Mike Grant and Carmen Phaneuf of Little Silver are about to embark on the ride of their lives. The married couple is participating in a cross country cycling event starting on September 2, 2017 that will begin in Manhattan Beach, CA and cover the 3,400 miles to Fairfield, CT. They are dedicating the 50 days of their lives, and the months of training that preceded them, to raise awareness and money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and in hopes of finding a cure for Carmen’s cancer.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma (MM) fifteen years ago, Carmen lives with this type of blood cancer where malignant plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, crowding out the normal plasma cells that help fight infections. These malignant plasma cells then produce abnormal proteins which may cause tumors, damage the kidneys, and impair immune system function. But instead of succumbing to the fears and challenges the disease offers, Carmen has adopted a Carpe Diem strategy.
“Since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma I have personally gone through a grieving process,” Carmen shares. “That process gets revisited often, but Carpe Diem brings me back to the here and now. Being present now, knowing this is all we have, the present. The past is gone, the future is so uncertain and scary for me, but it’s also hopeful with all the new treatments and clinical trials for MM. So, I try and Carpe Diem everyday…it’s not easy, it can be exhausting, it doesn’t always happen…but I try.”
The Road to Victories ride is not for the faint of heart and Carmen’s Carpe Diem mantra may be tested. She will cycle the first 546 miles from Manhattan Beach to Flagstaff, AZ, while Mike is one of nine riders who will cycle the entire country. Carmen’s ride will be through dessert, high plains and over mountain ranges in blistering heat. The day rides will range between 49 miles (over mountains) and 116 miles per day. She will ride for seven days in a row, have the eighth day off, and on the ninth day fly home.
“The physical endurance and training has been hard,” Carmen admits. “I have had three stem cell transplants with the third being very risky. There was an 8-10% chance of death within the first 100 days. We went for the cure because I have a high risk disease and chemo would just stop working after a few months and my quality of life would be compromised. Quality of life is a priority for me! My cancer is not in remission after one year. I continue to need mini infusions from my donor and recently started a new Immunotherapy.”
A Nurse Practitioner at the Parker Family Health Center in Red Bank, and mother to an eighth grader, Carmen finds time to keep herself in shape by having two personal trainers. One works on maintaining her physical strength while the other focuses on her endurance cycling. Treatments that include eight weeks of infusions taken with high dose steroids have had a great impact on her life, but she accepts her treatments are necessary until a cure is found.
“I can live with the treatments and have been training and living out loud throughout this process,” Carmen says. “It has been very special to have my husband involved. He is my ultimate cheerleader and without his encouragement and love throughout the years and with this training, I don’t know where I would be right now. My daughter, Rachael, and I will be riding the last 25 miles on October 21, 2017 to ‘bring Daddy home’ along with the other riders.”
There will be an additional 65-mile fundraising ride from Bristol, CT to the finish line in Fairfield, CT to celebrate the cross country riders. Friends and family of the nine-person team are taking part, including DonnaLyn Geigerich Zapcic and Tom Zapcic of Red Bank*.
An avid skier, sailor, and lover of adventure travel, the cross country ride is a bucket list item for Mike who owns and operates Collex Collision Experts in Shrewsbury. Cycling recreationally for almost thirty years, he has always wanted to do a cross country adventure.
“When Janssen Oncology stepped up to sponsor the ride and we had the full backing of the MMRF to help raise funds, it was too perfect,” Mike says. “Both Carmen and I have been involved in smaller events for the MMRF, but this is a biggie and it being a biggie makes me confident people will be generous in a big way too. With this ride I personally have a great opportunity to raise significant awareness and significant money, and to hand it over to an organization that is truly committed to helping Carmen and thousands of other cancer patients.”
Mike describes the past year as an emotional one with Carmen’s most recent stem cell transplant.
“Through it all, Carmen has, and we have been, strong,” Mike says. “With 15 years of practice we’ve at least learned to roll with the punches. Even still, it takes its toll…which brings me to this ride. No one likes to sit back and spectate when they have an opportunity to do something. The MMRF translates funds into real research and treatments. However serious the disease, people join together with tremendous focus and belief and it’s simply an incredible juggernaut to witness and be a part of. With that, I can only suggest any amount helps. However small, anyone should feel confident that their monies will be leveraged amazingly well by the MMRF. They are really, really, really good at what they do.”
For Carmen the ride is a huge physical accomplishment and something exciting for her husband to be a part of, as well as a way to involve her daughter.
“Our cancer journey has been a long 15 year ride for Mike, and he has been there for me 100%,” Carmen shares. “This ride is a culmination of my perseverance to live my life the way I want, and not to let cancer dictate it. This ride has encouraged me, more than ever, to share my story and to be an ardent supporter of the MMRF, who are saving and extending the lives of myeloma patients. The MMRF research paradigm is crossing over into other cancer research areas. We are eager to share how to bring treatments to patients faster and to share methods that will someday cure many other cancers. For these reasons and many more, I will do anything to support the MMRF… anything! Carpe Diem!”
For more information on MMRF, or to support Mike and Carmen’s ride, visit https://endurance.themmrf.org/RoadToVictories/MikeandCarmforCure
*Story: Cathy Padilla