Riding for a reason

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

Michelle J. Thompson of Glen Ellyn Ill., has been traveling by bicycle since Oct. 21 on Historic Route 66 from Chicago, Ill. to Costa Mesa, Calif. Her goal is to raise money to help her brother John Thompson who is battling oral cancer for the second time in his life. Thompson had planed to stay in Tucumcari for only a day but was snowed in from Wednesday until early afternoon on Friday.

“Some of the goals I set out to accomplish on this trip are to raise money for my brother, help raise the public’s awareness of oral cancer and let people know that even one person can make a difference in the fight against cancer,” said Thompson.
Thompson has been on the road for almost six weeks and has covered five states. She has traveled virtually alone without any previous cycling training. And has discovered ever-changing challenges from the weather and the terrain.

She either stays in hotels or camps out to save money as she travels. Along the way she has met people who have opened up to her with stories of their cancer survival or family members struggling with cancer. At first, she said, she was shocked that people would come up to a complete stranger and share intimate details of their family’s life. Now, she said she has learned to draw inspiration from the stories and people she is meeting along the way. She has also met people who have helped her along the way. Whether it’s a night’s lodging, a meal or the time they spend visiting is appreciated by Thompson.

“So many people have helped me. I truly appreciate what they have done for me. I am a stranger, who is riding a bicycle across America and people have shown me so much generosity and compassion it’s overwhelming,” she said. “ When I first started this trip I had no idea what to expect. A wrong turn in Missouri lead to me having to go over a mountain I didn’t even know was there. I saw a mountain lion prowling a pasture in Kansas, was chased by a pack of dogs in Oklahoma and I even got to see snow in New Mexico.”

Thompson’s brother John was first diagnosed with oral cancer in 2005. He suffered from a tooth ache that would not go away and several trips to dentist had failed to stop the pain. John sought the help of a specialist to find a way to stop the pain but learned that the problem was far more dire. He underwent surgery to remove the cancer from his mouth and had radiation therapy in the fall of 2005 and began chemo earlier this year. He was glad to be done with treatment and return to work. But in May the cancer returned.
“I was at dinner with a friend in Chicago and I was suddenly compelled to call my brother,” said Michelle Thompson. she knew something was wrong and “that’s when he told me that the cancer was back. I knew how concerned he was and that is when it struck me that I needed to get involved as he was battling something serious.”

She said the doctors have told her brother to get his affairs in order. However, her brother, she said, didn’t want to give up and went to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. After 10 hours of aggressive surgery, where portions of his jawbone and tongue were removed, John began the chemo treatment once again. But, after two year’s off the job, he’s become concerned about his financial well being as well as his health, she said.

“I wanted to help my brother. I knew that he needed to focus on fighting the cancer and getting better and not about money,” said Thompson. “John has always been the strong one. He was always helping others. When he gave me his blessings to do a fund raiser for him I knew that he truly appreciated and needed my help.”

Thompson began to formulate ways to raise money she considered doing a walk-a-thon to raise the money. But she began to feel if she was going to raise a good amount of money she needed to cover a vast distance. She eventually decided to travel by bike from Illinois to California by bicycle. She thought that she could receive pledges for the miles she traveled and flat donations as well. When she told her family of her plans she received skepticism and concerns about the trip.

“My parents are supportive in my decision but my dad was hoping that my mom would talk me out of it,” said Thompson. “My brother asked me if I had ever made the trip I was planning by car. He told me he had and even in a car it was a long and hard trip he was very concerned about me doing by way of a bicycle.”

Thompson began to research her trip with multiple sources. She contacted Lon Hadleman who ran PAC tours which took people touring along Route 66 by bicycle. Hadleman provided Thompson with an established route with state by state directions. She would travel from Glen Ellyn, Ill. starting at the house that she and John had been raised in and travel to her brother’s home in Costa Mesa. “If I had not been helped with the route I might not of been able to do the trip,” said Thompson. “I felt that riding from our parents home to his was the perfect way to go.”

Thompson is hopeful to travel Route 66 and make it to California by Christmas to celebrate it with her brother and family who will be waiting for her.