NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Denise Valentine rode her bicycle in last year’s Connecticut Challenge as a cancer “thriver.” She thought that word better reflected her personal journey.
“They give you signs that say survivor,’’ said Valentine, who will ride July 26 in the 25-mile leg of the annual fundraiser. “I put thriver under it. I thought that’s a better connotation of what has gone on in my life.”
Valentine’s life partner, Paul Shelley, will ride in the 50-mile leg. The two-day bike ride, now in its 10th year, raises money for survivorship programs and events at the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship and at hospitals around the state.
Valentine was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer in 2012. A few months after her diagnosis, she learned about the CT Challenge and its Center For Survivorship.
The organization empowers cancer patients to live healthier lives through exercise, yoga, nutrition and a community of support among a gentle staff and fellow "thrivers."
Valentine swiftly embraced the Center, and made significant lifestyle changes. She also made it a goal to ride in the CT Challenge.
“I’m a former couch potato,’’ Valentine said.
“I was not someone who embraced exercise. I didn’t eat the right things. You have to adjust your mindset.
"The Center helps you build awareness for changes that need to be made. The changes are bigger than people may think but not impossible,” she said.
Valentine started her training by walking, even while she was still undergoing radiation treatments at Norwalk Hospital. Then she began riding her bike, working her way up to 20 miles in a day.
Valentine feels last year’s ride was a perfect correlation with her journey as a cancer patient.
“It was a lot like life. There were moments where I was by myself and I reflected on everything that had happened," she said.
"Sometimes in life we walk alone for a time and in moments call up our inner strength and push forward.
"I got to what I thought was near the finish. I paused and asked one of the volunteers. She said there was one mile to go!" Valentine said.
"I found this renewed energy. I had this enormous rush coming through the finish line and it was so exciting. I had never done anything like this before,” she said.
Valentine said she approached the ride similar to her progress through cancer treatments
“I knew I would finish and it would take whatever time it took. That was like that for the treatment, too," she said.
"It was like, 'Here’s the next box to check, let’s do it and move on.' Later on, the reality of it hit me.
"Cancer happened, I went through the process in steps and came out on the other side,” Valentine said.
Valentine said the support of the Connecticut Challenge staff helped her throughout her cancer fight.
“You want to be in a place that is uplifting. We’re all making positive choices and healthier changes for our lives, for however long that is. Because frankly, none of us know how long we get to live.
"Optimism is very important in cancer recovery. They help you understand that every day there is a decision to choose health, and take care of your body,” she said.
The ride begins in Westport. People can support Valentine by making an online donation through her fundraising link http://2014ctchallenge.kintera.org/denisev