Some women are empowered by a cancer diagnosis, but I was not. I only felt vulnerable. While I trusted the medical professionals caring for me and the treatments I received, I found my role to be unsettlingly passive. Cycling allowed me to be an active participant in my treatment; it gave me agency in my recovery.
I made other changes in my lifestyle, too. My oncologist assured me I could continue to eat soy and drink alcoholic beverages in moderate amounts. I became more deliberate about my eating habits, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
Almost four years have passed since I finished chemotherapy, and I am still cancer-free. (I am taking a five-year course of tamoxifen, which blocks the effects of certain hormones, to help prevent a recurrence.) Riding has continued to be a refuge and an inspiration to challenge myself. I ride about 600 miles per month, most of it commuting. I have completed several centuries (100-mile rides) and a few local events. Last fall, I was certified as an instructor by the League of American Bicyclists, which means I can teach beginners and cyclists wishing to improve their traffic riding skills. My husband and I are also training our son’s Boy Scout troop for a four-day, 187-mile bike ride on the C&O Canal towpath this summer.
I’ve realized my goal when I started bike commuting. By using my bike to get groceries, go to and from work and do many other things I need to do, I can maintain my fitness while going about my life. My well-being is the priority it always should have been.
I have a well-rehearsed answer when someone asks, “Is it safe?” Eighty-five percent of my commute is on a protected trail or bike lane. After all these years, the urban drivers and I know each other well and have long since made peace with our imperfect coexistence.
But really, I just want to reply, “How is it safe not to?” I’m a human being, a living creature. I wasn’t meant to be passive. I was meant to be out in the world, to move, to power up a hill panting, to go flying down the other side as if ready to take flight. To feel the hot sun beating down on my back, to gingerly brace myself against a fierce crosswind on a dark, frigid night. To overcome the tedium of thousands of pedal strokes over the same route, day after day, by making it transcendent. To do more than exist — to live.
MacGregor is a lawyer in Washington.