Monday-- September 27th

I recently received an email from Derek Etkin.  Derek is Don Etkin's son.  For those that don't know Don you can read about him and the impact he made on our lives here.  Sadly, Don passed away late last year from a brain tumor.  Don was a hell of a man but this writing is about his son Derek.  Derek is 26 and had a baby girl earlier this year (I know, you don't have to tell me…Derek didn't have the baby, his wife did).

Both Derek and Don's wife Kerry rode in the PMC for the first time this year.  I didn't see Derek on the ride but I was able to give a shout out to Kerry somewhere along the first 20 miles.

 Each year, after his ride, Don would publish his "Observations" from that year's event.  I always found them fascinating and enjoyable to read.   Carrying on his father's tradition, Derek has published his own observations.  They are equally as fascinating and enjoyable and I know Don is very proud of him for doing it.   I hope you enjoy them as well.

--Ernie

2010 Pan Mass Challenge Observations – Derek Etkin

With ten miles behind me, ten thousand more to go.

Monday

I'm not quite sure if I'm ready for this: biking longer within two days than I have all summer combined. I tried to make every weekend an opportunity to ride, but it's been a busy year. New parents learn the  meaning of priorities very fast! Sometimes rather than wake up at 5 to ride before work I elected to wake up with our six-month-old Bianca and give Becca a chance to sleep in. The PMC was important to my dad, but I've got other more important commitments in his honor as well.

Friday

Reading dad's observations from years past gives me the sense that I'm not in such trouble. Nervous on the drive out to Sturbridge, I try to visualize how, on all of my training rides in Carlise and Weston, I was only passed by one or two PMC jerseys. Whenever dad and I rode together, my 26-year age advantage was a source of bewildered joy to him, especially on the hills. He used to grumble at how "You only ride 3 miles to work and I'm out here every weekend. It's just not fair." Let's hope it serves me now!

When Kerry and I arrive in Sturbridge, it's exactly like I remembered it from the couple times I drove him out here and I miss him acutely. It's crowded and I'm a little bit younger than most of the people here, but everyone is friendly and excited to be there. I get the feeling immediately that most of the people here have lost someone they love to cancer, something that I understand viscerally now. It's sad to think of how many families are affected by this but I can't think of a better way for victims or their families to fight back and give themselves a well-deserved bike ride.

I load up on the awesome buffet and spend some time with other members of Team Don, who have coaxed me into the opening ceremonies which is also a Live NECN TV event. It feels important to hear where all of the money goes, as doctors and patients take turns describing their work fighting cancer.

Then Senator Scott Brown's daughter of American Idol fame gets up and sings a song she wrote for an 8- year-old with cancer. It was pretty cool to see how happy an eight-year-old can get but I wanted to hear more from the nerdy Dana Faber scientist who they had just ushered off the stage moments before.

In fact, both Massachusetts senators ride in the PMC this year. After some mutual treacle about bipartisanship, Scott Brown makes some jokes about how John Kerry was really old. After an awkward beat, John Kerry talks briefly about his wife's current battle with cancer as well as his own and then finishes with a point that fighting cancer is as much about environmental and consumer regulations as it is about organizations like the Dana Faber institute. It is a tough sell to the American public than seemingly magical medical cures, and resonates with me all weekend.

Saturday

At 4:30 the next morning, I don biker shorts for the second time in my life; the first time was trying them on in the shop. Fits pretty good, even if it does feel a little weird starting the day at a breakfast buffet with a thousand dudes and their skin-tight butt-shorts. I get my bike and find a spot at the beginning of the "moderate" speed class. I'm amped up. Let's go!

The first twenty miles are beautiful rolling hills. It is pretty crowded on the road but it doesn't really bother me for now. The sky is beautiful and the morning air is crisp. The coolest thing about biking is how quiet it can be. Even in a peloton of thousands of people, there is only a low whirring noise of ball bearings, including some very fancy expensive ball bearings.

I'm getting a couple friendly comments about the black 2000 Lemond frame I'm riding, and I like that a lot. It was the bike dad did his first PMC on in 2001. The majority of the bikes on the road with me would probably be considered nicer because it is only made from a steel alloy, but I like that it is basically the same bike that people were riding forty years ago, with better brakes and gears. Somehow reminds me of watching Breaking Away with my dad in 5th grade.

The hills feel good and by the second water break (~40 miles), I'm noticing that I'm actually pretty strong on the hills, especially if I don't have to downshift and spin a lot. This gives me some confidence and I start relaxing about whether or not I'll be able to make it.

After a nice lunch and stretch at 70 miles I hit the road a find myself alone on country roads for a solid 10 miles, passing the occasional group or being passed by a snaking "pace-line" of people drafting off of each other. I prefer a nice view to an aerodynamic advantage, so I sit high in the saddle and watch stunningly beautiful country roll by. Remember, I spend entire weeks within the four-block urban radius of my apartment, the grocery store, and my office, so it is nice to see some country out here.

I roll into the Mass Maritime Academy at Bourne at 1:30, just about what dad did on his first ride (his was in rain). PMC has set up tents for us on the baseball field. I claim one, get cleaned up and start walking around looking for food and maybe a beer. I spend some time with Team Don, spend some time napping in the shade, get some more food, and then fall asleep in my little tent. Before this quick succession of events I have a chance to meet some people who recognize the dad's face and name emblazoned on the Team Don jerseys we put on for our team photos. It is really nice to hear the same nice things about my dad again and again. How much fun he had and how his positivity helped other people have a good experience.

Sunday

We wake up the next morning and ride over the Bourne Bridge in single file followed by a steep spiral down to the canal which is calm and stunning in the morning light. The second day has a lot of people cheering at intersections. These were the people dad talked about in his observations. Many of them include families affected by cancer. Dad used to stop and chat with some of these kids along the way. It was a way of proving to parents that a 13-year-old can beat very scary cancer. I feel like our whole family is living proof of that idea, but it doesn't feel like the sort of message I'm in any position to give people right now. I just smile a lot and give high-fives to eagerly outstretched hands.

I finally meet up with some other members of Team Don at a water stop and try my best to match pace with them. I discover it is fun riding with a little group and we even join a pace line along a rail trail bike path for a while.

And here come the hills. Long rolling hills that I confidently attack the same way I did the day before. It's such a good feeling to be going fast uphill but then slowly I start to realize the reason why no one else was taking them so fast: we're all super tired. Over the past 30 hours I've biked about 180 miles and I've still got another 10 left. I wouldn't say that I "bonk", but it is pretty slow there at the end. I bet a lot of the experienced older cyclists get a kick out of passing the hubristic excitable kid after he had flown past them dozens of miles ago. Dad surely would have had a good laugh at that too, and during the lastcouple miles, I join him with a big grin across my face.

Right before the finish, I'm joined by Keith and Paul of Team Don and together we glide across the finish line (192 miles). This ride was a real pleasure for me and a chance to meditate on my father, my daughter, and all of the ways in which my father prepared me for this most difficult and wonderful year.

I am so humbled by the $5,670 people gave to the Dana Faber Cancer Center in honor my dad and in support of my ride. I think we have done a good thing for us, for dad and for families devastated by juvenile cancer.

 

Friday-- September 10th

We had a busy long weekend. We went down to CT. to my brother Mike's house on Sat. for a family birthday/pool party. It was great to see everyone. The kids all had a fun time swimming and catching up with each other. I was nervous to go down. I knew I was going to be emotional. It's especially hard to see all the cousins together without Maddie. Very hard for me. I kept myself composed, and tried to relish in the fun the boys were having. I sat with Jackie a few times and chatted. That's when it's especially hard for me. Not having the girls together. I know Jackie misses Maddie and I miss seeing them running towards each other with an excited hug, giggling together, putting the boys in their place, playing with their pink DS', and stuffed animals. I always have the urge to hug Jackie and just bawl, but I can't. I just listen to her talk, tell me stories, tell me about what's new in her life.

We had the second annual block party on Sunday. It was so much fun. Kid games, adult games, perfect weather. We block off the road, bring our tables and chairs, bring food, cater food, and just really enjoy each others’ company. We really do live in an awesome neighborhood. During one adult game, I had such a fun time. I truly hadn't laughed that hard in a very long time. It was the game where you have a few teams and a basket of clothes for each team. Along with goofy clothes, are hats, glasses, beads, wigs. You have to get dressed in the clothes, run through an inflatable obstacle course, and back to your team line for the next person to do the same. I was up against our friend, Dave Dimond. We both got dressed and ran for the obstacle course. Just as we rounded the corner to climb in, I pushed Dave so I could get ahead and he stumbled sideways a few steps. Well, without warning, he came flying back at me a gave me a full body check, sending me flying into the course! It was hysterical. From there, it was on! The claws came out!

I grabbed and tried to hold onto to any piece of Dave's clothing I could get my hands on. The two of us fell down into the side of the netting in a crumpled heap. I couldn't get up! As Dave worked his way out, I grabbed a hold of the back of his t-shirt and he dragged me behind him, the whole time trying to swat me off like a fly and yelling, "Kristen's cheating! She's cheating!" I lost my grip and he dove over the top of the wall and out of sight. Damn. Well now I was laughing so hard and was so exhausted from my fight that I could barely climb over the wall. My clothes were all tattered and hanging. I finally got up to the top of the wall and just threw myself over and down the other side. I got out of the course, full of scrapes and latex burns and got back to the team. You just had to be there. It was so hysterical! It felt so good to laugh like that. To forget about everything else for just a few minutes...

The kids all played games and laughed all day. Egg toss, three legged race, sack race, charades. They all get along so well. There was no fighting, no sore losers, just laughing. Prizes were handed out throughout the day for game winners, but at the end of the day there were leftovers, so the kids were allowed to take what they wanted. William came over to me and said, "Mom I got this for you." In the bag were two pillar candles w/wreaths. He was so proud. He knows how much I love candles and the look in his eyes was so sweet. I gave him a huge hug and kiss. He's always so thoughtful like that. The next morning, he was so excited to help me find a place to "hang" the candles. He had put a lot of thought into it and had several ideas. I tried to explain that you don't hang pillar candles, but I will have to find another way to use them!

Hoping to ride the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp bike ride, in memory of Maddie, this Sunday in CT. Paul and Dave are going to ride it with me. Another great fundraiser for a great cause. The only thing that would stop me, is if my results from a blood draw this morning, are "off." We still don't know what caused me to get so sick before the PMC weekend. I have had repeat blood draws since then and my blood counts have been "off." I'm actually scheduled to have blood work done, and meet with a Hematology doctor, on the 22nd, at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Luckily, I can go to a local branch and not have to go into Boston, where Maddie went. This whole thing has had me very anxious, but I'm hoping it all turns out to be nothing. We just want to make sure we're not missing anything and figure out why my counts are so wacky. It was "funny." The receptionist on the other line, when I made my appt., said, "Now, you'll receive a confirmation letter in the mail and it will say DF Cancer Institute on all the paperwork. I don't want you to panic when you see the word "cancer." I wanted to say, "Oh, lady, you have no idea...," but I didn't. I just said, "Oh, ok. Thanks." Anyway, I've been praying, talking to Maddie, and blessing myself with my Lourdes water.

Got a letter from the bank yesterday regarding Maddie's personal savings acct. I still have it open and obviously, have not made any transactions against it. So, the letter informed me that if the acct remains "dormant," it will be charged a monthly fee. "Dormant." I thought about that word and it made me so upset. Dormant, dead, no activity. I just got very upset and called the bank to explain. Turns out they sent the letter in error. Her acct will not be affected because of the way it's set up. I'll keep that acct there until we decide what it should be used for. It's Maddie's money and she'll "let me know" when and if it should be used. I feel the same about the money that still sits in her wallet, on her dresser. Quite a bit of money, from the sales she made by making earrings in the hospital. I borrow against it when I need to. I walk into her room and talk to her. I ask out loud if I can borrow the money and thank her, and I always replace the bills the way I took them. If I borrow two $5's, I replace two $5's, not a $10. It has to be the same, and they have to go back into her wallet in the order she left them.

I read an entry on the guest log the other day and it talked about a sad mother, who lost her daughter, putting away her daughter's clothes and clearing off the shelves. I have not done that yet. Maddie's room remains the same way she left it. I can't change it. I don't know when or if I ever will. William would like to move into her room, but I can't let him do that. It's Maddie's room, a place where I go to "be with her." Although it's incredibly painful to be in Maddie's room, it's her room, and as long as it's there, maybe somewhere in my head, I pretend she's still here. Ernie still turns her nightlight on every night, and turns it off every morning...

Our extra love and thoughts go out to our friends, the O'Connell's, whose son, Tim, became an Angel, two years ago yesterday, and to our dear friends, Colleen and Frank Duffy as well. Meghan's "Angelversary" is on Monday. Very hard time.

I bought a ticket to go see Maureen Hancock very soon. I need to see her. I need a message. I just need to "talk to Maddie."

Thursday-- September 1st

Well, the boys had a great time at Hole In The Wall, despite all the rain they had. I was so excited to pick them up and give them huge hugs! It's so great when they hug you back - like they truly mean it! I was able to personally make another donation to the Camp this year, thanks to sales of Maddie's cards. It feels so good to give back. Thomas is eligible to attend next year. He is SO excited about that! All three will be there together. I'm thinking about being a Parent Volunteer that week and staying the week as well. I checked with boys first, of course, and they all thought it would be cool. I'll think about it.

The Cops For Kids With Cancer motorcycle Rally was last Sunday. It was awesome! I rode in Maddie's place again, on the back of Bob Hayden's bike, and of course, wore her helmet. It was a really hot day but they had an amazing turn out. Think it was the biggest one yet. Over 300 motorcycles. It's such a sight to see. It's a very emotional day for me. I wore, pinned to the back of my t-shirt, a picture of Maddie and another of Maddie and Meghan. So many people approached me and told me they remember Maddie. Very emotional. At the finish, Bob asked me to do the sign off over the walkie-talkie/radio. I had to practice a few times, Bob would tell you it was about 50 times, but think I got the right words out. It was something like "Yellow Charlie 18 Ocean Frank"...still don't think that's right! Anyway, at the end, I added a few words for Maddie..."Peace Out Baby!!"

At the finish line, there were a few posters with pictures of all the previous rides. One stood out. It was of Maddie and Bob. She was wearing a pink shirt, standing in front of Bob's motorcycle and he had his hand on her shoulder. She was so incredibly beautiful. I just stood there and cried when I saw it. A guy said to me, "Are you up there?" I could hardly get the words out. I just tapped on my heart, pointed, and said, "No, that's my daughter." I made my way to the bathroom to pull myself together and we left shortly after. We stopped in at Bob's beach house to say hello to family. It was a wonderful day and I look forward to next year's ride.

Speaking of Cops... The other day, I thought I would do something fun with the kids and take them to the pool club and have a fun dinner before they started school. Well, on the car ride over, of course, they were all fighting and Thomas was throwing a tantrum. I had asked him several times to stop while I was trying to drive. He wasn't listening. So, I thought I could use a little "help." I had just driven past a motorcycle cop. I turned around and told Thomas I was going back to talk to the policeman about what was going on and see if he could help me out. Oh boy, fear set in. Michael was sitting in front and I heard him mutter, "Oh my gosh Mom, are you seriously going to do this?" I simply said, "Yep." William piped in, with concern in his voice, "Mom, can you please just give him (Thomas) one more chance?" My reply, "Nope."

So, I pulled over, got out of my car and walked over to the cop. Probably not proper protocol, but I was on a mission. As I approached him, I winked with a smile and told him I needed his "help." Asked him if he had a few minutes to talk to Thomas about the dangers of throwing a tantrum while Mom is trying to drive. He smiled and said sure. When we opened the slider door, the boys were quiet as could be. Thomas immediately put his little hands over his chest, or as they call them, "boy boobs," since he was in his swimsuit and wanted to cover himself up. He stared at the officer, lip quivering, boy boobs covered...I actually felt so bad for him that I wanted to call the whole thing off, but I didn't. The cop asked Thomas what was going on and Thomas said, "Well, they never let me do anything and they weren't letting me talk, and...oh I don't even know!" Exposing his boy boobs for a split second as he threw his hands in the air. Covered himself back up. So funny...

After a very nice chat by the officer, who himself has 5 children and could totally relate, we were on our way. I think it went very well. The officer really was very nice to them and I think Thomas (and William) learned a lesson. Michael just thought the whole thing was nuts.

Michael started school today. He looked so handsome, so grown up. I am so proud of him. He was very excited. Of course, he wouldn't let me come to the bus stop with him, but he did let me take our annual photo in front of the fireplace. It was bittersweet. So excited for Michael, but missing my Maddie so badly. She should've been in that picture, excited about her new school.

I sat out on the front stoop and watched the kids gather at the bus stop from afar. They're all getting so big. As I watched Michael walking away, I tried to picture Maddie walking beside him, wearing her pink camouflage backpack. Him giving her "advice." Her telling him, "I already know what to do!"

Very hard day for me. Really hate this time of year. Every day is a struggle, but certain occasions seem that much harder to get through. Have had a very hard time sleeping and last night was a really hard one. I know all of Maddie's friends were so excited about today. I listened to them talk, their excitement, their little fears, listened to their plans. I heard them asking Michael, at a recent gathering, all kinds of questions. It was so cute to listen to him talking with them, filling them in. He would've been such a good, supportive older brother to Maddie. He always was. They probably would've had all kinds of conversations about the new school. I know Maddie would’ve given William the pep talk about his new school too. I know Maddie would've been so excited, especially if she was in class with her good friends. She loved to go to school. I wonder what she would look like this year. What kind of outfit would she wear today? I think she would've still been into the feminine, sporty look, although she was just starting to get interested in more feminine clothes. I know she would most likely have been wearing a very cool hat! I still have her backpack hanging in the hallway, where I hang the others. I can't bring myself to take it down...

William and Thomas have settled in nicely so far. Unfortunately, it has been so hot in the schools. They get off the bus dripping in sweat. It’s strange having them is separate schools now. All three boys are in a different school. William and Thomas are at least still on the same bus. I’ll miss seeing Maddie’s friends give me the “Peace Out” sign every morning, now that they’re all on the earlier bus.

I went down to visit with Maddie after the boys all left for school. I wanted to bring her balloons and "talk with her." I asked her to go hang with her brothers at school, make sure they all have a good time, stay safe, and stay out of trouble. Follow her friends, laugh with them. Of course, I cried to her, told her how very much I miss her and how hard of a time I'm having. Throughout all this, there were a couple of policemen on detail, because there is road work being done right in front of the cemetery. I know I was visibly upset, and noticed one officer looking over at me from time to time. I was on the opposite side of Maddie's stone, so he could not see me completely since I was sitting. As I sat there, I was trying to find humor in something, anything, to get myself up and out of there. Well, I got it. All of a sudden one of Maddie's balloons popped! It was SO loud and sounded exactly like a gun went off! It echoed off the cement and trucks and was really the loudest "POP" I've ever heard. Anyway, I saw the policeman turn so quickly to look at me. I actually got scared myself! I know what the poor guy probably thought...distraught mother...ok maybe not so funny, but I actually got a little chuckle. I had to stand up from behind Maddie's stone and give a quick wave to let him know I was ok. After that, I got in my car and left.

Well everyone, I hope that the summer was good to you, and that your kids are now all settling nicely into the new school year.

 

 

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