Thursday, March 5, 2009

A reason to ride

Last May, I had all of my teeth extracted to make way for a pair of dentures.

I rode my bike to the oral surgeon's office near USC on the day of my extractions, and pedaled my bike back to the Valley with a mouthful of bloody gauze when the procedure was over.

AIDS/LifeCycle 7, 545-mile fund-raising bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, was less than three weeks away, and I thought I could use the training.

Somehow I had gotten the nutty idea that my gums would heal in time for me to debut my new dentures on ALC 7.

Instead, I learned that my gums would not heal until the week after ALC 7 ended, and then I would still need wait weeks longer for the dentures.

I wasn't gonna let toothlessness get in the way of me riding in ALC 7, so I did the all 545 miles of the ride, fueled mostly by oatmeal, applesauce and Fig Newtons.

At camp in King City on the second day of last year's ride, I registered for AIDS/LifeCycle 8.

Now it's nine months later. In about 12 weeks, ALC 8 will begin in San Francisco.

I'm in the middle of treatment for cancer, I've got plastic and rubber devices keeping me alive, and I'm still toothless. I put my dentures aside last Thanksgiving when I gave up on trying to fit them in my mouth around my tongue, which was swelling larger every day and I didn't understand why.

Although I haven't been on my bike in months, I still have a crazy idea that I might be ready to ride in ALC 8, and fulfill my commitment to raise $5,000 for the HIV services of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

With all of the wacky turns my life has taken, I haven't even started fund-raising.

The only donation in my ALC 8 kitty today is from the very first person I called my best friend. Sherry Sylvester lived across the street from me when I lived on Evergreen Drive in North Tonawanda, N.Y. Our family moved to California in 1966, when I was 8, and I lost touch with Sherry for nearly 43 years.

Last fall, Sherry somehow tracked me down online. We resumed our friendship, and Sherry provided the starter yeast for my ALC 8 fund.

So I've got $4,925 to go.

I'm not going to ride in ALC 8 if my doctors forbid it, if the ALC staff thinks it would be unsafe for me and the 2,500 other riders, or if I feel in my gut that I'm not healthy enough to ride.

A cancer diagnosis alone may not keep me out of the saddle, but my trach and G-tube will.

Yesterday a roadie friend of mine with health challenges of his own told me that he expects to see me on the ride, as he has for the past three years.

If I can shed my tubes and if my docs can blast these cancer cells to smithereens, I want to hop on my bike and roll out of the Cow Palace in San Francisco on May 31 and begin my fourth ride to L.A.

Don't know if I can pull off a stunt like that. But even if I can't, I still want to try to fulfill my commitment to raise $5,000 for the HIV services of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

The Center was there for me in 2005 when I couldn't keep up with COBRA payments on my health insurance and I turned to the Center's Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic for free HIV care.

Today, I work in a clinic that also provides free health care. I know that people are finding themselves in the same fix I faced four years ago, and desperately need access to care.

And this economy –which a New York Times business writer described on Wednesday as a "Great Recession"– is going to put more people into that position. Some of them may walk through the doors of the Goodman Clinic and seek HIV services.

I don't want to let those folks down.

I don't want to let the thousands of current patients of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center down.

I don't want to let my roadie buddy down.

I don't want to let Sherry Sylvester down.

And if I can lick this cancer nonsense and get myself roadworthy by May 31, I don't want to let myself down.

Will you join me in supporting AIDS/LifeCycle 8?

Visit my ALC 8 page

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