On April 9, 1999, at a hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire, Bruce Taylor and his wife, Laurie, learned that their eight-year-old son, Alex, had a brain tumor. They left and immediately drove to Massachusetts General Hospital, arriving three hours later. There, though their concern did not subside, they found relief: Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Specialist David Ebb, MD, calmly explained to the worried family what could be done and what was going to happen to their son.
In the coming months, Alex ran the gauntlet of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Today, he is 32 years old and thriving because of the love of his parents, family and friends as well as the community that defines Mass General — the doctors, nurses and volunteers. His story of conquering cancer can also be traced to the goodwill of his father’s place of employment, the Timberland Company, a bike ride and a pediatric cancer community that grew out of many personal tragedies and triumphs.
It All Started on a Bus
In 2002, Bruce and his colleague Bonnie Monahan, who lost her 18-year-old brother, Michael, to Wilms tumor years before, were on a bus returning from cycling in that year’s Pan Mass Challenge. Bonnie suggested to Bruce that they organize their own event so they could direct the money to their chosen purpose: children’s cancer research and care at Mass General.
“The Timberland Company gives all its employees a week’s paid leave to use for community service,” says Bruce proudly. “We, of course, jumped at the idea and were grateful for the support.”
It took a while to get rolling, but over the last 20 years, over 700 riders — many of whom return annually — have participated in the Granite State Quest bike ride in early July. They leave the grounds of the Timberland Company in Stratham, New Hampshire, on their trek to raise funds — $2 million over the years — for pediatric cancer care and research at Mass General for Children.
Research funding provided through events like the Granite State Quest has played an integral role in the remarkable transformation in pediatric cancer care that has taken place since the turn of the millennium — a transformation that has been possible thanks in part to the work of Mass General for Children doctors and researchers. According to the American Cancer Society, in the mid-1970s, the five-year survival rate for children with cancer was approximately 58%. Today, that rate is 85%. And, with research advances being translated into new diagnostic, treatment and prevention tools at a pace never before imaginable, the future eradication of childhood cancer — that wished-for finish line — is seen as a real possibility.
The Grand Finale
On Saturday, July 9, 2022, a day with a clear sky and a gentle breeze, 94 cyclists and 23 volunteers gathered in the Timberland parking lot as they have for the past two decades. Nancy Bassett was there, hands on, making sure the day worked as it should. A close friend and colleague of Bruce and Bonnie, Nancy lost her son, TJ, to brain cancer when he was 12 years old.
“Nothing compares to the camaraderie that I have experienced at the GSQ bike ride,” says Nancy. “I will miss it dearly.”
The set-up at the starting line, managed by Bonnie and Nancy, involved tents, tables, t-shirts, food and drinks. The cyclists stretched, clinked around in their cycling shoes on the warm tarmac and listened to expressions of gratitude from Bruce, Dr. Ebb and Howard Weinstein, MD, chief of pediatric oncology at Mass General for Children. Everyone seemed to feel happy and sad at the same time: a tangle of feelings that reflected both the completion of a mission and the end of an era.
“I cry regularly for my brother,” says Bonnie. “But also in gratitude for all that this community and Mass General have achieved.”
Then, the riders clipped in, leaned into their pedals and set out on their course. Each was motivated by their own story of loss or triumph, had an individual fundraising milestone in mind and was challenged physically in one way or another. But all were focused on one common goal: to cross that finish line.
This may be the last Granite State Quest bike ride for a community whose shared experience united them so long ago; however, its impact and the memories made will live on indefinitely. In Dr. Ebb’s words, “We will remember these gatherings with deepest thanks and recall that we will keep striving as doctors and nurses, children and parents — never alone — always in the embrace of a community of friends who drive us forward in this quest to make sure that young lives grow long and are filled with opportunity.”
To learn more about how you can support pediatric oncology at Mass General for Children, please contact us.