Walkabout / Cancer patient bikes across country to highlight disease
37-year-old Luigi Laraia is bicycling cross-country between his first and second chemotherapy treatments against leukemia.
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Anyone who has gotten a cancer diagnosis knows the rushing, deafening fear in the first few minutes of getting the news. Then the fear deepens each hour, deepens each day with a weave of morbid fantasies.
Then there's a plan: what we're going to do to fight this thing. A game plan is the first piece of hope.
Luigi Laraia, a 37-year-old economist with the World Bank in Washington, D.C., was diagnosed in March. Leukemia. Then he got his first chemotherapy treatment and spent the next weeks losing weight and not wanting to eat.
After recovering, he anticipated a second treatment in October.
"I didn't want the time to go by without me doing anything," Mr. Laraia said by phone. "I thought I could be useful to the cause, to raise money to find a cure."
He decided to try a cross-country bicycle trip, something he had done two years ago from D.C. to the Grand Canyon. He contacted the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, which organized a fundraising campaign and will receive all the funds.
He leaves Thursday and will arrive in Pittsburgh on Saturday. He doesn't know yet where he will hole up and whether he will have time to spare. He doesn't have a program schedule, just an itinerary of stops. He has no back-up car to follow him with supplies and to make sure he's OK. He is winging accommodations except in places where he has friends to stay with, and he plans to carry Spartan supplies.
Mr. Laraia will keep a journal, writing about his trip every night, at luigilaraia.blogspot.com. He already has raised $5,000 there.
On the site titled "relentless for a cure," he wrote "the rest of this blog will be a travelogue, a collection of immediate tales and thoughts from my cross-country bike trip. Immediate: in the sense that my writings will come your way straight from the oven on the very same day that I buzz along America's roads. It is going to be mainly spontaneous prose, an undisturbed flow from my mind. It might be somewhat incoherent so please bear with me. Kerouac once said, 'I have nothing to offer except my own confusion.' "
A native of Bologna, Italy and graduate of the London School of Economics, Mr. Laraia has lived and worked in Washington for 21/2 years.
"I have led a healthy life," he said. "I don't smoke and drink very little. I did not have a single symptom. When I started my treatment my blood was 80 percent contaminated. The doctor was quite shocked."
He described himself as "not a survivor" yet.
"I want to show people that, with your mind and heart you can achieve the things you want to achieve. It's a message of hope I want to convey," he said.
When he began training after recovering from chemotherapy, his cycling was so lackluster that he was dejected and near tears. "But little by little, mile by mile, I learnt what the mind can do."
Mr. Laraia said he hopes to reach Vancouver by Sept. 1. His doctor gave him the go-ahead, saying it would not compromise his health, but the exertion could tire him.
"I expect to ride 100-120 miles a day," he said. "I know it's very ambitious and there are a lot of variables: the weather, my condition. But I feel strong now."
From D.C, he is planning 35 days of northwestern cycling. His trip takes him from Pittsburgh to Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Fargo, N.D., and through Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park and Glacier National Park. Just shy of Seattle, he will turn north to cross the Canadian border. In Chicago, he has an event scheduled -- an inspirational talk at the University of Illinois branch campus there.
Otherwise, he will communicate by blog and invite people to follow him, comment and, of course, donate.
"The first three weeks I had disbelief, anger, shock," Mr. Laraia said. "Then once you know more and get information, you become more rational and do what you have to do. I'm not saying the fear goes away; it's constant fear. But I am learning to control it. That helps me do things I love. I want to be myself."
First Published July 24, 2012 12:00 am