Cumberland woman to bike 4,000 miles to fight cancer

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CUMBERLAND — Molly O’Shea may still be honing her body for a bicycle trip across the country, but her heart is already committed to what such a trek will accomplish.

The 21-year-old Cumberland woman will graduate from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on May 24 and begin her 4,000-mile journey three days later. Between now and then, she has to raise a minimum of $4,500 to participate, although she’s shooting for $7,500.

O’Shea will be bicycling with 4K for Cancer, which identifies and funds programs that impact the lives of cancer patients and their caregivers across the country. The nonprofit organization, a program of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, started at her college.

The first ride, in 2002, went from Baltimore to San Francisco. This year there will be three routes: the original, one to Seattle – which O’Shea will be taking – and one to Portland, Ore. There are about 30 riders per route, and two of her friends have previously done the trek, she said.

Cancer has touched O’Shea’s life in several ways. Her grandfather died of lung cancer, her aunt is in remission from lymphoma and a high school friend has also battled lymphoma. Pancreatic cancer claimed a neighbor of 20 years.

“Listing off these connections does not remotely encompass the struggles these amazing people went through, their resolve in the face of fear and pain, and the ripple effect of this disease in the minds and hearts of the people who care about them,” O’Shea wrote on her online 4K for Cancer profile, 4kforcancer.org/profiles/molly-oshea, where people can donate to her cause.

“The preciousness and fragility of life have become so much more immediate for me the more I have felt the repercussions of this disease all around me,” she wrote. “I have had to choose words to say to a dying person. I have had to tell them how fondly I would remember the little ways they made my life bright. These things changed me, and cemented my understanding that love and hope are essential weapons in the battle against cancer.”

O’Shea’s participation in the event is also something of a rite of passage, considering its timing right after her graduation.

“I decided to do it, essentially, because I realized that over the past four years, I’ve sort of been wrapped up in my own agenda,” she said earlier this month. “You have tunnel vision for your own plans … I feel like service is something that I really wanted to dedicate myself to … It’s the time in my life where it’s sort of a now or never kind of thing.”

It’s an ideal time for her something that is significant and “prove that it’s a mission that’s really important to me,” O’Shea said.

The trek will end around Aug. 4. The routes are planned and host sites such as churches and YMCAs are mapped out along the way. The bicyclists will cover 50 to 120 miles a day.

O’Shea doesn’t consider herself an athlete, although her parents and grandparents are into cycling. Her father, Dan, is into long-distance cycling for charity.

“I hope to train with them and sort of learn (the) rules of the road,” she said.

A small portion of the funds they raise go toward providing a bicycle, which they will receive around March 1, as well as some gear.

Some mental preparation goes into it as well.

“The people I know who have done it have said that it’s definitely more about willpower than physical prowess,” O’Shea said.

“This is definitely a big emotional, mental thing, in terms of centering myself,” she said, “and sort of putting everything that I’ve done into perspective, and coming back to what my real definition of meaning and purpose is.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Molly O’Shea of Cumberland, a Johns Hopkins University senior, will bicycle 4,000 miles this summer with the 4K for Cancer organization.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.