Monday, March 19, 2018

HOTDP: Survivor-Rider Rachel Kelley

This is part of a continuing series chronicling "Humans of Tour de Pink"--the amazing survivors, co-survivors, supporters, volunteers and others who make up this rolling family.


Rachel Kelley would often receive compliments on her road bike from strangers. It was sleek and black and adorned with fierce pink flames. “I would tell them it was an expensive bike—I had to be diagnosed with breast cancer to get it,” says Kelley, who’s a 12-year survivor. 

Kelley’s bike is part of a Liv Cycling program that each year donates limited-edition road bikes to breast cancer survivors participating in the Young Survival Coalition’s  three-day, 200-mile Tour de Pink charity rides. She received her survivor bike in 2014 and is riding in her sixth Tour de Pink West Coast this year as captain of her team, Zen Pedalers. Last year, the team raised more than $51,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support and resources to young women diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s a cause near and dear to her heart, and Kelley recalls the road leading up to her diagnosis:  On March 29, 2006—her 9th wedding anniversary—she showed up for her first day of work and immediately went to her new boss to ask for time off. Diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast just the night before, Kelley had a whirlwind of medical appointments ahead of her. “I met with my breast surgeon on March 31 and on April 6, I had my surgery,” she says. Seven weeks of radiation, five days a week, followed.

The Cypress, Calif., resident quickly discovered that breast cancer was a disease assumed to strike only older women. “The local support group I was referred to was made up of women who were in their 50s, 60s and 70s,” says Kelley, who was 42 when she was diagnosed. “And it met at 10 a.m. on Thursdays, so not exactly the most convenient time for those who are working. But at the time I didn’t think to look for other resources.”

Cycling for a cause

Breast cancer wouldn’t be the only health issue to beset Kelley. A back injury in 2010 left her using a walker. During this time, she began accompanying her husband, Christopher, on his cycling trips.

Reclaiming life, on a bicycle built for two. Photo: Rachel Kelley                   
In 2012, he rode in his first Tour de Pink West Coast. The benefit bike ride is actually part of a cycling trifecta that includes not only the West Coast, but South and East Coast rides, as well. The Tour de Pink rides are the major fundraisers for Young Survival Coalition, raising more than $1M for the organization. This money helps fund endeavors that include support groups, research advocacy and conferences such as the Young Survival Coalition’s National Summit.

Still recovering from her injury and on the sidelines for 2012, Kelley met for the first time Tour de Pink co-founder Lisa Frank, who is also a survivor. “I remember her standing in front of me and asking, ‘Who are you?’” she says, laughing at the memory of the interrogation. When Frank discovered Kelley was a survivor, she got excited. “She told me I had to be out there at the beginning of each day’s ride to have my picture taken with the survivor-riders. The survivor-rider photo was a tradition. I told her, ‘But I’m not riding.’ She didn’t care. She made sure I was out there every morning for the picture. We got such a welcome from her, and I thought, ‘Now this is an awesome organization.’”

With the proper rehabilitation, Kelley was able to ride with her husband the following year on a Co-Motion tandem bicycle. In 2014, she rode all 200 miles on her Liv survivor bike. It was quite the feat for the previously casual bike rider.

This year, as Kelley marks 12 years of survivorship, it’s a particularly poignant time for her: 12 years was how long her mother went before she had a recurrence of breast cancer. As Kelley and any other survivor can attest to, the fear of recurrence never quite goes away. But she doesn’t dwell on it long before she moves on to what challenges she looks to tackle next. 

“I want to do the Tour de Pink East Coast and South rides one day,” she says. “I don’t have a bucket list. I have a bike-it list.”

For more information about the Zen Pedalers or to help support Young Survival Coalition by donating to Rachel Kelley’s ride, please visit: .

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