It is very likely that driving in and around Andover you will see a husband and wife on a bike — Portia and Greg Wright have taken up cycling.
Portia took up cycling as exercise when running was no longer an option. She and her husband are intensely serious about those rides — because of the mental weight they carry as they push the pedals.
They are both part of Team Brett, a cycling team that is raising funds for childhood cancer research through the Great Cycle Challenge USA. The team was founded and named for their son — who was diagnosed with a rare cancer about three years ago.
Portia has pledged 200 miles for the month of September. She has raised more than $1,400 of a $2,500 goal, ranking 10th in the state according to greatcyclechallenge.com/Riders/PortiaWright. Team Brett has raised $2,265 of a $5,000 goal according to greatcyclechallenge.com/Teams/TeamBrett
"People do not realize how underfunded childhood cancer research is," Portia said. "In the big scope of the cancer world, it is a small population so it is underfunded. Children’s treatment are just kind of based on adult treatment."
According to the Great Cycle Challenge, 43 American children are diagnosed with cancer and roughly one-quarter of them do not survive the disease. In five years, the Great Cycle Challenge community of 230,000 riders from all 50 states have pedaled more than 18 million miles while raising $24 million in support of research to develop better treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.
Three years ago Brett Wright received a diagnoses that was unexpected — the teen and his family were told he had Ewing Sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects mostly children and teenagers.
At the time, Portia pledged to run a 5K (3.1 miles) for each cycle of chemotherapy Brett had to undergo.
She ran 17 races. After that, she had surgery on her hip and ankle, and her running career came to a close.
She turned to cycling.
"This is better, because I am able to bike and the money goes to childhood cancer research," Portia said. "... It is therapeutic for me to be riding and raising funds for cancer research."
According to the Mayo Clinc, Ewing sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones. It most often begins in the leg bones and in the pelvis, but it can occur in any bone.
According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Ewing sarcoma can spread to the lungs, bones and bone marrow.
In addition to 17 rounds of chemotherapy, Brett underwent surgery and radiation therapy to his pelvis and legs. In all, there was 13 months of treatment.
For 17 months, he was designated as a "NED" patient — no evidence of disease. Then this summer, something showed up on his quarterly body scan.
The Wright family learned that Brett’s disease has returned, and spread to the lungs.
"We learned this year he has relapsed," Portia said. "... It is considered a stage four cancer and is very aggressive. We found out it came back to his lungs. There is no targeted treatment, we are grasping at straws of what to treat it with."
Brett started treatment, but the cancer did not respond. The family is changing to a new treatment regimen this week in hopes of finding a way to rid Brett of the disease.
There are very few specialists for Ewing Sarcoma, meaning the family consults with Boston Children’s Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic. Chemotherapy is administered locally, under the consult of those clinics.