A love story

by Karen Clarke
Cortland, Ohio


Cycling through Cancer

My husband, Bill May, was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on his 40th birthday, on June 4, 1993. Bill told me that on the day of his diagnosis, he went out and bought a bike. He rode throughout his treatment and really credited his biking habit with helping his recovery.

Falling in Love

Bill rode into my life in 1995, and we became constant cycling companions. Bill was very health and fitness conscious; he studied nutrition and exercised regularly. We married in 1999. Bill had two children from his first marriage, and we became a family. We had a wonderful life.

I remember a day in 2003 when Bill came home from his annual appointment with his oncologist and told me, “I’m done. Tony says that I don’t need to come back. The chance of it returning is infinitesimal.” Who could ask for better news?

Cancer Strikes Again

But it did come back. In October 2006, the journey began again. Staying at the
American Cancer Society’s Joseph S. and Jeannette M. Silber Hope Lodge was part of the plan. We stayed at Hope Lodge during various treatments. When he had his cells collected for a stem cell transplant the following spring, we ended up staying in a hotel since the Hope Lodge was closed for renovations. I have stayed in a hotel as a caretaker and I have stayed at Hope Lodge. Hope Lodge is much better. It provides a beautiful building and garden, a kitchen and a laundry facility, and lots of support from other patients, caregivers, staff, and volunteers. In addition, it’s free.


Cycling through Treatment

In an effort to get him lymphoma-free so that he could have the transplant, Bill had many, many chemotherapy treatments. During those months, one of his primary concerns was whether he was going to be able to ride his bike. As a result of his first surgery, he had developed a spectacular and ever-growing hernia. There was no way that he was going to be comfortable on a road bike. Bill had wanted a recumbent for years. When I told him that I would get it for his birthday, he really seized the opportunity. Despite all of the treatments, going for second and third opinions, trying to keep our business going and worrying about our kids and our families, we managed to ride a very respectable 1,300 miles that year. He loved that bike!! I think that he might have slept with it if I had let him.

Bill’s Transplant

In the middle of the riding season in 2007, Bill had his transplant. He was provoked at the timing, but you do what you have to do. He made a really speedy recovery; we believed because he was strong from cycling.

“I Want to Do That Ride Next Year.”

While we were staying at the Hope Lodge during his recovery, we were sitting in the living room playing backgammon when I heard someone calling my name. I looked up to see our friend Rick Barnhart. Rick volunteered for the Society’s first Pan Ohio Hope Ride. Rick was riding for his wife, Candi, whom he lost to breast cancer just a few years ago. So Rick told us about the ride and route. Rick was so enthusiastic that by the time he left, Bill looked at me and said, “I want to do that ride next year.”

I didn’t know whether I would be riding or volunteering, but I knew that I would be involved in Pan Ohio Hope Ride the next year.

The bikes moved onto our enclosed porch in November and we rode on trainers, often side by side. Bill’s treatment didn’t go as planned. Bill was back in the hospital for a donor transplant in February 2008. At that time, I stayed here at Hope Lodge. On February 29, Bill had a multiple cord blood transplant.

Hope Lodge: A Blessing

Hope Lodge was such a blessing for me. Since I was staying here, I was able to be with him every day, all day. I set up a little office in my room here and worked for short periods during breaks from the hospital. It saved me the hour and a half drive to and from our home in Cortland, Ohio, which I had done during all of his other hospitalizations. Bill responded well to the transplant, and we were making plans for him to join me at Hope Lodge by the middle of March. It wasn’t to be. Everything fell apart, and Bill died on March 27, 2008.

Riding for Bill
While I am doing this ride for Bill, I am also doing this ride to say, “Thank you!” to the American Cancer Society.

Because I was able to stay at Hope Lodge, I was able to spend those last precious days with my brave, wonderful husband who never stopped loving the bike and who never gave up hope.

Karen Clarke
Cortland, Ohio
2008 Pan Ohio Hope Rider

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