Tumor worries fade on route

Johnathan Tisdale's fight against cancer is uphill only when he's pedaling back from treatment.

That's his outlook, anyway, on the tumor that's been growing on his brain for at least a decade.

He didn't know it was there until Independence Day three years ago, when he had a seizure in his parents' living room.

Tisdale watched fireworks that year through his hospital window.

An MRI revealed he had a big mass called a glioma growing on his brain. Doctors drilled a hole in his head, took a sample and declared it to be a low-grade tumor.

"No brain cancer is good," Tisdale, 36, said. "But at least it wasn't aggressive."

This quasi-good news relieved some of the fear for Tisdale, 36, a husband and father of two children who were 1 and 3 years old at the time.

It also let him forgo dangerous brain surgery and take an oral chemotherapy instead. The medicine weakened him but didn't interfere with his favorite pastime: cycling.

Mountain biking appeals to his love of the outdoors, and he relishes the challenge of making a split-second course correction to avoid tumbling down a trail. He bikes all the around the area, and he has traveled to Moab, Utah, to try the wavy canyon trails.

He rides in large groups of street bicyclists on long tours of the area. It's a mind-clearing exercise, where the only focus is on the tires in front of him, Tisdale said.

After two years of oral medication, the tumor in his head had shrunk only a bit. Dr. Alan Friedman, at Duke University, who also removed Sen. Ted Kennedy's malignant glioma, recommended surgery.

In April, surgeons successfully removed a major chunk of the tumor on his brain. Part of the tumor was left behind because they didn't want to risk damaging his speech or mobility.

During Tisdale's recovery, Friedman mentioned that another of his patients rode his bicycle to radiation treatments. Tisdale saw no reason not to do the same.

He lives in a brick-street neighborhood with towering shade trees a few blocks away from Walton Way. In August, he set out about 8 a.m. on his first bike ride to Georgia Radiation Treatment on St. Sebastian Way.

He passed joggers stretching their calves, university students hurrying to class, commuters sipping coffee. The whir of leaf blowers and the laughs of schoolchildren blended with the hum of his tires.

All his worries about the treatment were swept away by the wind in his face; his only focus was navigating the clot of traffic outside the hospitals.

It was an enjoyable experience and one he hopes to repeat until his radiation treatments are finished. Tisdale sees it as a way to thumb his nose at an incurable cancer.

"There are very few things that I can control," Tisdale said. "But the one thing I can control is my attitude."

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