A personal mission for a shared cause
North Andover’s Jeffrey Wdow is riding in two-day Pan-Mass. Challenge as a cancer survivor happy to keep up fight
Jeffrey Wdow’s cancer started as a pain in his right ankle when he was 20 years old. Two weeks later, his right leg was amputated from the knee down.
Over the next three years he endured rounds of chemotherapy, surgical procedures, and countless hospital trips. The bone cancer, osteosarcoma, cost him a leg, a lung, and a kidney.
But on Saturday and next Sunday, the 46-year-old North Andover resident will be riding a bicycle for 190 miles with a prosthetic leg, one lung, and a transplanted kidney.
He is one of 5,000 cyclists who will ride across Massachusetts in the 32d annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a fund-raiser for cancer research that will have them pedaling from Sturbridge to Provincetown next weekend.
“My goal is to raise enough money to make the treatments we have more effective and more tolerable, so they are not claiming so much of people’s lives,’’ Wdow said.
Wdow, 46, said he has been cancer free since 1989. He said he has always kept an eye on the PMC, and decided to do it for the first time last year because he had upgraded his bike and was feeling great. He is director of marketing at BostonCoach, and will ride with a team of nine of his colleagues.
While many ride in honor of a friend or family member battling cancer, according to the PMC’s website, nearly 300 of the cyclists are cancer survivors or current patients.
Wdow is aware of the numbers, but said it came as a shock to him when he realized that he serves as a source of inspiration, with people approaching him to say thanks and share their own stories.
“People would come up to me and tell me how they felt like giving up or they didn’t think they could make up another hill, and then they thought of me,’’ Wdow said. “People stop me all the time when I’m riding around here.’’
He will be joined by Barry Kraft of Swampscott in the area’s contingent of 780 riders taking part in next weekend’s ride, the centerpiece of the PMC organization’s annual campaign for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Its goal this year is to raise $34 million for cancer research and treatment through the Boston institution’s Jimmy Fund.
This year, Kraft will be riding in honor of his 28-year old son, Zak, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.
While this is Wdow’s second year riding in the PMC, Kraft will be taking part for the 32d time.
Kraft was there for the PMC’s first installment in 1980, when it was founded by his friend Billy Starr. Kraft first joined the ride for the fun and the challenge. In the subsequent years, Kraft lost a number of close friends and family members to cancer, he said, and the ride became for the cause.
“When my son called and told me that he had cancer, I said, ‘Zak, don’t worry. You’re going to be cured.’ I wouldn’t have said that if I wasn’t involved in the PMC. I wouldn’t have said that if I hadn’t heard all the stories,’’ Kraft said.
The PMC’s 70 percent retention rate is a large factor in its success, according to Starr, who serves as the event’s executive director. The PMC has become the most profitable fund-raising event in the country, according to its website.
“The atmosphere is not easily replicated,’’ Starr said. “People will pay a premium to be in this atmosphere.’’
The PMC donates 100 percent of the donations gathered by the riders; after adding a number of alternative routes and children’s events over the years, the nonprofit group has raised a total of $303 million for cancer research, making it Dana-Farber’s largest contributor.
The PMC involves people far and wide. In addition to the cyclists who travel from 34 states and six countries, Starr said, the organization depends on more than 3,000 volunteers to make the race possible.
The inspiration is contagious, Kraft said.
“It has helped me realize that you’re not alone,’’ he said. “You’re not saying ‘Why my family?’ because it happens to everyone.
“There really didn’t used to be anyone cheering you on’’ in the early days of the race, said Kraft. “Now you see kids on the side of the road whose life you’ve saved. You see a kid holding a sign that says, ‘Thank you, I’m 7 years old because of you.’ ’’
To make a direct donation, visit Wdow’s page at www.pmc.org/profile/JW0243, or Barry Kraft’s fund-raising page at www.pmc.org/profile/BK0008. For more information on the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, including alternate routes, visit www.pmc.org.