My husband, Mark was a private man. Mark never sought the spotlight.
As a NYC public schools principal and educator for 33 years in Ocean Hill –Brownsville, East New York and the South Bronx, Mark preferred to give credit for his schools’ success to his teachers, staff and students. As a Central Park and Roxy dance skater Mark’s friends were many though just a very few knew his “story.” But he knew theirs.
He was the kind of curious guy who when you were done talking you knew very little about him, yet he knew many things about you. He would ask “What high school did you go to? What did your parents do? What’s a good restaurant in that neighborhood?” You would walk away thinking, “Hmmm. What a great conversation we had. “ Of course it was because you got the chance to talk all about yourself to someone who was interested in the answers.
In March of 2008, Mark thought he had a skating-related pull in his side. He was sent by our family physician for a scan that revealed some kind of mass and was immediately directed to our local hospital for testing. After a week of tests he was diagnosed with sarcoma and we were sent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
When we met with his oncologist, Mark was told the only proven and effective treatment for his kind of cancer is to remove it surgically and that it would return. As it happens there are the slow moving versions of sarcoma and the aggressive fast-moving types. We were praying for the former.
When the results came back after surgery it was revealed to us that Mark’s cancer was “de-differentiated retroperitonael liposarcoma”. Rare. Aggressive. Shitty. Bad luck.
Mark was told that there were a few clinical trials just starting and that by the time he needs it there may be a drug that might slow down the progress of his particular cancer. The odds were against us though.
After his first surgery Mark enjoyed one year of being cancer-free. When a scan came back in the spring of 2009 showing the return of his tumors he underwent a second surgery. Unfortunately the growth rate of the tumors had begun to pick up speed and were back within 9 months, too soon for another surgery.
In the spring of 2010 Mark began a two-year course of chemotherapy that by some miracle kept him stable for an unheard of 24 months, yet often he was quite exhausted.
Still we continued skating in Central Park and along the pathways of Hudson River Park. We resolved to enjoy life no matter what was going on. Marks’ monthly scans held us in suspense. For a brief while he is told that the tumors are stable and we breathe a sign of relief but we knew eventually the news will not be good.
In December of 2010 we were home listening to jazz on WBGO radio and just enjoying being together, when I turned to him and said this, “ Mark, I read about this new fundraising event called Cycle for Survival and I started a team that you and I are going to lead to raise money for rare cancer research at MSKCC. “
That shook Mark to the core. He flew off the couch and said in a very loud voice, “No, no, no everyone will know now that I have cancer.” He railed at me.
“Honey… Mark”, I said with tears welling up, “ What if maybe people already know? Maybe they noticed that you went from having a full head of hair like Richard Gere to complete baldness like Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. Maybe they know something is up.”
“Not funny, “ he said to me. I am not doing this.” He wasn’t buying it right then. I was shaking with upset but was not deterred. I knew he would come around and be okay with what I was up to for both of us. I had to do something.
Up until reading Jennifer Goodman Linn’s story in a magazine about being fearless and the genesis of Cycle for Survival, I felt powerless that there was nothing I could do to help. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, but being a part of Cycle for Survival gave me a purpose to fight like hell. I felt that I was part of something larger than our situation.
So for those closest to Mark it was a bit of a surprise when, in one week in February of 2012 he agreed to be on Eyewitness News and then Fox and Friends to be interviewed about his rare-near-impossible to treat cancer and Cycle for Survival, a national indoor spin event to raise awareness and money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Mark had been asked to do some TV spots by the CFS PR team and he said “yes” and was then photographed, interviewed and rode a cycle on national television to publicize the cause.
You might say that our leading two teams in NY and Long Island, comprised of family and friends was transformative for both of us.
“I was not all that thrilled with the idea of sharing my story and going public with what was going on in my life. I have always kept a low profile. It was my wife Nancy who started our indoor cycling team. I am glad that she did it. “ Mark said in one of his interviews. Over the past four years our team originally named Expect Miracles for Mark has raised over $70,000 for rare cancer research.
Mark once said this, “ Being part of something bigger than myself, helping to raise millions and cycling alongside, nurses, doctors, patients helps me as well.” Mark proudly wore his Cycle for Survival hooded sweatshirt to spread the word and as a reminder of the “love, tears and smiles of that inspiring afternoon.”
“No one wants to be in the cancer club, but when your moment comes you have to step up to the plate and keep swinging. When you have a rare cancer with little or no treatments available, you hope, you pray something, anything to give you just a little more time. You just want to hang in there long enough for the miracle,” said Mark.
On September 18, 2012 my brave husband Mark, lost his battle with cancer. A few days before he passed away he reminded me to continue with Cycle for Survival so that no one has to suffer like he did. He was wearing his special Cycle for Survival team hooded sweatshirt when he died at home surrounded by loving family and dear friends.
His wish: that a child with leukemia, a sister with a brain tumor or a mother with pancreatic cancer or a person with any cancer can be told, “We got this. We have a cure and we know that it will work.”
Now that would be a miracle for sure.
And so we continue to be a part of Cycle for Survival with our team renamed Mark’s Magicians and we are always looking for people to help us win this battle. Come and join us.