May of 2011 seems so far away right now, but that is when I first told you about Chad's dreams of racing bicycles professionally. If you have not read it or need a refresher, you can find it here: Chasing Dreams.
Chad raced much of 2011 on an Elite Amateur team out of Ft. Collins, Colorado, and had considerable success. The Kelley Benefits team liked what they were seeing and signed Chad for the remainder of the 2011 season. He rewarded them by finishing third overall in his first stage race with them. The team later re-branded to Optum Pro Cycling, and Chad signed with them for the 2012 season. His dream of being a professional cyclist was coming true.
Chad started 2012 with high expectations of himself. However, he returned from races in Uruguay and Guatemala sick and having to fight off illnesses that prevented him from racing. He also was involved in multiple crashes and injured his knee in a race in Canada that needed time to heal. He finally recovered from his illnesses and injuries and was getting into late-season form. Then in July, he was entered in a stage race in Bend, Oregon. We received his call on Tuesday evening just after completing the prologue, a short time trial. He had won and would start the next day in the leader's yellow jersey--his first while on a pro team. Wednesday evening he called to tell us that he had been involved in another crash and had injured both his wrists. They thought that they were just sprained but were on the way to the hospital for x-rays. Just a couple of hours later we got the follow-up call: his right thumb and left wrist were broken, and both would require surgery. He was deflated and heart broken. His season was over.
The team made arrangements to have him flown back to Dallas on Thursday. His mother was able to make an appointment with a hand specialist for early Friday morning. We picked Chad up at DFW around midnight. After a few hours' sleep, we were on the way to the doctor's office. The doctor confirmed that surgery would be required to repair the injuries. By noon Friday, Chad was in surgery. They placed a screw in his left wrist and several pins in his right thumb. I was leaning on the bed rail when he started to wake up after surgery. He looked at me and said, "I was going to win that race." The only words of wisdom I could offer were, "Sometimes, life just sucks."
It would be at least six weeks before Chad would be cleared to ride on the road again, and he decided to stay at home to recuperate. Although he could not ride on the road, he could still ride on a trainer, and that's what he did. With his TT bike secured to a trainer, he rode with his elbows resting on the handle bars. I could tell he was working out his frustrations upstairs because the house would shake with the vibrations from the trainer. Having had to go through struggles myself was hard, but watching Chad have to go through his struggle was harder. I began to wonder if I had offered him good advice to pursue his dream and wondering if his dream was coming to an end. Optum reassured Chad that they wanted him back for 2013, and just a few weeks later, Chad was fitted with braces that would allow him to begin riding on the road again, but he would do no more road races in 2012. He returned to Colorado to resume his training and to start preparing for 2013.
While all of this was going on with Chad, I was still in the clinical trial for Crizotinib. The drug had been highly effective at stopping my lung cancer, and I had been on the drug for twenty-two months. I was beginning to dream of the day that God would completely remove this disease from my life. But just before Christmas, my CT scan showed signs that the cancer was returning, but they were inconclusive. A PET scan and biopsy would be scheduled for my next appointment in January.
Both boys were home for Christmas, and we did our best to ignore the latest report. But in January, there I was, going through those blasted tests again. The PET scan confirmed increased cancer activity, but we would wait on on the biopsy pathology report to confirm cancer had returned. We discussed with the doctor other treatment options. DeLayne and I had prayed that God would direct the path that we should take by closing the door to options that were not the right choice at this time and open the door to the trial He wanted me in. The most promising drug was LDK378, but it had just completed the Phase I trials, and no one had the Phase II trial open yet. There was another drug, HSP90, that was showing some promise. The closest place we were able to find it available was in a clinic in Fayetteville, Arkansas. My doctor made the call to refer me to the Highlands Oncology Group in Fayetteville. That evening after the biopsy, I was, once again, sick and in the ER. I was admitted to the hospital for several days. I was finally dismissed from the hospital on Sunday afternoon, and we started for home Monday morning. I received a call from the clinic in Fayetteville, while we were stopped for lunch. The clinical trial nurse was just wanting to touch base and give us her contact information in case the pathology report came back positive for cancer. I asked to confirm that this was for the HSP90 trial, and the nurse responded, "No, that trial just closed, and this is for the LDK378 trial we just opened."
We got the news that the pathology report came back positive on Tuesday morning. Chad had just left for Colorado to try and beat the nasty winter storm about to hit Dallas. I found myself having to fight back tears as I made the calls to the boys to tell them the fight was on again. The next call I made was to the nurse in Fayetteville. Two hours later, the clinic called back, and my first appointments were scheduled for the following week. God was clearly opening the door to Fayetteville, but why, of all the clinics in the U.S. that were trying to open the trial, was this little clinic first?
I was accepted in the trial, and just two weeks later became the first patient in the United States to begin taking LDK378 as part of the Phase II trial. The scans completed at my eight week follow-up showed that the drug was working, and the cancer activity was significantly reduced. My dream of beating cancer was on again. We called the boys to tell them the good news. While talking to Chad, we told him my next appointment would be the week of April 22nd. He said that if we could hang around a couple of days after the appointment that he would be in Fayetteville for the Joe Martin Stage Race. Since we had not seen him since January, and we had never seen him race in person with a pro team, we decided to stay.
2013 started with a bang for Chad, seeing success in early races and finishing second overall in a stage race in Portugal--his first European race. He returned from Portugal and then won the yellow leader's jersey in the individual time trial in the Redland's Classic in California. He held on to the yellow jersey until the final stage. He then had a couple of weeks to recover before heading for Arkansas.
There we were in Devil's Den State Park the day after my doctor's appointment. We were there to see Stage 1. A short 2.8-mile uphill time trial that would take the pros just barely over 8 minutes to finish. After all was said and done, Chad found himself in second place--behind by just two seconds and ahead of third place by five seconds.
While Stage 1 had been completed in almost perfect weather, Stage 2 would be an incredible 110 miles in nasty, cold, drizzly, damp, and windy conditions. The group mainly stayed together, but once they hit downtown Fayetteville, Chad's team put in an amazing pull at the front to deliver their sprinter to the finish. Their acceleration was so sudden, it created a split in the field. Their effort fell just short with their sprinter finishing second, but unbeknownst to them was that the yellow jersey race leader did not make the split. The team decided to ride back to the hotel, and we caught a ride back in the team van. On the way back to the hotel, phones started to ring. The team director was looking for Chad; he was now the race leader, and they needed him back downtown for the yellow jersey presentation.
Chad would start Stage 3, a 114-mile circuit race, in the yellow jersey. His second of the season. It was once again going to be horrible, cold, damp, and very foggy weather to race in. Since it was a circuit race, the team director worked out a plan for DeLayne and me to get a lap each in the team car. For me, it was a blast. For DeLayne, it was exciting, yet terrifying. It really was one of the most fun things I have done in awhile. To see what these athletes put themselves through and see the team working together was just amazing. Chad's team did their job protecting him, and he played it cool waiting for the rider in second place to make his move. When he made his move, Chad was still strong enough to go with him, and they would finish the day with the same time. The team had successfully defended the yellow jersey, and Chad would start the final stage in yellow.
Stage 4 would be an 85-minute crit in downtown Fayetteville. Sunday was a bright, sunny day. The weather was the complete opposite from the last two days. Chad would start the day in yellow, just five seconds ahead of Francisco Mancebo who was still in second place overall--the rider who had beaten him out of the yellow jersey on the final day just a couple of weeks earlier. The Optum guys started the stage out strong, controlling the front of the main group and keeping Chad out of trouble. A small group of riders was allowed to get a break that went out to 45 seconds at one point, but Chad's teammates kept them in sight and slowly began to bring them back. With just two laps to go, the break was down to 15 seconds, and Chad was still close to the front. On the final lap, the group was all together with Mancebo ahead of him, and it was up to Chad to not let a gap form between him and Mancebo. Chad and his team did their jobs and successfully defended the yellow jersey. Chad had just won the Joe Martin Stage race, his first National Racing Calender win.
After seeing Chad cross the finish line, I let out a big yell, saw his team director, and gave him a hug. I then started toward the team van where I knew Chad would be. Chad caught up to me about half-way there. He gave me a big hug and said, "That was for you. I love you and am so glad you are here to see it." Then I knew that there, in downtown Fayetteville, God had allowed our dreams to intersect. He is a pro cyclist and, if even for just that moment, I was healed of cancer.