Gary Rudman
Gary Rudman

Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today, Not Ever
Thursday, January 26
The Ride
The morning was crisp and clear. Still dark and at home, it was time to complete the final gear check before departure for the Star of Life Ride in Gaston, South Carolina. For 63 miles, today’s ride will take my crew through the hilly, backcountry roads of South Carolina. As this was the first time riding the course, I did not have an idea of what to expect. Usually, each ride offers a route, which can be previewed and downloaded to a cycling computer. The Star of Life Ride did not have downloadable routes. Thus, no opportunity to do any route preview.
Check-in time was 0700. Registration was quick and easy. There were not a large number of riders for today’s event. Most charity rides have 100 to 150 cyclists. Today, there were 75, which was still a good crowd of all abilities.
It was time. 0730. We were ready to depart. The organizers reminded all that today’s ride was in memory of Fallen Emergency Services Personnel. There was a moment of silence, a prayer, a safety briefing, and then the almighty “ready, set, go!”
From the starting location, a quick right turn led to a short segment on a flat road, then hills. Not your ordinary hill, but elephant hills. The kind of hill that does not end. While you think you are nearing the top of the hill, deception sets in and the climb continues. After two miles, the climb was complete, but relief was not in sight. One elephant hill led to another, and another, and another. After four or five hills, the pain was over.
During the multiple climbs, I found my pace with a faster group of cyclists I met earlier in the morning. My normal crew was taking it a little easier today, and I lost everybody on the first hill. During a regular group ride, this would have been frowned upon. Today’s ride was different. It was time to push my body to find new limits. I was able to maintain the group pace for 28 miles to the second rest stop, averaging 21 or 22 miles per hour (on the flats). After the second rest stop, I was solo. Spent. My energy was gone.
The day was simply gorgeous. Quiet and peaceful through cotton field after cotton field. And cars, well, I encountered very few. These roads were far less traveled. Most cars were attributed to local traffic, and it was Sunday. People were in church or with family. Altogether, the conditions for cycling could not have been any better. Just me and the road. A little wind. A lot of sun. Peace.
Going Back Uphill: Finding Strength
Then, it was time. The elephant hills were back. The route was essentially a loop reconnecting with the departure, now the arrival. The worst part was I already knew how difficult the route was the first time, which made the return even worse. Each pedal stroke was an effort. The last ten miles proved to be the hardest ridden in my cycling career.
I had to find my inner strength. I was not about to quit. I was not about to stop. I was not about to get off my bike. And lastly, I would never call the support and gear vehicle (1) to bring me back to start. This would simply result in failure. Strength. Here and now. I had to find it, and quickly.
My thoughts came together. I was cycling hard and pushing through each stroke. Over and over, I thought and fought hard. Over and over, I was envisioning the finish with hands high in the air. And then, it all came together. Voices in my head (good voices) formulated the words which helped me to achieve victory to finish hard and finish strong. Over and over I said:
Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today. Not Ever.
The words started out in my head. The words were thoughts. Then the words became loud. I was gripping and grinning and repeating. I was pushing hard. I was pedaling strong. I was accelerating. I knew I would finish and finish strong. Finally, I was atop the last elephant hill and knew the final segment would be hard and fast. Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today. Not Ever. I could see it. I could see the finish. I pedaled harder. I was there. Not Today. Not Ever. Hands were high in the air as I coasted into the parking lot and did one final cool down loop. Done. Excitement. Success. I did it.
My Motto for Life
What I did not know was my motto formed during the 2014 Star of Life Ride would become inspirational to countless others. At first, comments saying I was inspirational and motivational were difficult to receive. Me? How could I inspire others? I was being myself and telling my story. I would hear the same words over and over. I would get comments on Facebook, Messenger, and phone calls. Conversations with my wife, Robin, on the subject were frequent. I was having a hard time. Then, it happened. Acceptance. I realized my words and story were bigger than ever imagined. I realized I could help others. I realized I could help patients.
My goals became to spread awareness for multiple myeloma and to help patients in any way, shape or form, with my motto, “Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today. Not Ever” as the foundation for everything I do.
From the Star of Life Ride forward, everything took on a new vision. The Star of Life Ride was in September 2014. Stepping back a few months, in May 2014, I was diagnosed with an isolated solitary plasmacytoma and a couple of weeks later, cancer. After the ride, my worrying subsided. I told all who cared, all who asked, that I believed there was a bigger purpose for me. There were decisions to be made and answers to receive.
September brought a second round of radiation. I was now at my radiation maximum. There would be no more. For now, a waiting period would set in – at least three months. Three months needed to pass prior to conducting a PET scan. Time was passing slowly. Answers were yet to come.
In January 2015, I was excited and looking forward to my PET scan. I believed this round of radiation would work. We arrived at the Cancer Center, and I was called back to see the doctor. Finally, the doctor came in, and the words out of his mouth came in slow motion. The radiation was ineffective. The protocol was to wait and treat the tumor with force and aggression when it does develop into multiple myeloma. This was the wrong answer. I was completely disgusted. After gathering my wits, it happened again. Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today. Not Ever. It was time for my third opinion.
In March, we arrived at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. I met with my oncologist where he said a few simple words, “it depends how aggressive you want to be.” My reply was short and sweet, “We are here. I want to be as aggressive as I can.” In simple terms, I knew my situation was worse than previously described. I wanted an answer, and I was not going to quit or stop in my quest for the truth. In the end, a bone marrow biopsy was the defining moment. The tumor combined with cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow equated to multiple myeloma.
Now I could breathe. I had what I wanted. I had a concrete diagnosis. Now, with the help of my new oncologist, I had a plan to run my multiple myeloma into the ground. Next, was three cycles of a combination treatment. During the three-month treatment, I felt fine. No side effects. I cycled like crazy and did not slow down. Why? There was no reason to slow down. Full speed is how I proceeded, at all times.
On July 5th, Robin and I loaded our car, put my bike on the hitch and departed for MD Anderson Cancer Center. I was determined. My stem cell transplant will happen. There was no other option. Press, press, press. Moving forward, and fast.
Stem Cell Transplant and Beyond
On August 4, the day we were all waiting for, was my stem cell transplant. Emotions ran high. A new beginning. A new birthday. I entered each day with a smile.
In the hospital, I established and kept to my routine. I maintained my exercise regimen. My bike was next to my hospital bed on a trainer. Yes, I brought my bike into the hospital. I would never accept “no”. I found “yes”. It was my only option. My nurses said I was the “only” one to bring a bike into the hospital. I could not believe this. I found it difficult to comprehend that others were not as forceful with “owning” their disease and establishing their own version of integrated medicine with exercise.
On August 28, my stem cell doctor told my wife, parents, and best friend that I was in “complete remission.” I achieved my goal. I kicked multiple myeloma in the behind. It was my only option, for I will Never Quit Never Stop Not Today Not Ever.
Helping Others
16 months later, I am maintaining complete remission. I have broadcast my desire to help patients in any way, shape or form. I’ve talked with patients both locally near my home and at MD Anderson. I’ve set up a Facebook page called “Never Quit. Never Stop. Not Today. Not Ever. (SM)”. I am reaching out to people across the United States to spread awareness for multiple myeloma. It is truly a blessing to help patients. People say the words, “you got it for a reason,” or “fate” and most of the time, it is just words. For me, actionable events are the key. Speaking on behalf of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) at Ironman Arizona through a video, Atlanta 5K Walk/Run as the Spirit of Hope recipient, Ironman Lake Placid as a keynote speaker, and the Chicago Marathon from the perspective of a patient have been life-changing events. The MMRF is my family. I am part of something bigger than I ever imagined.
The MMRF is focused to find a cure by spreading awareness, fundraising and supporting cancer research. In the past 10 years, 10 new multiple myeloma drugs were approved with the help and support from the MMRF. Today, patients are seeing the progression free survival rate increase. 10 years ago, this was a different story.
My story is not isolated. The difference is “telling my story” and letting patients know that they can and will live a new, normal life.
In February 2017, I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with 16 incredible people, of which six are multiple myeloma patients. Together, we will reach the summit at 19,343 feet and show the world that YES is the answer and patients can achieve what is believed.
There is nothing stopping our 16-member team. There should be nothing stopping each multiple myeloma patient. You are empowered to be 100% involved in the decision-making process. If an answer is not what was expected, get another opinion. It is your life. You control your destiny. Take charge of your condition.
The Star of Life Ride honoring Fallen Emergency Services will always hold a special place in my heart. During the ride, I developed the foundation for everything I do. For that, I am grateful.

There is No Option
Wednesday, January 04
A little over one year ago, our lives were very different. While I was diagnosed in May 2014 with a solitary isolated plasmacytoma , I was not diagnosed with multiple myeloma until 11 months later. My plasmacytoma, or tumor, was the size of a softball, and the nerves were 100 percent involved. Surgery was not an option.
MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas was our third opinion. The defining moment prior to diagnosis was a bone marrow biopsy. The results showed abnormal plasma cells. After three 30 cycles of a combination treatment, I was ready to push forward and start the stem cell transplant process. Time was ticking.
In April, my wife Robin realized the stem cell transplant would occur during the Lake Placid Ironman in July 2015. Robin’s training suffered, as she was with me for all my appointments, whether at home or at MD Anderson. Robin was in constant contact with Kelley, our team leader at the MMRF, who also managed Robin’s Ironman team, and was able to roll her Ironman entry to July 2016. This time, Robin was able to provide the focus and training required for Ironman.
We left our home in Columbia, SC, on July 5, 2015, and headed for Houston. Our car was packed as tight as can be. On the hitch was my Thule bike rack and my Cannondale.

The Ride 

Cycling became my therapy. During the days prior to the transplant, my lower back pain was intense. I was tired of constantly taking narcotics. On the bike, tucked down, the pain went away. For one to three hours, in the heat of Houston, I could focus upon what I loved. I was able to ride. It was me and the bike. Nothing else.
I knew the “ride” would soon come to a stop. Success from the stem cell transplant is not guaranteed. Prior to the transplant, there are numerous tests, scans and exams. The simplest way to put it is that the process is much like, “making the football team.” To make the team, you have to survive numerous “cuts.” It was better that Robin and I didn’t know that. This was a key factor.
Each day at MD Anderson was an adventure. Was I worried? No. I was in the best place in the world as far as I was concerned. I had complete faith and trust in the doctors, nurses and staff. Not worrying was very unlike me, but I was relaxed. I had one option: to kick cancer in the rear. Cancer is nothing more than a road bump that would soon be paved over. Cancer does not define you. You have to take ownership of what you have and RUN it into the ground.

On July 28, I made the “final cut.” I was admitted to the hospital. I was “on the team.” For the next 23 days, this was my new home. I had only one rule: Stay out of the bed! The only time I would get into bed was at night, or if I really wasn’t feeling good, and I hoped that would not happen often. I had a routine, and I stuck to it.
The heavy doses of chemotherapy would reset my immune system and my white blood cells would zero out. After the first dose of treatment, I was waiting to get sick. That’s all I knew and thought. Three, four, five hours passed. Nothing!
Another key factor to my transplant success was my fitness level. Five hours after my first chemo, I did my first 5K on the hospital ward. The second day, I walked a 10K. After the 10K, I got on my Cannondale on the bike stationary trainer and rode for 45 minutes. I have to tell you that WAS the best 45 minutes of spinning I had ever done. As for getting my bike in the hospital – persistence. I would not take NO for an answer!

My New Birthday 

On Aug. 4, I had my stem cell transplant. Very emotional. My new birthday.
On Aug. 28, I met with my stem cell doctor a week earlier than scheduled. It was like being part of a Charlie Brown video. Blah, Blah, Blah. Then my two favorite words were spoken by my favorite doctor: “complete Remission.” We all lost it. It was a crazy moment in time. It was a day I will never forget.
In November, Robin and I returned to Houston for my three-month checkup. Nothing but good news. Our oncologist then threw a wrench at us. Since I was doing well, our oncologist said I would be a great candidate for yet another clinical trial – my third. I couldn’t say no. This was too good to pass up.
In the past year, four new drugs have garnered FDA approval with the help and support from the MMRF. The efforts and desire to find a cure for multiple myeloma are simply outstanding. It is because of athletes involved in Team for Cures events and donors supporting fundraising efforts that these drugs  are now FDA approved. Ten years ago, a patient diagnosed with multiple myeloma did not have a very good prognosis. With the MMRF as an advocate for cancer research with the ultimate goal of finding a cure, multiple myeloma patients are living the “new normal” life.
Each day, when you are preparing for a run, bike ride or trail hike, you will be training and competing not only for yourself but for current and future multiple myeloma patients, as well as patients no longer with us. Please take a few seconds and remember. Remember that each patient, caregiver, friend, and loved one has a story.

Climbing Kilimanjaro  

Earlier this year, I was selected to be part of this 16-member team to include six patients to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. During the trek, and the months prior, our goals were to spread awareness for multiple myeloma and to raise funds for cancer research. On day six, when the team summits Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet, victory will be achieved. I can only imagine what it will be like at the summit. In time, I will soon know, for I will greet the summit with an open heart and a smile for all patients with us and for patients that have departed.
The time since my stem cell transplant has flown by. While I am not where I want to be in my competitive nature, I strive on every day, for I don’t have an option. My goal is simple, “to beat multiple myeloma into continued complete remission.” I do this each day with the best of my ability through a ridiculously positive attitude, intense exercise regimen, participation in clinical trials, and campaign to help patients in any way, shape or form. Multiple myeloma is an incurable blood cancer, but not for long.

Reflection on Mount Bierstadt
Wednesday, August 03
Priceless moments are defined by character-building events. Saturday, July 9, 2016 was one such day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. On Saturday, our 2017 Mount Kilimanjaro team successfully climbed Mount Bierstadt with an emotional celebration at the summit.
The past year has simply been a whirlwind. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in April 2015 and commenced my stem cell transplant process at MD Anderson Cancer Center in July 2015. Approaching a year since my transplant (August 4, 2015), I knew the reflections of last year’s events on a day-to-day basis would stir my mind. I wondered how I would react with each passing day and reminders from Facebook on the events from one year ago. The stories and postings brought me back to last year for a short time. Do I focus on the past or move forward in the present?
The present is my life. The future describes my goals. I have progressed forward at warp speed to regain my health and fitness level. I have conquered my multiple myeloma with complete remission “for now,” since there is no cure at the present time. My goals are simple: to help spread multiple myeloma awareness as far as the eye can see, to raise funds for research to find a cure, to show patients that they are not defined by cancer and can achieve anything to set forth to conquer and to help patients in any other way, shape or form.
During the Mount Bierstadt trek, I got to know our team on a personal level. Sixteen team members. Six multiple myeloma patients with intense stories of their own. Some lost loved ones to multiple myeloma. Some are caregivers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters or friends with loved ones battling multiple myeloma each day. The commonality among all team members is our quest to show the world that we can accomplish what we set forth to achieve.
Before the climb, the team met for the first time. Finally, we were able to put faces to names. We were able to exchange personal stories. We became one: The 2017 Mount Kilimanjaro team. Sunday morning during breakfast, we talked, hugged, shared more stories and said our goodbyes. It is truly amazing how 16 individuals developed into one team.
Were there ever doubts of not achieving our goals? No. As a team, we ensured each member successfully summited and returned home. It’s not about one individual, it’s about one team. Our Mount Kilimanjaro trek is about commitment and achieving a goal. Emotions ran high. Tears flowed. We did it.
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