When Jeff and Kelly’s son, Antonio, was diagnosed with leukemia, they felt helpless and alone in their fear for the future.
Before Antonio was diagnosed, he was a kid who loved to play video games and participated in several sports like Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. After his junior wrestling season, he started complaining of pain in his shoulder blade. It seemed like a normal thing after a long and grueling season. Jeff and Kelly decided to see their orthopedic surgeon to have MRI’s done to see the extent of Antonio’s injuries. That was when the radiologist noticed something wrong with his bone marrow. Although he showed no other symptoms, it was strongly suggested that they have bloodwork done immediately and consult an oncologist. After getting bloodwork done and getting told to go to the hospital right away, Antonio was diagnosed with leukemia.
Antonio’s treatment is a chemotherapy daily medication which he will need to take for the rest of his life. He has become resistant to two medications and if he becomes resistant to this current one, he will need a bone marrow transplant which has a success rate of only 65%.
As they worked through understanding Antonio’s diagnosis and treatment, Kelly found Great Cycle Challenge (GCC). Great Cycle Challenge is an annual event where riders from across the country pledge to ride miles and raise funds to support childhood cancer research.
We asked Jeff and Kelly a few questions on what GCC means to them and their hopes for the future.
What are each of you most proud of when it comes to everything you've done through Great Cycle Challenge?
"We are most proud of the awareness that we've created, whether it's through the GCC Friend's Page, the Champion's Page, talking to people while we are out riding or telling our story to whoever will listen."
For the people who don't understand - why is childhood cancer research so important?
"Children and young people, like our son, should be out doing kid things, not worrying about fighting this disease. They should never carry the burden of how much their treatment is costing, or what their family is sacrificing or seeing the fear on their loved ones faces. They should be living life to the fullest. We have learned that only 4% of federal funding goes toward researching childhood cancers and that is clearly not enough."
You both have been loyal to Great Cycle Challenge for 6 years - why this fundraiser? What has made you stick with it for so long?
"We chose GCC because it spoke to us. We rode bikes anyway and this was a good reason to give it purpose. We fully understand what GCC is for because we experience it every day, not just during the challenge month. We stick with it because without funding there is not enough research. Since Antonio's diagnosis, research has provided our son with new medication when his leukemia becomes resistant to his current medication. We can see the results of what we do by participating in GCC."
What would you tell riders who are hesitant to join - maybe they aren't sure how far they'll be able to ride, or aren't super comfortable asking their network for donations? Any tips or encouragement you would off them?
"We would ask them 'What have you got to lose? You know what will happen if you choose to do nothing'. There is so much more to gain even with a little effort. It’s not about the miles, it’s about raising awareness which can result in donations or support, especially when friends and family ask why or what you are doing. Find their local GCC Champion and bend their ear for help, tips or encouragement, or join them on a ride!"
What do you hope all your efforts make possible in the future for kids who are diagnosed after Antonio?
"That a doctor will be able to tell children and parents they'll be fine, we now have a cure for this....”