There’s a saying along these lines: ‘Be kind – for everyone you meet is facing a challenge you know nothing about.’ It popped into our minds when a reader sent us the following description of an unexpected commute. ‘M’ prefers to remain anonymous, but we hope her story strikes a chord with everyone who bikes… and with every driver in Auckland who sometimes feels impatient on the road.

In June this year, after a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. At the time, I was getting fit to go on a cycling holiday – a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland. That all fell through. The week before I would have been riding through a magical midsummer landscape as planned, I was having surgery to remove the tumour.

Now, I’m just over halfway through radiation treatment. Apart from a couple of times when workmates have given me a lift, I’ve been riding my bike to the radiation sessions. I do a half day at work, then pedal off to Mercy Hospital in Mountain Rd for daily doses.

The people at the radiation place always say, in mock horror, ‘You ride your bike here? You’re mad!’

I always tell them it’s the best kept secret in town, and I just hope more people don’t find out because then they’ll all start doing it!

Here’s the route I take to radiation: along Mt Albert Rd to Sandringham Rd, all the way up Sandringham Rd past Eden Park to the lights at Bond St. Right into New North Rd. Through the Dominion Rd underpass and up the bike track.

New North Road where the cars cross the bike lane (I hate this bit)
New North Road where the cars cross the bike lane (I hate this bit)

Nip across the road on foot at the Porters Ave intersection, over the railway, left into Sylvan Ave, where I snake through the pedestrian-only bit that makes the street a dead end.

Beatrice the bike at the Sylvan Ave road block
Beatrice the bike at the Sylvan Ave road block.

Across Mt Eden Rd into Edwin St. Across Normanby Rd into Clive Rd. Then I get off and walk the bike up the hill – the road is too narrow, the traffic is too fast and I don’t have the puff to pedal up it any more. Gosh, look at the way the rocks are slipping; cracks in the footpath; one day the whole road will fall away.

Clive Rd and the rocks that have already fallen
Clive Rd and the rocks that have already fallen.
Clive Rd with the rocks about to fall
Clive Rd with the rocks about to fall.

Back in the saddle at the top of the road. Onward, into the stately-homes territory of leafy Mt Eden.

One of the stately homes of leafy Mt Eden.
One of the stately homes of leafy Mt Eden.

Then a right into Mountain Rd. And I’m there. Lock up the steed at the bike stands by Gate 3. In to get zapped.

Beatrice the bike tied up with her friends at the radiation place.
Beatrice the bike tied up with her friends at the radiation place.

Then it’s back to Mt Albert the same way, whooshing down Clive Rd and salmoning along Edwin St against the flow. Then coffee and a lie-down.

On Fridays, The Cancer Society does yoga classes at Domain Lodge, so I go there before heading to radiation. It’s so relaxing, I almost fall asleep! Then I ride over to Mercy Hospital – up Mountain Rd, which wakes me back up.

After the radiation, you feel a bit empty, and tiredness is a constant side-effect. This week it’s really hit me. But I’m still on my bike. Exercise is supposed to be good for recovery and I’m determined to keep cycling for as long as I can.

I bike almost everywhere – if my destination’s in the central isthmus, I tell myself I can and should ride there. I used to live in Onehunga and work in town. I didn’t have a car, so I always rode my bike. And because it was shift work at odd hours of the day and night, I was almost never in rush-hour traffic. Whenever I did ride in rush hour, I’d realise what everyone else is going through. For journeys up the isthmus (like Giulia’s story the other day), I’ve often thought: wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a cycleway along the railway? It follows the flattest course, it’s the easiest gradient for bikes, you’re away from the traffic, and you could easily separate it from the trains.

I have a car now (although it’s on its last legs), which I use for big shopping trips. But otherwise, I’ve got big panniers. And weather doesn’t bother me too much. If it’s not too windy, it can be really pleasant riding in the rain. That really stormy weather last Monday – I still went to radiation on my bike. And you have space to yourself; because the rain drives everyone else away.

That’s why I love riding at night, too. You have the roads to yourself. I ride along whistling – I figure if you can whistle, you know you’re riding at the right speed because you’re not out of breath.

I just wish I met more people out on the road like me. I’m in my 50s, and I wish there were more people that rode along on their old velocipede, in normal clothes, with the shopping, and didn’t think that there was anything strange about it.

I wish it was part of the drivers licence requirement to spend six months riding a bike. Then you’d know how to be a defensive driver. You’d understand the stupid things people do, both on bikes and then in cars. That used to be how we learnt road sense: your parents would get you a bike so you could get yourself to school, and eventually you’d graduate to a car, but you’d remember what it was like to be on a bike.

I wish Auckland’s drivers would understand that bikes are allowed to be on the road. It’s so stressful when drivers try to pass you when you’re already passing a bus, for example. If I could say one thing to drivers, it would be: please don’t try to pass me when I’m trying to pass something else! We’ll just catch up with each other at the next set of lights, anyway.

I’m nearly done with radiation. After that, it’s on to the drug treatment. I’m not looking forward to that. I’ve had a rough trot; I knew this cancer diagnosis might trigger depression, which I’ve had in the past, and depression can also be one of the side-effects of the hormonal drug that helps fight the cancer. So I’m doing one thing at a time. First radiation, then drugs. And then it’s five years waiting to see if I have the all clear.

In the meantime, I’ll keep riding, slowly but surely. And I’m absolutely determined to make it to Iceland, sooner or later.

Still more leafy Mt Eden. Regardless of my destination, it’s a scenic ride.
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4 responses to “Riding to Radiation – An Unexpected Commute

  1. I’ve been having radiation and chemo off and on since 2001. Biking to the hospital is the most convenient way to get there, and I think maintaining fitness helps me put up with the rigours of treatment. There is fatigue of course, but that’s what eBikes are for 🙂 Good luck for Iceland, M. I biked Tuscany two months after some high dose chemo in 2002. Cancer isn’t the end of travelling!

  2. You are truly an inspiration! I hope I will be like that when I’m a bit older! I completely agree about the suggestion that everyone should ride a bike on streets before getting their driver license, and more driver education that bikes are vehicles that reduce congestion, so that they need to be looked after with love. Get well soon!

  3. Good on you, and get well soon!

    I wish Auckland’s drivers would show a minimal amount of courtesy to anyone else. Streets in town centres feel a bit too much like a running of the bulls to me.

    “everyone should ride a bike on streets before getting their driver license” ? That is the de facto situation in Belgium. 100% of the people owns and rides a bike (at least I have never heard of anyone aged over 3 not having a bike). Schools take it for granted that you can ride a bike when you start the 1st grade.

  4. A brilliant post – thank you! When I gave up my car a couple of years ago, I started biking everywhere – but I had a small mental challenge for a while about arriving at my doctors, dentists, and specialist appointments all hot and sweaty after a bit of a climb. A bit ironic given it’s so great for physical and mental wellbeing to bike 🙂 Of course now it’s totally routine – so normal I don’t think about it apart from trying to arrive a few minutes early – I like these tips https://www.bikeauckland.org.nz/how-do-i-avoid-being-sweaty-after-a-bike-ride/

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