Pat Shannon could have given up after the first recurrence. Or the second. Or after every new test that showed the adenoid cystic carcinoma was spreading. He'd known that this might be his new normal since 2007, when Mayo Clinic otolaryngologist Kerry Olsen, M.D., diagnosed him with the disease.
Pat's 12-year battle has included four major surgeries and 40 rounds of radiation meant to slow a cancer for which there's no known cure. But, he's never given up. In fact, he's done the opposite, by making his cancer diagnosis about living rather than dying. "I have a sign on the back of my motorcycle that says, 'I'll probably die from cancer, but it ain't going to kill me,'" Pat tells us.
In December 2018, Pat announced to his wife and to his oncologist at Mayo Clinic, Katharine Price, M.D., that he was going to buy that motorcycle and hit the road for a 10,000-mile journey to the 16 states he'd yet to visit. "I bought the bike, customized it with some of my favorite sayings and bible verses, and hoped that would help start conversations about cancer awareness with people I met along the way," Pat tells us.
Now that he's back home in South Dakota, Pat says his pilgrimage did that and more. "The ride was a huge success from my vantage point," Pat tells us. "I wanted to use the bike as a conversation starter, and it worked."
Including, Pat says, with one memorable young boy in Tennessee whose parents pulled into the same gas station as Pat. "It was hot that day and I'd stopped for some water," Pat tells us. "His mom walked over and asked if he could take a photo with me in front of my bike."
After they began talking, Pat realized he and the boy had more in common than a love of colorful motorcycles. "He was going through cancer treatments himself and was having a rough day," Pat says. "But when he saw my bike, it was almost like I was some kind of cancer superhero to him," he tells us. "I immediately thought, 'This is working. Whatever I'm doing with this ride, it's connecting with people.' That brought a tear to my eye as I drove on down the road."
That road was filled with many more encounters and more memories. "I easily heard hundreds of other cancer stories," Pat says. "As I drove from place to place, people would just come up to me and ask about the bike. So I'd hand them a brochure with information from my website and tell them I'm out raising awareness about rare cancers. A lot of times that would lead to other discussions."
And, offers of hope. "People would also want to pray with me," Pat says. "That was really touching and happened at least a dozen times."
Regardless of what's next in Pat's own journey (he tells us he needs to meet with Dr. Price later this summer to map out the details), one thing's for certain: He's not selling his motorcycle. "When I first bought it in December, my wife asked what I was going to do with it after the ride," he says. "By the time I got back, her narrative had become: 'You can't sell the motorcycle now. It's a part of you.'"
And its message is part of what Pat wants for other cancer patients, as well. "It's like the sign on the back of my bike says: "I'll probably die from cancer, but it ain't going to kill me,'" Pat tells us. "You have to keep telling yourself that every day, and that's what I do."
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