WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport’s Tony Menchaca has ridden in the Connecticut Challenge four times. But this month’s ride will be his first as a cancer survivor and will occur just three weeks after his final chemotherapy treatment.
“When I learned I had cancer, I made a decision that I was going to ride,’’ Menchaca said. “Cancer is a big factor, but it does not control my life. That’s why I stuck to exercise six days a week. I was determined the whole way. I was always looking forward to doing it.”
Menchaca, 57, will ride 25 miles on July 26. In previous rides, he has gone 50 or 75 miles. He is taking part as a member of the team from Norwalk Hospital’s Whittingham Cancer Center, where has been receiving treatment since learning he had colon cancer in November. As of early this month, Menchaca was closing in on his $15,000 fundraising goal. Readers can support Menchaca with a donation on his fundraising page.
“It just came up out of the blue,’’ said Menchaca, who had been current with his exams. “Fortunately, it was discovered before it spread. Doctors biopsied 16 lymph nodes and one had a trace of cancer cells. They treated it as if all 16 had cancer cells.”
Menchaca started chemotherapy in February. The treatment requires 48 straight hours of chemotherapy, and he started his 12th and final round July 7. He said the initial discovery hit him hardest.
“There wasn’t a family history,’’ Menchaca said. “I wouldn’t say it was disbelief, you just accept it. The first week was probably the worst. I’m lucky they caught it one lymph node. They did blood tests and CAT scans, which showed it didn’t spread. Chemotherapy has been a very humbling experience, but I’ve been pretty fortunate.”
The bike ride supports cancer survivorship programs at the Southport-based Connecticut Challenge. Menchaca’s health crisis has made him appreciative of Norwalk Hospital and the Connecticut Challenge.
“I can’t say enough about how great Whittingham Cancer Center is,’’ he said. “They’ve provided a great level of care. The oncology nurses are great, and it’s convenient. On chemo week, I have to go two or three times. I really didn’t want to go down to New York City. And I always thought the Connecticut Challenge was a great program. Now that I’m a survivor, I think even more highly of them. I’m going to join and start using it for exercise.”
Besides his appreciation for Whittingham Cancer Center and the Challenge, Menchaca has also come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a cancer survivor.
“You can appreciate what people are going through,’’ Menchaca said. “But until you do it for yourself, you don’t have a full appreciation. Attitude plays a huge part. If you keep a positive attitude, it will give you the best shot for having a positive outcome.”
Menchaca said he does not know what emotions will develop when he finishes his ride. He does realize, however, that he is fortunate his cancer was detected early.
“I’m lucky, and the fact that I’ve been able to keep my health up reinforces that,’’ he said.
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