In honor of the 30th anniversary Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the PMC blog will take you on a ride through history. Today we continue 30 years in 30 weeks with a look back at the PMC in 2002. We’ll coast through the event’s history, featuring a new year each week, as we lead up to the 30th annual ride on Aug. 1 and 2.
30 years in 30 weeks
Before January 2002, Anita Bekenstein, Pam Washek and Jean Seiden were Wayland neighbors, mothers to a total of 10 children, and Pan-Massachusetts Challenge cyclists who rode both for the sport and their desire to raise money for cancer research. Each says they’d been blessed with good lives, healthy children, secure family lives and they were compelled to show their appreciation by helping others. They never thought the “others” they would be helping included themselves.
It was only weeks into 2002 when Seiden, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bekenstein and Washek were among the first people she informed; they were there for her immediately and in every way, as good friends are.
Bekenstein, who had always wanted to start a PMC team from Wayland, called Washek and together they turned their concern into a PMC team in their friend’s honor. “We rallied together to do something positive during a very upsetting time,” Bekenstein says. Team Jean was born and Wayland residents began signing up en mass.
“I didn’t want the team to be about me,” Seiden says. “When I was first diagnosed, I was focused on just my cancer, and my issues, but it was through the inspiration of Team Jean that I was able to redirect my focus and I understood how we could all use this to help others.”
And then lightning struck twice. Pam Washek, 37, learned that a shoulder pain she’d tended for years was not a sports injury. It was synovial cell sarcoma.
“When Pam was diagnosed we were all in shock,” Bekenstein notes. “Pam was our team co-captain; she wasn’t supposed to get cancer. The randomness of it all hit home pretty strongly.” Bekenstein recalled a birthday party they’d had for Jean soon after her breast cancer had been diagnosed. “Jean had said, ‘I’m just the first among us.’ We knew she was right, but we didn’t expect the next case to be so soon or for Pam to be the next victim.” The team slogan instantly became “We’re Ridin’ For Jean Seiden and Pedaling For Pam.”
To Washek, the diagnosis felt like the brakes locked into place while she was pedaling hard in high gear. “My life came to a screeching halt,” Washek says. “The thing about cancer is that it’s not just about you. It affects your whole family, your friends and your life every day throughout the process.”
Seiden and Washek banned together and were supported by their many teammates. They turned their radiation treatments into an opportunity to train and, joined by many Team Jean members, they rode 40 miles round-trip from Wayland to Boston for their periodic treatments. Showing up in the waiting room in their red “Team Jean” shirts with biking gear in hand, the women served as role models for the many other cancer patients awaiting their own treatments. “It gave them strength to see us show up in our biking gear,” Washek said. “We weren’t going to sit around sympathizing; if we felt strong enough to ride, we rode.”
Washek scheduled her surgery for the first week in August so she could ride in the PMC and join Seiden on stage at the Wellesley start where she addressed 1,300 riders as they set off to Bourne. “Months ago,” Seiden told the riders, “my only connection to cancer was through others – their pain, their sickness, their survival or death. This disease would NEVER touch me personally because I was too young, too healthy, too much of a mom to be bothered with cancer. There was no history of cancer in my family tree. My husband had already dedicated his career to fighting this disease through research and clinical care; I was surely immune to this possibility.”
Seiden’s address highlighted the many connections the women’s cancers had ignited. Over the months, meal chains were formed ensuring that feeding their families would be one responsibility they could shed while recovering from chemo and radiation treatments. Babysitting support was prevalent, offers to run errands plentiful.
Oh yes, and then there are the financial contributions that the team’s efforts brought to the PMC. Team Jean raised more than $500,000 for life saving cancer care and research to help make up $15 million gift in 2002 to the Jimmy Fund.
Jean Seiden lost her battle with cancer in October 2006. She rode the PMC six times while undergoing treatment for cancer. Pam Washek has been cancer free for five years and will ride in 2009 in memory of Jean. Since its inception in 2002, Team Jean has raised $2.4 million for cancer research and treatment.
PMC 2002 facts
$15 million raised
190 total miles
First NECN live Opening Ceremony
Virtual Rider introduced