A letter to the PMC from Billy Starr, founder and executive director:
With the permission of the family, I am sharing the story of one rider’s commitment in the face of a dire diagnosis. Her story moved all of us at the PMC office and I believe it will move you as well. The story is part of the fabric of our culture and the reveals the bittersweet nature of our work.
Three years ago, at the age of 37, Traci Blais Thomassen, of Pawtucket, RI was the picture of health. She ate right, exercised regularly and even placed in her age bracket in a few road races. So, when she went to the emergency room for pain and swelling in her abdomen she fully expected to walk out with a clean bill of health. Instead, Thomassen was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer which had spread to her intestine and lungs. An emergency hysterectomy followed and Thomassen spent the next three weeks in the hospital.
Before she was diagnosed with cancer, Thomassen had registered to ride the 2009 Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. But after the diagnosis and surgery, riding the 50-mile Wellesley to Wellesley route seemed impossible. “Someone had already donated to my ride,” said Thomassen. “To earn their donation I had to at least get on my bike.”
Thomassen said that if she could make it out of the parking lot she would feel like she had participated but she first needed to be assured she could at least do that. She cautiously mounted the bike. “It was a miracle,” she said. “I could ride, I could move, it was amazing.”
The freedom she felt while riding was so liberating Thomassen rode every day that week for a total of 75 miles. By the time of the event she was ready. With her brother Mark beside her and her brother Kevin’s van in front of her, fully equipped with food, drinks and a port-a-potty because “people on chemo shouldn’t be using public rest rooms,” she pedaled the entire 50-mile route.
The experience was so rewarding that Thomassen signed up for the 89 mile route in January, 2010 believing it would be easy because her treatment would be over. As summer began, however, the cancer resurfaced and she found herself in her third round of chemo on PMC weekend. Once again she rode and once again she completed her goal.
Thomassen was signed up to ride in PMC 2011 and agreed to be one of the riders highlighted through our media efforts. Just 10 days before PMC 2011, I received an email from Traci that was stunning and chilling, in its clarity, grace and tone of finality. She wrote:
Hi! I have news to report, although it’s not my happiest ever. I have developed a blood borne infection we believe at the site of my PICC line. And I have made the decision not to be treated for the infection.
We believe the sepsis will take over within the next few days and that I will not live to participate in this year’s PMC ride. Thankfully, my fundraising is well on its way, and my team (Team Bike Heroes) will still put together a fantastic effort. I know this isn’t what we were originally thinking, but I would suggest that it would still be possible to do a story on our team, which we anticipate will be riding in my memory this year.
Thanks so much for all of your work with this. I’m sorry it isn’t working out so that I can participate in the campaign directly. I still feel strongly that it’s such a good cause, and I hope it works out that a team story would still be of interest.
Was a PMCer, about to lose her life to cancer, passing the baton and wishing us well? Sadly, she was. This week, Don Thomassen said a final good-bye to his wife, Traci.
People like Traci Blais Thomassen, whose composure and clarity are rare, motivate us all. In memory of Traci and so many others lost to cancer, feel free to share this story.
PMC Founder and Executive Director