At 17, a volleyball player’s left hip disintegrated right out from under him as cancer ravaged his body.
The Las Vegas based teen, Michael Tatalovich, now a healthy 20 year old, made a Prince George pit stop Friday with 23 other members of the team during the Texas 4000, a 70-day, 4,000-mile cycling trip from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska. There are 67 undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Texas who took on the extreme challenge to raise money for cancer research, treatment and prevention awareness after 18 months of training.
Tatalovich is riding to honour his mother’s and grandmother’s survival of breast cancer as well as to celebrate his own survival of Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer. It took months and visits to at least six different doctors before getting the correct diagnosis.
“It finally came to the point where I couldn’t bare any more weight on it and I found out it had broken at the head of the femur so that summer I was in a wheelchair and my left leg was actually an inch and a half shorter than my right leg because of the way the bone broke,” said Tatalovich.
“And when that happened there was a surgeon who said ‘I’m going to find you an answer.’ So on
May 1, 2013 he did a bone biopsy and that morning they found cancerous cells and within 10 days I had two more surgeries and I was in doing chemotherapy every day for 11 weeks over the summer.”
Aug. 21, 2013 was the date he had his left hip replaced, Tatalovich said, who had lost 50 pounds from his already slim frame during the ordeal.
“They allowed my hip to heal for a couple of weeks and then I did 27 more weeks of chemotherapy,” he said. “I finally finished on March 14, 2014 and I’m very, very grateful to say I have been cancer free ever since.”
Tatolovich heard about Texas 4000 as he visited the U of T campus just three weeks after his last cancer treatment and knew he had to be part of the journey.
“Cycling is one of the only forms of exercise I can do because of its low impact and it’s raising money for cancer research and I had seen what other people were going through and how fortunate I was that my treatment was over and I was doing well and so I wanted to try to give back and help other people get through their battles successfully,” said Tatalovich, who said the training for the ride helped him get off the cane that he was using after the walker and wheelchair and he now walks unencumbered. “So I ride for that part of my life and to heal and to find solace in closing that part of my life and now moving forward with the mind set of being a strong survivor and not just being a survivor but being a cancer fighter in other ways.”
The students taking part in the Texas 4000, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, were divided into three teams that would take different routes to Anchorage so they could visit more communities along the way where they would share their stories, visit with survivors, patients and care givers and offer educational presentations.
It’s day 56 of the 70-day journey and it’s the Sierra Route team that wandered into the kitchen facility in the basement of the Elizabeth Fry Society’s main branch downtown Prince George for a two-day rest stop.
The Sierra team headed northwest from Austin to cycle across the southwest to California, then north along the West Coast to Prince George, and will continue up into the Yukon and then over to Anchorage.
Being from Las Vegas, Tatalovich could handle the 110 degree heat of the ride through the desert but after a while everything starts to looks the same, he said.
“Then we crossed into California and everything was beautiful,” said Tatalovich.
“The first time that I was truly shocked at the scenery was the ride from Vancouver to Whistler because I had been to southern California before and had seen the ocean but there was nothing truly like I had seen before. Squamish and Whistler valley is incomparable and I had no words for it because it was just so beautiful.”
It won’t just be the memories of the good scenery that Tatalovich will remember from his journey.
“I’m going to take away a lot of stories that I have heard from my team mates, and the people we have met along the way,” said Tatalovich.
“I think to those stories there’s a lot of beauty and there’s things to be learned from every story you hear and so I like to think that I spread hope with my story and I have heard some really hopeful stories from other people, some miraculous stories, some sad stories, some stories that just could wrench your heart out and from each of these things, finding hope and knowledge and finding out how we made a difference through this program those are things I am already seeing and I am going to be able to take away from this.”
Texas 4000 started in 2003, with more than 600 students taking part, raising more than $7 million in the fight against cancer.
To find out more about the Texas 4000, each team member or to donate to the cause visit texas4000.org.