|Cancer; It takes the people we love away from us. Losing a loved one is never easy. Losing my best friend, partner and wife of 22 years has been incredibly difficult. In June of 2016, I said goodbye to my wife Susan after a 19-year battle with late-stage breast cancer.|
The day before she passed, my wife told me she had to talk to me. That was the last time I spoke with her, she was ready to go. She said she was done fighting. I often think about that day and how strong Susan was. How she dealt with her last days. How she took me aside to talk and told me that I’d be OK.
Am I OK? Most days I am, but there are those days that pop up when I least expect it and I break down. I miss her dearly; we were a great team!
We were more than husband and wife. We were adventure buddies. We did everything together, but really bonded over outdoor activities. Susan was diagnosed with an aggressive late-stage breast cancer at the age of 32 in early 1998.
From that point on, we tried to make the most of each day. Of course, looking back, I wish we had done more but I still have a lot of wonderful memories, whether it was just sitting out in our backyard, walking through the trails up the street from her childhood home or paddling in the local creek. We knew the clock was ticking, but we didn’t let it control our lives. We just tried to move forward and enjoy the time we had together.—Gerry Creighton
Susan enjoying life during a couple of our trips to Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware. "Brandy" was one of our favorite spots to ride.
|Over the years, various cancer-related issues kept Susan from doing certain sports that she loved. Cancers that had sprung up in her spine in 2007, along with heavy steroids—used to reduce swelling during radiation treatment—had caused avascular necrosis to develop in some of her joints, mainly her hips. She would wind up having the top seven inches of each femur and hip socket replaced. Because of this new encumbrance, we sought out a full suspension mountain bike that would allow her to ride a bike without too much discomfort to her spine or new hips. I had been recently laid off at the time, but having worked in a bike shop for ten years, and given her story, I figured that some bike companies might be able to help. So I wrote letters to a handful of companies, but wasn’t too optimistic until I heard back from Mike Metzger at Transition Bikes.|
Transition Bikes stepped up and donated a bike, and I’ve since been told that it was all Mike’s doing. He even got FOX and SRAM to chip in parts to create a special bike build just for Susan. This was an amazing gesture that would turn into a great friendship over the years.
Mountain biking really helped her to get out and enjoy life. Mountain biking was our thing, something we did together, whether it was trail building or riding. Susan had no fear, and given her situation she made the most of her time on the bike. After a few months getting comfortable on the new bike, we made it out to Blue Mountain Bike Park in Palmerton, Pa and Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, NJ. Like myself, Susan grew up riding a bike as a kid and had been deeply involved in demanding sports such as ice hockey. So, her transition to the mountain bike wasn’t that big of a stretch. During a trip to Mountain Creek Bike Park, she even wound up riding some intermediate trails. This didn’t faze me too much as I knew she had spent a lot of time skiing at places like Killington, VT, prior to meeting me. Those days on the bike just emboldened the mountain bike relationship that we had been building.
It’s those days that I look back on most fondly. We talked about them for years to come, not knowing that her time on the bike would be reduced more and more after that trip. So, I’m glad that we got out to ride when we could.—Gerry Creighton
We were most proud of the volunteer work that we accomplished in our town. Susan was instrumental in getting a trail network created in the trails surrounding an old cranberry bog, located up the street from her childhood home. Creating a local trail network gave her a place, close by, to go ride and be in nature. Susan named a few of the trails based on our experiences. "Turtle Alley" and "Nuthatch" were a couple names for two trails located in the Bog Trails
Over the years we developed friendships in mountain biking that revealed just how special this community is.
In times like these, you find out who your true friends are. I have received countless gestures of support from this community, whether it was a hug, a phone call, a kind note, or simply someone handing me a beer. “Dudes”, generally speaking, tend to be people of few words at times. But the message of support can be loud and clear when someone hands you a beer with a nod.
Then there are some people who stand out above the rest, the ones who take time out of their busy lives to come spend time with you. The two weeks leading up to that day were very difficult for me and Susan. I had friends and family urge me to get away for a bit to clear my head, that they would be there to be with Susan. When you are in the thick of something so deep as caring for your wife in her final days, you tend to forget about yourself. A couple of days before Susan passed, my buddy Jeff Lenosky came down to take me out for a ride. If you don't know Jeff, he is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and he happens to be an incredible rider as well. We had a good ride; after some time just hanging out and talking, we got on the bikes and hit the trails. It poured down rain on us early in the ride but we pressed on.
The weather cleared up and just in time for an opportunity to capture a wheelie together for Wheelie Wednesday (a favorite of mine). I'll never forget that day. Nothing crazy, just a pedal around some local trails. Mission accomplished.
The week after Susan passed, Jeff came down again to take me out for a ride. This time our friend Brice Shirbach joined us, along with my local trail buddy, Kevin Akeret. We laughed, talked about Susan, and rode by her memorial and down some of the new trails that Susan had been instrumental in creating. I want to point out that Brice lives over an hour away from me, and Jeff well over two hours. These are great guys. I can’t stress enough how important those rides were for me. My world had been turned upside down, and these guys were good enough to take time out of their busy schedules and personal lives to make sure that I got the support I needed.
Later that summer, a package arrived at my doorstep from Transition Bikes. I wasn’t expecting a delivery, especially one that would wind up meaning so much to me. Inside was a framed collage that contained photos of Susan and myself. Also in the package was a voucher that Kevin Menard had made, for complimentary accommodations and airfare to Bellingham. We all know that the riding in Bellingham is great, but what stood out to me was the love and support shown from the guys at Transition Bikes. During the trip, with the help of a few of the guys, we'd ride up to the top of Chuckanut Mountain where I would spread some of Susan's ashes. The view was amazing, a spot that I'll be sure to visit in the near future. It was difficult to say goodbye when that trip was over. What an incredible gesture from an amazing group of people. I can't thank them enough.
Needless to say, I have some great friends in the mountain biking community. There are so many people I need to thank for their time and generosity. The support has been overwhelming! It's the silver lining in all of this. I don't know what it is about this community; is it because we dance with mother nature on every ride? Or that being in tune with nature has lent us a more compassionate side? Whatever it is, I am so grateful for everyone who has supported me and continues to do so.
This experience has changed my life forever. You get what you give in life. Susan and I lived a great life despite the circumstances, I owe her a great debt of gratitude. She made me a better man. Since her passing, I found a journal of hers. It is filled with poems that she had written and stories of her ordeals over the years, and in it was this note. After her first diagnosis, she had made it into a card that she gave to her family and close friends one Christmas. She put the words overtop a photo of a sunset that she had taken.
|Sometimes we think we have to do something monumental in order to make a difference. We may think we have to perform an act of significant magnitude in order to make a difference. However, it is the small gestures that we may perform daily that are then built upon by other individuals and ourselves and this is when a difference can be achieved...with or without significant magnitude.|
It does not matter whether it is monumental or not. Even if you just put a smile on someone's face or make them laugh, it is something that was not there before. And if it was, you just added to it. And when it comes from the heart that is of significant importance, whether realized or not.—Susan E. Haviland
Life is short. Sure, you hear it from time to time, but until you lose that special person in your life, it doesn’t really hit home. So, kindness goes a long way in life. I love and appreciate the support that I’ve received from family and friends. It remains endless.
Ride your bike, have fun, live life.
Photos: Susan Allen: @soozi3q
// Brice Shirbach
Video: Susan Allen
// Brice Shirbach
Music: For Sarah by Tourist
// Used with written permission from William Phillips, Tourist
Words: Gerry Creighton
// Instagram: @gerry_creighton
I’m very involved with and am passionate about mountain biking in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Along with racing enduro myself, I promote enduro racing through www.eastcoastenduro.com and a dedicated East Coast Enduro Facebook group.
I am also an advocate for increasing mountain bike access in my community here in New Jersey through JORBA, the Jersey Off-Road Bicycle Association. My long-term goal is to create a vast network of local trails to help build the mountain biking community in my state. I’d like to have more opportunities for the sport to grow so, by creating and maintaining my local trails, I’m hoping that more people get out and ride.
Cancer is a truly terrible disease and one that’s had a massive impact on my life having watched my mum lose her battle with it when she was 33. The hardest thing was watching a very strong, fit lady waste away before your eyes. Unfortunately she’s not been the only one I’ve lost because of it.
Awesome to hear about the support from Transition. Makes me even more proud of my Scout.
Remember the good times and f*ck cancer.
grounded & humbled here.
never forget what matters in life
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