Cyclists Combating Cancer

Damon Phinney is the father of Davis Phinney, a prominent member of the 7-Eleven cycling team during the '80s, first U.S. team to compete in the Tour de France. Davis was the first U.S. cyclist to win a road stage of Le Tour as well as a contemporary, friend and competitor of the great Aussie cyclist, Phil Anderson.

Damon Phinney was diagnosed with Stage D-2 prostate cancer in February, 1987. He lost his battle with the disease in October 21, 2001

By Damon Phinney

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Damon and Davis
Photo: © Thea Phinney

There's an international support organization out there for bike riders with cancer that readers might like to know about. CCC is an e-mail forum putting cyclists in contact with each other to talk about all aspects of their cancer experiences and their cycling interests. CCC members have found bike riding very valuable in coping with the disease. At this time CCC has about 80 participants, mostly in the U.S., but has always welcomed riders fluent in English from other countries. We would be especially pleased if cyclists from Australia and New Zealand, with whom most Americans feel close bonds, would join our ranks. This article is about how and why CCC was started and how it functions.

The author of this article was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer in 1987. I not only had cancer in my prostate but it had also spread to the end of one of the loops of bone below my pelvis, my right "sitbone". The treatment for my cancer would consist of eliminating production of testosterone as much as possible, causing loss of muscle tone and tendency to gain weight. In spite of putting so much physical stress on the primary cancer and the sitbone metastasis, I decided to increase my cycling in an effort to minimize these side effects and help me cope with other aspects of my cancer and its treatment.

Eleven years later, in 1998, after finding that bike riding had been hugely beneficial helping me deal with cancer, I decided to start an e-mail support group for other riders with cancer, starting with a letter to the U.S. cycling publication, VeloNews.

I had thought my experience with many thousands of riding miles while being treated for prostate cancer that had metastasized to one of my sitbones would be particularly interesting to older riders with diagnoses of prostate cancer. Is it really a good idea to put all that pressure from the saddle right there where you have your cancer?

My experience seemed to show that it had not been detrimental for me and might be OK for a lot of other men with prostate cancer. Yet the first contacts were from Bill (chronic leukaemia), Jack (cancer in the throat and neck), Karen who'd had Stage 3 ovarian cancer a few years earlier, and Atilla. Atilla had nearly lost one leg, or his life, to Ewing sarcoma when he was 14, but he'd beaten that cancer in his ankle. He'd raced some in his late teens, then developed a successful business. In 1998. at 29, he was about to get back to track racing full-time, aiming for the Canadian Olympic team in 2004.

A few more cyclists with various cancer experiences had joined us by early 1999 when I made contact with Chris Brewer, webmaster for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). Chris, a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, had had testicular cancer at the same time as Lance Armstrong. Chris had started a support group for guys with TC, then had become close friends with Lance. Chris developed a web site for our new cancer support group, locating it with the LAF site.

CCC membership then started to increase rapidly, especially after Lance won the Tour de France in 1999. Now there are about 80 of us, men and women and several parents of children with cancer, with more than 20 different kinds of cancer represented. We have our own yellow jersey patterned after the yellow jersey of Le Tour. Our logo is on the white patch front and back where the team logo of the GC leader of the Tour would normally be found. We all see ourselves as GC leaders in our individual races with cancer.

As to the name of our group, both Combating and Conquering were considered for the middle C of CCC. The vote of our members favored Combating because we know that not all of us will win our races. Already several members have had to take off their numbers along the way.

We function by discussing all topics of interest to cancer patients and cyclists. As would be expected, the principal focus is on responses to our treatments and how cycling helps us to deal with cancer. We also talk about post-chemo achievements. A really big story in June, 2000 was Scott's account of the Leadville (Colorado) 100-mile mountain bike race which starts at 10,000 ft. and goes over several passes, the highest at 12,000 ft. Scott was treated for lymphoma in 1999. Chris has a new story almost every week about another road race down in Florida.

Last year Michelle took us through her treatment for Hodgkins disease step-by-step, including a 111-mile ride in Arizona in November in less than 6 hours while still having radiation on her neck. Scott, the Leadville MTB racer, also did that ride in Arizona in November, his first Century. In July of this year Michelle finished the Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid, New York. In October, Lori, a CCC member who lost both eyes to retinoblastoma when she was 2 years old, then had two other cancers at ages 12 and 22, competed at the Paralympics in Australia on a tandem bike.

Although these few stories are from CCCers who post more often than many of our members, every one of us has an inspiring story about his or her diagnosis and treatment for cancer. There is no simple way through it. We post our ideas to the entire group or to each other individually. CCC plays its greatest role helping newly diagnosed patients get their feet on the ground and to get by the earlier parts of the process. We range in age from 6 to the 70s and live all over the U.S. and Canada. We'd love to have some new members from "down under".

Check us out at

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