cancer

It’s a community that knows no strangers

When Bob Iliff was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2007, he joined what he now considers a brotherhood and sisterhood. It’s a community that knows no strangers: friends, family and people from all over the world who have experienced, survived or lost their lives to cancer.

Iliff’s care included the Norton Cancer Institute Survivorship Program, which helped him and his wife, Pearl, and their granddaughter. The program consists of doctor visits, screenings and support services such as talk therapy, which Iliff and his family found beneficial to cope with his new life as a survivor.

“There are little things the program offers that are invaluable,” Iliff said. “It touches upon all the needs of somebody who’s going through the cancer journey.”

Bike to Beat Cancer

As part of his recovery, Iliff returned to bike riding, which he had always enjoyed. Less than a year after his surgery, he rode in the inaugural Bike to Beat Cancer.

“My doctor told me to ride my bike and get in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I saw an ad for (Bike to Beat Cancer) and decided to do it.”

RELATED: Dr. Joseph Flynn pedals for a cure

The annual event raises funds for Norton Cancer Institute through the Norton Healthcare Foundation. Proceeds help keep facilities and staff up-to-date with medical advances and technology, helping to ensure cancer patients in Louisville and surrounding areas have access to high-quality care. Funds also support research, education and services including the Survivorship Program, which Iliff says he’ll never leave.

“They told me I had been in the program almost 10 years and that I’d be graduating,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m a survivor, and I’m in the program forever, until something takes me out.”

It’s a sisterhood and brotherhood

Iliff has built new friendships with other cancer survivors. He is a mentor to other survivors through the hills and valleys of what he reluctantly calls a journey.

“I don’t like calling it that. A journey has a beginning and an end,” he said. “There’s no end to this. It’s a sisterhood and brotherhood. Being able to help is comforting.”

His inspiration to ride again in the Bike to Beat Cancer is a piece of paper tucked inside his saddlebag. It’s a list of family, friends and people he has mentored who have experienced cancer. The list changes every year. He adds new names or stars next to others, noting their battle had ended.

“Every time I ride, my saddlebag is on my bike,” Iliff said. “Thirty percent of them have passed away. I think of my struggle and the struggles they had. I was extremely lucky. I didn’t have to do chemo. They had it worse, and they can’t go this far, so I keep going.”

This year’s Bike to Beat Cancer on Sept. 9 will be Iliff’s ninth ride. He plans to ride 100 miles.

“When I’m on the ride and I’m cramping up, I think of the names on my list as stars. They’re looking down on me to keep going,” he said.

Iliff believes the brotherhood and sisterhood has a responsibility to help where they can. Bike to Beat Cancer is a good start.

“Don’t stand back and let everyone else do the work,” he said. “We need to get everyone to join in or volunteer in a pit stop. If you can’t ride, do that. You just can’t miss.”

 


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