To most people, 28-year-old Nathan seems like a normal, healthy young man. He manages a boat club and enjoys cycling and spending time with his family. It’s nearly impossible to detect that this young man is living with an incurable cancer, fighting his disease indefinitely.
Before cancer, Nathan was an avid distance runner. He set high school records and was inducted into his high school athletic hall of fame. After college, Nathan found his dream job managing a boat club.
But, in the fall of 2013, Nathan began having pain and unexplained weight loss. After months of trying to figure out what was going on, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. After an invasive surgery to remove his right kidney, Nathan’s doctors gave him a more specific diagnosis, Sarcomatoid Renal Cell Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer with no known cure.
Nathan’s cancer had spread throughout his bones, with lesions on his spine, pelvis, sternum, and several soft tissues throughout his body. He had several more surgeries and over 25 radiation treatments to various parts of his body. In March of 2014, his doctor started him on a clinical trial using immunotherapy, a targeted drug that aims to harness one’s own immune system to kill cancer cells, and another drug that targets a growth factor that promotes cancer’s access to the blood that it needs to survive.
After a couple months on the clinical trial my health started to stabilize. My bones had a response, and to this day, my scans suggest healing of all boney lesions. So, I traded in my crutches for a bike and found a new outlet. My first ride, I was a week off of surgery so I did 2 miles at a snails pace. But I slowly worked my way up to doing 25-40 miles a day and even started riding with groups to push me. It gets more challenging to get back on the saddle with each new surgery, but to me riding means fighting, it means not giving up, it makes me feel alive, and it reminds me of some of the best memories I have, spent running.
Sarcomatoid Renal Cell Carcinoma
When we asked Nathan what he wanted to do for his Life Adventure, there was no hesitation. He wanted to get a carbon frame road bicycle and ride. He wanted to train to be able to ride a 50km race.
So, we made a phone call to a near and dear organization, The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, who puts on a cycling ride from Maryland to Key West every year. We wanted Nathan to meet the riders and survivors on the Keys to Keys trip and get inspired to train to ride along with them next year.
Nathan had treatment the same day the Keys to Keys team arrived in Jacksonville. After he finished treatment, we had Nathan meet the riders and share his story. As he finished speaking, we prepared for the big surprise of the evening – Nathan’s brand new road bicycle!
We feel very fortunate to be able to provide Nathan with this brand new bicycle and riding gear courtesy of the generosity of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, Giant Bicycles, and Champion Cycling.
But, Nathan’s Life Adventure was just beginning! The next morning, the Keys to Keys team came together for a dedication circle before their 100-mile ride that day. Nathan and many other survivors’ names were lifted up as inspiration for the upcoming ride.
As the team prepared to takeoff, Nathan was given the honor of leading off the first cycling team. He rode with the team for the first few miles before sending them on their way to complete the centennial ride.
It was a special ride for Nathan and everyone involved with the Ulman Fund and Live For Today. There is nothing more powerful than witnessing young people who are diagnosed with cancer, rise above their disease and achieve their life goals. That ride was truly the ride of a lifetime for Nathan.
In the past few months, Nathan has hit a few bumps in the road on his journey with cancer. His disease has shown some progression and he knows their will be tough decisions to address in the near future. But, Nathan is hopeful and trusts his medical team will find the best treatment options for him.
To me buying time means buying hope, for better treatments and for a cure. If there is one thing that these last 16 months have taught me, it is to live for the moment and to take it one day at a time. Over the last 16 months, I have had some of the best times of my life, and I look forward to enjoying whatever time I have left like it’s going out of style.
Sarcomatoid Renal Cell Carcinoma