Drennan Fischer likes to carry her own weight. Others prefer to mountain bike. Some are road racers. There are multiple methods to riding a bicycle. There are many ways to do a lot of things. None of them are nobler than the others. It just depends on the person. For Fischer, she found the most joy in self-contained trips, meaning towing her own gear, unsupported. She’s done it across parts of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, carrying everything from start to finish.
It wasn’t easy to learn she wouldn’t be able to carry the baby all the way. She was induced one month before her second child, Scarlett, was due. If she had it her way, Fischer would have liked to carry Scarlett to the end. She would have liked to do a lot of things her way. Nurse her for the entire first year like she did her son, Winston. Have the sufficient energy to care for her daughter in general at every moment.
But cancer didn’t care about what Fischer would have preferred. It didn’t take into consideration the way she was used to doing things. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma to be exact, while entering her ninth month of pregnancy. That’s why Scarlett was born premature at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday – so her mother could begin the treatment plan with her doctors at 8 that same morning. The five months of chemotherapy treatments only allowed Fischer to breastfeed Scarlett for three weeks. The lack of energy she had following each session meant she needed support. She couldn’t carry all the weight herself like she would have liked. Cancer didn’t care about the kind of person she was.
With a consistently supportive husband and ever-gracious parents, Fischer had the support she needed to raise her two young children. Scarlett and Winston at such young ages were obviously oblivious to the heavy weight the family carried.
“My prognosis when I was first diagnosed wasn’t that great,” Fischer recalls. “At that point I was concerned about trying to remain on the earth as long as I could. My kids are so young that if I wouldn’t have survived this one, it’s pretty likely they wouldn’t have remembered me. You just want to persevere as long as you can. Give them love and the basics. Be their mom as best you can as long as you can.”
Once a week for five months, Fischer drove from Des Moines to Rochester, Minnesota, for chemo. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, she volunteered to fast for up to 48 hours at a time during her treatments as part of a study, which believes fasting may enhance the positive effects of the process.
With her cancer being labeled a 9 on a scale of 1-9 in terms of aggressiveness, Fischer knew she had to do everything she could to endure the circumstances.
Scarlett grew up healthy and will turn 18 months next week. She babbles in the background of the telephone conversation as Fischer recounts the last 12 months of her life. Winston, now 3 ½, is happy to see his mother’s hair growing back. He would always run his hands through it as a self-soothing habit, so when Fischer lost her hair during chemo treatment, the little boy was “somewhat traumatized” says Fischer. He’d find comfort in the hair of Fischer’s parents and friends. Fischer had a wig made from her old hair and would often find her son carrying it around the house like a blanket. But now that her hair has slowly returned, Winston is gravitating back toward his mother.
Many things are returning to normal, but like any period of great change, new paths have opened up, taking Fischer in different directions. Next week she will participate in RAAM (Race Across America) as one of two female members on an eight-person relay team, which includes five cancer survivors. It’s known as one of the most difficult human endurance challenges on the planet. Three thousand miles and 12 states.
Fischer has done her share of self-contained rides, covering long distances at a modest pace. But she’s never been the racing type. This is new territory for her. Cancer will do that, bring a person into new situations, new horizons. Often it’s a struggle and it’s no doubt difficult. But sometimes it’s also the good kind of new. Throughout training she’s been able to connect to the other survivors, all of whom are further out from their cancer treatments than Fischer. Following her pregnancy, a long series of treatments and a bilateral mastectomy, it’s also given her an opportunity to get her physical fitness back to where it used to be.
“I am racing in RAAM because I want my children to know that anything they want to achieve in life is possible, even in the face of cancer,” she says. “For me it’s about what is possible.”
The 10 days or so she’s on the ride will be by far the longest Fischer will have been away from home since her diagnosis.
“I know in the big picture it’s not much time, but when you’re me you just never know if you’re going to live fifty years or five months,” she said.
June 20 will mark the one-year anniversary of Fischer’s treatment. Her husband and children will make a special visit to a spot along the route to cheer her on. She’ll be a bit out of her element compared to teammates who take a different approach to cycling.
“I always ride with bags. I always ride a lot slower,” Fischer said. “These guys are road riders. They like to speed, ride real fast. All the things I’ve never really done before.”
There will be support vehicles to transport her gear this time. But as her children look on from the curbside, they’ll still see their mother, hair whipping in the wind, carrying her own weight. She always has. She always will.