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An American cancer survivor, cycling for a cure

By Anne Feeley, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anne Feeley grew up in New Jersey in '60's, '70s; knew she wanted America to change
  • She says she moved to Boston and pursued American option of later college education
  • She moved to Prague and opened a bakery; later, she learned she had brain cancer
  • After surgery and remission, she formed Brains on Bikes to raise funds for cancer research

Editor's note: America's 300 million-plus people are declaring their identity in the 2010 census. This piece is part of a special series on CNN.com in which people describe how they see their own identity. Anne Feeley is a brain cancer survivor and an activist for brain cancer research. She founded Brains on Bikes, a San Francisco-to-Washington, D.C., bike tour designed to raise awareness and money for organizations including Stand Up 2 Cancer; the American Brain Tumor Association; the Brain Tumor Center at the University of California, San Francisco; and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.

(CNN) -- My name is Anne Feeley. I am an American, a mother, a feminist, a baker, a wife, an atheist and a liberal Democrat. I am also a brain cancer survivor and an activist for brain cancer research and patient care.

But when I fill out the Census, all it will reflect is that I am a 55-year-old white woman, and nothing about how I got to this point in life.

When I was growing up in Newark, New Jersey, in the '60s and '70s, America was in a state of flux. Everywhere you looked, there were battles going on as traditional beliefs were being challenged. I knew I was an American, but I also wanted America to change.

On television and in the media, men and women were arguing about their roles, whites and blacks were arguing about racism, people were demonstrating against the Vietnam War and wondering if God was dead. The very idea that everything can be challenged and changed is America to me. I suspect the sides I took in those early years define me. It was exciting, and a lot of good came of it, and also some bad. That's the way of it. Always.

THE BASICS
Name: Anne Feeley
Age: 55
Birthplace: Summit, New Jersey
Home: London and New York
Identity: I am an American, a mother, a feminist, a baker, a wife, an atheist and a liberal Democrat. I am also a brain cancer survivor and an activist for brain cancer research and patient care.

After graduating from East Orange Catholic High School, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Seven years later, I attended Wellesley College as a continuing education student. This chance for later education, to change the direction of one's life, is wonderfully American.

While in Boston, I met my husband. When our daughters were 1 and 4 years old, we moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia. We always wanted to experience Europe, and we thought if not now, never. We lived in Prague for almost 15 years. The kids went to Czech schools and then to international schools. I opened and ran Bakeshop Praha. I was an American living abroad. Life was good.

Then five years ago, I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. The doctors told me the grim prognosis: I should prepare to die. My mother died when I was young, and the worst part of the diagnosis was thinking I would leave my daughters with that pain. I also wanted to be a good example. I wanted to live. I had surgery to remove the tumor.

The week I got out of the hospital, I began exercising. While the staples were still in my head, through the radiation and chemotherapy, I exercised. I was so lucky that I was able to. Very slowly, I got stronger. That first year, I did a half-marathon. Not fast, but I did it.

The shock wasn't that I was going to die, but that I had forgotten that I was going to die.
--Anne Feeley, brain cancer survivor
RELATED TOPICS
  • Brain Cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cycling

After the surgery and the radiation and the 2½ years of chemo, I was pronounced "in remission." During this time, as I split my time between homes in London, England, and New York City, I did several 10K races, indoor rowing competitions, and the UK Three Peaks Challenge. These events transformed my life physically, emotionally and spiritually. Brain cancer was a wake-up call for our whole family. The shock wasn't that I was going to die, but that I had forgotten that I was going to die. We all are. Life isn't a dress rehearsal.

I had been attending the American Brain Tumor Association's Brain Cancer Walk in Chicago, Illinois, for three years when I realized that I had become a long-term survivor. And I realized I wanted to help change the statistics. Brain cancer patients need new, better treatments, and for that, we need more research.

To help raise awareness and funds to battle brain cancer, I formed Brains on Bikes. The project consists of me and my trainer and friend Gundula cycling from San Francisco, California, across America to Washington, D.C. We started Friday and aim to finish on July 15.

My very American life has taught me to try to change things that don't work. I truly believe that together, we can outsmart brain cancer.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anne Feeley.