For the thousands who participate in the eighth annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge, it’s a time to know that with every drop of sweat, there’s a dollar, maybe two, raised for cancer research. In that regard, Boca Raton’s Kevin Schreiber is no different from anyone else in the field.
But as happy as he is to be able to help line the coffers of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Schreiber knows he will not be just giving, but also receiving, as he pedals 35 miles on Feb. 10 with wife Laura.
About three years ago — right after the birth of his second son, Charlie — Schreiber came down with a rare form of cancer that claimed his left arm. Through all the radiation treatments, through all the chemotherapy and all the uncertainty, there was one certainty on the mind of this longtime triathlete.
“I knew I wanted to get back to doing it again,” said Schreiber, now 47. “That was the big thing. It was like a challenge to just go back to doing what you did. That was the main thing that really drove me. I didn’t want this thing to change me.”
The technical name for “this thing” is extraskeletal osteosarcoma. Once doctors determined that the tumor itself was bleeding and threatening complications worse than was already the case, they told Schreiber immediate amputation was essential.
While it might be tempting to say amputation itself changed Schreiber, you should know a couple of other facts about him: First, this is a man who earlier completed an Ironman Triathlon. Second, following the loss of his arm, he was so determined to get back on his bike that when he learned there wasn’t a satisfactory prosthetic on the market to help him grip the handlebars, he exhibited the same drive that carried him 140.6 miles in that Ironman race.
He bought a 3D printer and created a prosthetic himself.
“There’s a work-around for anything,” he said. “That’s all I can do — keep moving forward, no matter what.”
And make no mistake, work-arounds are a part of his daily life. When he runs, for example, he doesn’t wear a watch. Yes, he could put it on his right wrist, “But there’s no way of hitting the button,” he said.
Adaptation, he said, took time.
“It took awhile for me not to start reaching to do something with that arm,” Schreiber said. “Everything that you do — even opening a Ziploc bag, where you have to pull — you can’t do that very easy with one hand. It’s like a million things you don’t think about during the day that you just grab something with two hands and do whatever. Putting on pants. It’s not easy to put pants on and snap from one to the other using one hand. It’s little things, the little, frustrating things, that you have to go through every day.
“You really just have to take a second, take a step back and say, ‘This is going to take me three times or four times longer than it used to take me, but it’s what I have to do.’ ”
Schreiber considers himself fortunate that he’s right-handed. As a software engineer, he became proficient typing with just his right hand. Sometimes, he’ll use his feet to grab items. Sometimes, he just makes do, such as when he runs, pushing Charlie and 4-year-old Alan in a double-wide jogger with just one hand, awkward as it may feel at times. Work-arounds are there — you just have to look hard enough.
After surgery, he bought a conventional prosthetic, the “big and clunky kind” he’d been warned about, and, predictably, it wound up in the closet. Most prosthetics are for those who have lost legs, he said, so with few other options, he got his 3D printer and an Xbox Kinect, performed a 3D scan on his arm, found the right software and created a prosthetic. It locks onto his handlebar to allow proper balance to ride.
After doing the 13-mile ride last year, he’s graduating to the 35-miler, another step following the long ordeal with cancer, the diagnosis for which he received by phone during a family trip to Cleveland.
At first, doctors hoped radiation would shrink the tumor. Not only did he soon lose his arm, but a month later, another surgery was required because of a staph infection, necessitating the removal of more of his arm. In the interim, he’d been studying up online, “looking at the odds and everything,” which only made a trying time worse.
Finally, on March 16, 2016, Schreiber’s chemotherapy was complete and, it is hoped, that chapter in his life closed.
“I’m good,” he said. “I have not had any issues for a while. Every three months, they do MRIs and CT scans, but they’re just monitoring me now.”
His doctors won’t declare him cancer-free until five years of those scans have elapsed.
In the meantime, there are plenty of miles to cover.
Eighth annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge
What: Dolphins’ signature community event each year. Has raised more than $22.5 million for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
When: Feb. 10
Where: Hard Rock Stadium unless noted
Events: Cycling — rides range from 13.6 to 100 miles, starting at various sites in the tri-county area but all ending at stadium. Run/walk — 5K, 9:30 a.m.
Kickoff party: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 9
Concert: Goo Goo Dolls, Big Head Todd and The Monsters, 1 p.m. Feb. 10
For prices, tickets and registration: dolphinscancerchallenge.com, (305) 943-6799 or RideDCC@Dolphins.com. Twitter: @TackleCancer.