • D Someya Reed
    I thought long and hard about responding to this one but in the end I felt that I needed to speak on behalf of (not for) those who don't want to "ride with ghosts." My wife was one of them. There are many reasons why some people (with cancer or cancer-free) do not want to participate in these types of events. Some of those reasons are obvious. For my wife, first, it was the all too common war/survivor/battle references she didn't want to be a part of. Another, the poor uses, abuses and administrative "cut" of the monies collected. The grants for repetitive testing that achieved nothing only to have some K-12 student at a science fair come up with something that no one else (in the research field) "ever considered" and was now hailed as a breakthrough. The student got her 15 minutes of fame and then the "discovery" would never see the light of day again. I'm still watching and waiting. Some people just aren't "joiners" and that's OK, too. Many, many other reasons remain unspoken or cancer has silenced them forever. Both of us thought there was too much pressure and expectation placed on all people to participate in what often becomes overly-romanticized events. If you went to that same extent on your own, you would be classified as suffering from unresolved grief and you would be recommended for a medication and/or therapy regimen. I'm not bad-mouthing the "Bike Ride for Amy" event. I actually went to their website and much of what was said there would have been the same had I replaced "Amy" with "Jodi." But too many people make others feel that they "dishonor" those we lost to cancer by not participating. That is wrong as well as the furthest thing from the truth. None of us (even if we've had our own cancer) can truly understand what any other person's experience is like. As it was with us, no matter how close people are, there are just some reasons that will never be understood. This does not mean that non-participants are any less caring or concerned about others. If it means anything to anyone, I'm telling you all right now that you need only do what feels right for you because at the end of the day, you are only one you must answer to...you can't escape you. I don't attend any of these types of events. I don't feel any pressure to donate to any that I don't choose myself. I don't feel swayed by "gifts" of return address labels with my name (always) spelled wrong. I don't feel that something that my wife and I agreed not to do during her life should be something that I now do without her. I do attend every conference, seminar, presentation, etc. on breast cancer (and other forms) that I am able. I can assure you that the feeling of ghosts in the room is no different there than for any other of these events. I do honor those living with cancer and those who've died from it by even as little as asking the questions I know attendees want to ask but are too afraid to ask themselves. It is difficult and heartbreaking when one or more attendee, as we are leaving, invariably asks me where I practice and/or do I accept their insurance? This is when I must tell them that I'm not what they think I am. It happens most every time and even if I announce it before I speak. Knowledge and action (and appropriate use of donations) are what we truly need.

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