FORT KENT, Maine — Six cyclists touched their front tires in Canada around 7:30 Thursday morning and then rolled across the international bridge to begin a five-day, 400-mile trek south through the state promoting cancer awareness and education.
This is the third year the Spokes for Hope cyclists have made the ride and this year’s event is aimed at raising funds for Presque Isle-based CANCER, or Caring Area Neighbors for Education and Recovery, and the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope and Healing based in Lewiston.
“I just feel lucky I am healthy enough to be able to do this,” Spokes for Hope rider Stephanie Caverhill said Wednesday on the eve of the group’s departure. “I really want to help educate people on the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the prevention and recovery of cancer.”
Virtually every rider in the group has been touched by cancer in one way or another — Caverhill lost her grandmother two years ago to the disease.
The father of Spokes of Hope founder Jonathan Kelley lost his battle with cancer seven years ago and Kelley said not a day goes by that he does not think of and miss him.
Thursday’s ride took the group south to Houlton via U.S. Route 1. From there they will cycle to Orono on Friday, to Augusta on Saturday and on to South Portland Sunday. The cyclists expect to finish their trek in Kittery on Monday.
“I’ve made it my mission to help people take better care of themselves and eat right to better their chances to fight [cancer] if they have it,” said Caverhill, a massage therapist. “I have a client who is just 30 and who was diagnosed with breast cancer and that is her life now.”
While Caverhill said the young woman is responding well to treatment, she added, “At 30 you should not have to deal with that.”
Helping victims of cancer, their family and friends is the mission of CANCER and the Spokes for Hope group is using this year’s ride to bring attention to and raise funds for the central Aroostook County nonprofit group.
In addition to education and emotional support, CANCER supplies clients free personal care products, treats in-home cancer patients to fresh bread made by volunteers and offers special, personalized bags to patients.
This marks the second year Brent Jepson of New Sweden has ridden with Spokes for Hope. He said cancer touched his life nine years ago when it claimed his father and more recently he has lost other family members and friends.
“I just feel lucky I can do this ride,” Jepson said.
Penny McHatten of Presque Isle, herself an avid cyclist, is serving as a member of the group’s road team this year, driving a support vehicle.
“These are not kids out on a bike ride,” McHatten, 65, said. “These are adults on a mission [and] I provide the comic relief.”
Also riding this year are central Aroostook cyclists Kyle Washington, Dan Jandreau and Cary Grant with Denise Young driving a second support vehicle.
Anyone interested in donating funds to the CANCER group or the Dempsey center may do so through Spokes for Hope care of Jepson Financial Advisors, P.O. Box 306, Caribou, ME 04736.
“Cancer is tough, there is no denying that,” Caverhill said. “This ride is a way to make it public and say it out loud as opposed to sitting at home and saying, ‘I really should do something.’”