It had been six years since Stewy was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer – four years longer than the life expectancy his doctors initially gave him.
So, it seemed like a good time for an epic solo motorcycle ride.
“Cancer wasn’t going to stop me,” Stewy, 57, said. “And it was the opportune time.”
On June 5, 2019, Stewy set off from his home in Canada on a Triumph Thunderbird 900cc for a 12,500-mile ride that would take him across Canada and the US.
The “Ride4KidneyCancer”, which would last about two months, was both a chance to fulfill a dream and an opportunity to raise awareness about kidney cancer while raising funds for Kidney Cancer Canada, the Kidney Cancer Association, and Kidney Cancer UK.
It was also a way to show that cancer didn’t define him, nor should it define anyone.
Empowering himself – and others
Stewy, who goes by that nickname because some of his family members still don’t know about his diagnosis, worked with Kidney Cancer Canada to meet with patients, families, and doctors at hospitals and cancer clinics along his Canadian route.
Part of his enthusiasm to connect with others who are going through cancer is his belief that seeing someone achieve a goal unrelated to a diagnosis encourages people to advocate for themselves and achieve the best possible health outcomes.
“It was all about empowering people and showing them how to believe. To show that with the right team and the right treatment, you can do anything you want and go anywhere you want,” Stewy said.
“Once you get told you have cancer, you think you’re dead. And you think you’re cancer when you’re not. If you talk to people– patients who have actually done it – it changes people’s perspectives. They’re not scared so much anymore so they can make better decisions.”
He found he inspired more than personal advocacy, though.
“There were guys in wheelchairs with chemo bags just coming off treatment saying, ‘how much is a motorbike?’” he said.
A cross-country ride
Stewy has been an avid motorcyclist since he was 15 and has had over 30 motorcycles in his life. But this would be a long and physically demanding trip. Since the treatment and side effects would have been unmanageable, Stewy coordinated with his doctors to come off the sunitinib (Sutent) he’s been on since his surgery following his diagnosis in 2013.
Planning his adventure also meant telling his children, aged 15 and 17 at the time, about his diagnosis – six years after the fact.
“They just knew I was poorly with my kidney. I didn’t want anyone to treat me like a disease and not a person,” he said. “I told them before I left, just in case something went wrong. They just took it on board.”
His sons also helped him maintain a blog about his trip while he was away.
Fifty-five days may seem like a long time to spend on your own, but Stewy found the joy in it.
“It was a breath of fresh air to be alone… sometimes you get lost in the whole cancer world,” he said.
And then there were the views.
“Lake Powell is absolutely jaw-dropping,” he said. “Like the Grand Canyon but filled with water – one of the beautiful places in the world.”
Stewy rode through rolling patchwork fields in the middle of Canada, which reminded him of the UK, where he grew up. He visited a vortex in Sedona, a place of supposed great energy, and felt his body tingle and shake. He sat out storms in Denver before passing the Rocky Mountains, crossed the Badlands, stopped in Custer National Park, saw the Devil’s Tower, the Tetons, Zion.
“I sat there in deathly silence. It’s a massive land and you could hear a pin drop,” he said. “It was so different all the time. I just love the ride.”
But Stewy wasn’t always on his own. Meeting doctors who gave him updates about cancer research and treatment, patients and families who shared their stories with him, and talking to many different people along his route were important and rewarding parts of his journey.
He met a woman who had breast cancer who owned a motel with a restaurant along his US route where he had stopped for beer. They chatted about cancer and how it was important to have a plan.
“She was arms around me crying with happiness that someone talked to her,” Stewy said. “It’s good to talk. People’s faces changed from when they started talking to when they finished talking.”
Bumps in the road
Not every day was an easy one. In fact, on the first day, Stewy stopped for gas and his motorcycle fell on his legs. In San Francisco, an indigent woman was upset by his motorcycle’s noise and started slapping him.
Riding 300-600 miles each day was also tiring.
“Initially there was fatigue,” he said. “Every hundred miles my derriere was dead as a dodo and my legs fell asleep.”
But it’s not in his nature to worry and usually Stewy laughed off anything that went wrong. He approaches cancer similarly.
“A lot to do with cancer is outlook and state of mind,” he said. “And how could I be unhappy? I was on a motorcycle, doing the trip of my life, meeting beautiful people in a beautiful country. I had a great mindset going into it. There wasn’t anything that could knock me off my pedestal.”
After nearly two months on the road, returning home to his family felt wonderful.
As far as takeaways for others, Stewy said fear and hesitation are not helpful in facing cancer and they should not hold people back in their lives.
“I’m not scared of cancer. It’s part of the adventure I was given,” he said. “Make cancer part of your adventure… and go do what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be what I did. It could be small, but you can do it.”