Two battles with cancer, but hasn't missed Pan-Mass ride in 12 years
PORTSMOUTH --- Elizabeth Fregeau already was contemplating riding in the 2001 Pan-Mass Challenge when she received news that would solidify her desire to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, the bicycling event's beneficiary.
A mother of two, Fregeau was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and immediately underwent surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
By April 2001, she was in remission. That August, she completed her first two-day, 163-mile ride from Wellesley, Mass., to Province-town, at the tip of Cape Cod.
The experience was so powerful, Fregeau has returned every year since, even following a bout with a different type of breast cancer in 2010. Although her course of treatment did not wrap up until June of that year, and included a double mastectomy, by August she was back on her bike.
Her oncologist and others advised against it.
"She said, 'I'm behind you, but you have to know you have nothing left in the tank.'" Fregeau said, recalling the conversation with the doctor. "She was concerned, but she also knew I had to do what I had to do."
And she did, completing the two-day ride with family and friends cheering along the way.
The most significant moment that year came near the end of the ride, when Fregeau, still bald and wondering if she was going to make it, saw her two daughters, Emily, now 18, and Caroline, now 14, at the finish line. They had often seen their mother start the ride but had never seen her finish.
It is a memory that still causes Fregeau to choke up when talking about it.
This August, at 49, she will ride for the 13th consecutive year, with the support of her daughters, many friends and family, and her boyfriend of seven years.
"It's an incredible ride - the people you meet, the reason why you do it," Fregeau said.
Her first year participating in the Challenge, she had planned to ride in memory of a friend's mother who had lost her battle with breast cancer.
Now, she rides not only for those who have lost, but those who have survived. And she continues to spread a message of hope bred from the research done at Dana-Farber that has helped her to stay alive.
Now in its 34th year, the Pan-Mass Challenge raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country, according to Dana-Farber.
On Aug. 3 and 4, Fregeau will be among 5,500 cyclists, including 143 others from New Hampshire, who will ride with the collective goal of raising $38 million to support patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber.
To date, Fregeau alone has raised nearly $87,000 for the cause.
She said riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge is a way to give back to everyone fighting all kinds of cancers.
She also gives back in other ways.
In 2003, she helped to start a breast-cancer support group called "Breast Friends," which has grown to 700 members representing cancer survivors and current cancer patients.
In July, Fregeau joined other survivors in a ride around the warning track of Fenway Park, where she met other women in earlier stages of treatment. They were able to talk about their experiences, and Fregeau was able to give them some hope.
She said she used to ask her mother why this was happening to her. She was otherwise healthy, ate well, exercised.
Her mom suggested that it may be so she could be an inspiration to others. And she is, even in the way she simply lives her life each day.
"I definitely think I kind of live in the moment more," she said. "I appreciate the little things more."