WILTON, Conn. – Jenn Lewis figured the worst was over after an emergency appendectomy in March 2010. The Wilton mom found out at her post-op appointment a week later, however, that it was only beginning. She had cancer of the appendix, which started a nine-month treatment plan that included several more surgeries and chemotherapy.
During her trips to Stamford Hospital, she learned about the Connecticut Challenge Bike Event, the annual ride that supports programs for cancer survivors. She made the commitment last spring to take part and rode 50 miles as the leader of the 40-rider Team Be Positive. She’ll ride again this year, preparing for a 75-mile ride. She has 25 riders on her team, but more figure to join later. People can support Lewis by visiting her fundraising page.
The ride is part of the recovery process for Lewis, who remains surprised by the twist of fate. “I went to the doctor post-op by myself,’’ she said. “I was completely blindsided. I compare it to going to the dentist and having them say you have a brain tumor.”
Lewis’ sister had colon cancer years earlier, and her condition mirrored her sister’s. “It turns out to be genetic,’’ she said. “We thought it was a fluky thing with her. I guess getting appendicitis was a blessing. It saved my life.”
While recovering, Lewis attended a wellness event for cancer survivors sponsored by the Connecticut Challenge. She had been aware of the group but learned more as she went through treatment. “Each time they sponsored an event, we’d get an email about it,’’ Lewis said. “It gave me a sense of belonging.”
Her travails, however, were not over yet. She finished chemotherapy around Thanksgiving. Soon afterward, she fell, broke an ankle and spent the next few months rehabbing. She decided in early spring 2011 to ride in the Connecticut Challenge. Her Mother’s Day gift was a bike. “I had not been on a bike since junior high school,’’ Lewis said.
She loved the challenge so much last year, there was no question she would do it again. She and her team will begin their journey in Westport on July 28. Riders can choose distances of 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 miles. The latter is considered “New England’s Toughest Century” and rolls into hilly roads in Brookfield, New Milford, New Preston, Roxbury, Redding and Easton.
Lewis says her connection to the challenge is different this year. “Last year, it was a personal reason,’’ she said. “I needed to do it for myself. This year I look at it a little differently. This year I feel like it’s about the other cancer survivors that are going through the same experiences that I went through. I have several friends who are back in treatment. I am dedicating my ride this year to them.
"I can’t even explain the feelings of the day. It’s very emotional, but very empowering. I want to do whatever I can to support such an amazing organization.”
The journey from cancer patient to survivor has been rewarding, thought-provoking and challenging for Lewis. She believes her support system, including husband Jim and four children, as well as her Wilton neighbors helped her scale the mountains that face recovering cancer patients. The Connecticut Challenge also provides the opportunity to help people who face similar circumstances.
“That’s the great thing about the Connecticut Challenge,’’ Lewis said. “Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, you can do as little as 10 miles. It’s about being active and being healthy. Even with a little fitness, you can do the 25-mile ride. It doesn’t take a lot of time to train.”