2018 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Dedicated to Victoria Cramer
Smile and ride – A recipe for overcoming cancer
This year’s 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo presented by Tucson Medical Center is dedicated to Victoria Cramer, a veteran #24HOP participant who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when her twin daughters were only eight months old. Her story of overcoming the disease is one of conviction and positivity, using the mountain bike and the #24HOP as a way to stay active through two years of chemotherapy. Her book, Living Life Loudly, documents this life-changing journey and serves as inspiration to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis. We chatted with her about the bike, the #24HOP and how staying active was central to her success in beating cancer.
Why was staying active so important to your recovery?
Chemotherapy is a long road that most athletes are not accustomed to. All my life I’ve been used to shorter time frames of healing when injured; a few days or a few weeks at most. But chemo was nearly two years of my life, and I had to make sure I came out the other end resilient and not jaded. For me, exercise was the key. But what I had to adjust to was much lower levels of intensity. Normally I would ride hard four or five days a week. During chemo, some days I could only walk a half-mile, other days I could ride for a few hours. It all depended on how my body felt and where I was in the treatment cycle. But no matter what I did, I had to channel whatever energy available to get outside and move every single day.
Why did you decide to participate in the #24HOP during chemotherapy?
Just keeping active wasn’t enough. I needed something to shoot for. With the exception of the inaugural year and the year when my twin daughters were born, I’ve participated in every edition of the #24HOP, and I wanted to make sure I could participate through the treatments. This took lots of planning with my team of doctors, but I was determined to make it happen. My treatments were in three-week cycles. I was at my weakest right after the treatment and at my strongest at the end of the three weeks, so we planned the treatments around when the #24HOP was. Of course my doctors had their concerns, especially with hydration, cramping and being cold. They actually recommended against me doing it for fear I would crash and be far from help, but not doing the #24HOP was never an option.
Did you ever miss a day of exercise?
In nearly two years of chemo, I only missed two days. I don’t know if I could have done it without an incredibly supportive group of friends, teammates, doctors and my husband. Some days I just didn’t feel like getting outside, but I surrounded myself with people who drove me to be active. There were days where I’d go for a road ride with my teammates with the goal of making it five miles, only to get dropped immediately. But they helped me, pushing me along to meet my goal.
The first six months of treatments, it was tough to ride a bike. In the first week of each three-week cycle, I would just walk, then jog/walk, then run. The second week I would ride, but not much. By week three I was feeling pretty good, but knowing that the next treatment was around the corner was dreadful. I would be starting over again. I became a flight risk. There were days I was so close to skipping my chemo appointment to just go ride my bike. I told my doctor and friends, and told them they couldn’t let me skip out. I needed their help to get me through.
Did the treatments ever get easier?
After six months I went on a year of what I call chemo light; I no longer had nausea but was still low on energy. However, I was getting out more and doing bigger challenges, like climbing Helipad trail on South Mountain near Phoenix. By the time I hit my last round of chemo, I was in control. I felt amazing. I knew I was going to overcome the disease. Although it did get easier, I never knew for sure if what I was doing was enough. There’s no blood work to tell you that you’ve fully won. All you can do is give it all you have and hope it’s enough.
How did you get through the emotional challenges?
When you’re going through chemo, it’s really hard to find anything positive in your life, but you have to. You must focus your life around joy and happiness. There is no room for negativity, which is why I completely stopped watching the news. I was getting outside at every opportunity and focused on riding at the #24HOP. Soon I found myself not only smiling all the time, but making others smile, which brought even more joy to my life.
How were you able to keep energy levels high enough to participate in the #24HOP?
It was all about planning and having an incredible team of naturopathic doctors and oncologists. The naturopathic side was essential, as I had to make sure my immune system was strong enough to overcome nausea quickly and remain healthy when exercising. It was all about upping my energy levels and minimizing vulnerability to illness. This meant regular IV injections to counteract nausea and very high doses of Vitamin C, which not only boosts the immune system, but also keeps cancer cells from communicating and replicating. Anti-inflammatories were also very important. Without the naturopathic side, I don’t think I would have been able to ski or ride my bike, let along participate in the #24HOP or complete a half-marathon.
You’ve seen almost every edition of the #24HOP. How has it changed over the years? Or has it?
Despite the event going from a couple hundred people to several thousand, what is amazing about #24HOP is that the relaxed, friendly and rootsy vibe has not changed at all. The “be nice” mantra Todd has always encouraged is still as strong as ever. Some folks say there’s a lot more people focused on partying now, but partying has always been in the fabric of #24HOP. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, everyone at the event is so encouraging, and every year when I pull away from 24 Hour Town I am a bit sad. I don’t want to leave all these amazing people in this beautiful setting.
Epic Rides invites the public to join a celebration of Victoria and her inspiring story on Friday, Feb. 16 in the exchange tent at 7p. Fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong will be in attendance to introduce Victoria. Blue Banjo BBQ will serve attendees dinner, tickets are $25 per person and are limited to the first 100 people.