The way Chris Nichols describes it, cancer research changed the course of his family’s history.
“If this happened 20 years ago, I probably would have died,” the Tacoma resident said. Before he reached his 30s. Well before he and his wife, Shannon Flood-Nichols, had their son, Edward.
Nichols was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2004 while working as a critical care nurse at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord). Eight months of treatment included chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant.
Ten years after the conclusion of his treatment, he and his wife are celebrating by participating in Obliteride, a series of fundraising bicycle rides for the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center.
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Nichols has been a cyclist most of his adult life, so the Aug. 8-9 Obliteride and its route options of 10, 25, 50, 65, 85, 100 and 150 miles seem like a natural fit. But what really makes it a perfect fit, Nichols said, is that 100 percent of the money raised by participants goes to cancer research.
“Research, that’s where we are going to make the change,” Nichols said. “That’s where we are going to find the ability to eradicate, one by one, different cancers.”
This is a common refrain in the field of nearly 1,000 cyclists registered for Obliteride. Participants are required to raise $500-$1,975, depending on the distance they choose to ride. They also pay a $100-$150 registration fee that, along with event sponsors, covers the cost of the event so all fundraising revenue can go to research.
The ride is in its third year and raised $4.1 million over its first two years.
Here’s a look at three South Sound cancer survivors participating in the ride:
Breast cancer survivor, Olympia
Lara Anderson was healthy, active and had no family history of breast cancer in July 2014 when her doctors delivered bad news.
“I was really shocked,” Anderson, 43, said. “The whole experience was kind of surreal.”
She had breast cancer. The good news was it was discovered early and could be beaten. Anderson described it as, “Stage zero” and says she considers herself fortunate to have discovered it so early. “I tell every woman I know to go and get checked out,” she said.
Anderson underwent a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation. A year later, her mammogram showed no signs of the cancer.
But as Anderson made her trips to the hospital and saw other women waging similar battles, she couldn’t help but feel fortunate.
“Many of them were in much more dire situations, and I know some of them didn’t make it,” Anderson said.
As she researched her disease, she learned the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s work was instrumental in the treatment and early detection that might have saved her life.
Anderson was already aware of Obliteride. Her best friend, Amy Anderson, is in charge of public relations for the ride. Anderson and her husband, Scott, and a band of friends formed Team Oly and registered for the 25-mile ride.
They made art work that incorporated bike parts and painting to raise money. As of Tuesday, they’d raised nearly $12,000.
On her fundraising page, Anderson says she hopes her involvement in the ride will set an example for her sons, Aidan and Benjamin.
“I want to give something back,” Anderson said. “I’m so thankful and grateful for my situation.”
Leukemia survivor, Tacoma
YG Li had leukemia when he met his future wife in the early 1990s.
Deborah Li had just graduated from the University of Puget Sound and was teaching in China. On her first day, she passed YG, a fellow teacher, on campus and said hello. She didn’t remember the exchange, but he did.
At the time Li was in remission. He was diagnosed in 1988, and doctors told him that he had a less-than-10 percent chance of surviving five years. Six years later, he and Deborah were married.
Shortly after their marriage, YG’s cancer returned. He responded well to treatment, and in 1996 he underwent a bone marrow transplant.
Deborah Li credits the Hutchinson center and prayer for saving YG’s life.
“I believe in miracles,” she said. “We had a lot of people praying for us, and it worked.”
More than 18 years later, the couple has 11-year-old twin boys, Nicholas and Brian, and they’ve all signed up for Obliteride as Team Flying Dragons.
YG and the boys are doing the 10-mile ride and Deborah is doing the two-day 150-mile ride.
She’s a runner and in good shape, but says riding long distances is “like going back to scratch.”
She did a 67-mile training ride with the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club and said, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was one of those things where you learn by making a lot of mistakes.”
She made adjustments to her nutrition and her training, and did much better a few weeks later when she finished the 200-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.
The 150-mile Obliteride route is significantly hillier than the STP, but she says she is ready.
She also has plenty of motivation. In addition to her husband, she has two family members battling breast cancer. Her father died of lung cancer.
She plans to skip spending the night at UPS, as most riders will do, and head home to sleep in her own bed.
“I’m a little nervous,” Deborah said with a laugh. “There’s no time limit. I’ll make it.”
Lymphoma survivor, Tacoma
Nichols, 38, has been rid of cancer for 10 years, but he doesn’t use the term “cancer free.”
“Those words bother me,” he said, “because even if you are physically free of it, that mental toll sticks with you.”
He was in Miami training at a trauma center and preparing for deployment in 2004 when he noticed a mass in his left armpit.
It looked and felt like an abscess, but testing quickly confirmed it was a rapidly growing form of cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma.
His deployment was canceled. His plans to start graduate school were postponed. But Nichols’ opted to finish the final few days of his training before returning to the Madigan Army Medical Center to start treatment.
Nichols underwent six rounds of chemotherapy before he was transferred to Fred Hutch’s Cancer Care Alliance for more chemo, radiation and a stem cell transplant.
A year after his treatment concluded, Nichols was racing in an Olympic distance triathlon to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The stem cell transplant meant he couldn’t do clinical care for at least a year and led to a career shift. He’s now out of the military and managing its clinical documentation systems as a civilian.
Nichols and his wife saw a flyer promoting the first Obliteride in 2013, and he decided to do the 100-mile ride. “It’s a hard ride,” he said. Last year, the birth of his son, Edward, left him without enough time to train, so he and Shannon volunteered.
This year they’re riding together on the 25-mile route and looking forward to spending the day with survivors and others who’ve been impacted by cancer.
“It’s a club you never want to be in,” Nichols said. “But once you’re in, it’s a very close club.”
WHEN: Aug. 8-9.
SATURDAY: 85-mile ride.
SUNDAY: 10-, 25-, 50-, 65- and 100-mile rides.
SATURDAY-SUNDAY: 150-mile ride.
REGISTRATION: Open until Aug. 9. $100 for 10-100 miles. $150 for 150-mile ride.
FUNDRAISING REQUIREMENTS: $500-$1,975 depending on the ride distance. Rider have until Sept. 30 to finish fundraising.