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posted: 3/31/2014 5:15 AM

Naperville survivor rides against childhood cancer

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  • Debbie Mossburg of Naperville has survived cancer as both a child and an adult, and now she is leading efforts to raise money to fight the diseases through the nonprofit Bike Bald, which organizes themed bike rides to support childhood cancer research and other community causes.

       Debbie Mossburg of Naperville has survived cancer as both a child and an adult, and now she is leading efforts to raise money to fight the diseases through the nonprofit Bike Bald, which organizes themed bike rides to support childhood cancer research and other community causes.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Bike Bald board member Frank Kazmierczak of Lisle, founder Debbie Mossburg of Naperville and Green Grub & Pub Ride participant Jeff Pfeifer get ready to head out on a ride from Naperville to Wheaton and back earlier this month. The ride was one of several themed events the nonprofit Bike Bald has planned this year to raise funds for childhood cancer research and other community causes.

       Bike Bald board member Frank Kazmierczak of Lisle, founder Debbie Mossburg of Naperville and Green Grub & Pub Ride participant Jeff Pfeifer get ready to head out on a ride from Naperville to Wheaton and back earlier this month. The ride was one of several themed events the nonprofit Bike Bald has planned this year to raise funds for childhood cancer research and other community causes.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Survivor starts 'Bike Bald'

 
 

Debbie Mossburg remembers riding her bike as a child in Pittsburgh.

Then she remembers not being able to.

She remembers playing with her brother and sister and loving to go to school.

And then she remembers not being able to do either.

She remembers her mother, with her head between her hands, sobbing, and her dad pacing "as if he was having a child."

Mossburg knows she was diagnosed at age 6 with a rare cancer that never was specifically identified. But her childhood memories of surviving the disease aren't of hospitals and treatment regimens and worries about dying. They're memories of sadness over losing the ability to bike, to play, to go to school. The loss -- albeit temporary -- of things she loved.

"As a child, you don't know what you don't know. You know what you love," Mossburg said. "But as an adult, you know what you could possibly lose at any moment."

Mossburg, 45, of Naperville, has survived cancer in both phases of her life, beating the unspecified cancer that attacked her blood and bodily systems as a girl, and emerging past the ovarian cancer that struck her at age 22 and again two years ago.

Fellow cancer survivors and patients know she "gets it." And she's trying to help others "get it" too, with the formation last fall of the nonprofit Bike Bald, which organizes themed biking events to raise money for childhood cancer research and other community causes.

"Her experience as a cancer survivor gives her a unique compassion and perspective into the lives of other people going through cancer," said Ellie Ewoldt of Naperville, whose 4-year-old son, Chase, recently completed 15 months of treatment for a rare brain and spine cancer that was attacking his central nervous system. "It is always a wonderfully encouraging thing to talk to someone like Debbie because having gone through cancer herself, she gets it."

Mossburg incorporated cycling into Bike Bald because she has always loved the activity and knows many kids think biking is great fun. But the word "bald" in the name doesn't imply that only baldies can attend rides, or that participants must shave their heads in order to or support the cause.

"Bald is from the chemo," she said about the cancer treatments that often rob patients of their hair. "That's what a lot of folks go through. When I was a child, I did go bald."

The organization's inaugural event, however, did tie into baldness. Bike Bald launched last September with a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, in which participants donated a total of $5,400 to have their heads shaved in solidarity with childhood cancer patients.

Mossburg says her charity is here to stay and will host a St. Baldrick's fundraiser every fall.

"We're not going anywhere," she said.

Except to Bolingbrook, for the "Dancing Egg" ride April 5, which starts and ends at Eggs Inc. Cafe in Naperville and includes stops for egg hunts, dances and other activities. Or to the Riverwalk on April 24 and 25 for a 24-hour stationary cycling event.

Or to Lombard, for a ride May 18 to Lilac Time in the village's iconic Lilacia Park. Or to Fermilab near Batavia for a ride June 28 to see the bison. Or to local pizza shops to deliver orders by bicycle; to Naperville parks to watch evening movies or concerts; or to the Metra station June 8 to transport bikes to Chicago and ride in the big city.

"With a lot of the rides, we try to support local businesses," Mossburg said.

Bike Bald also supports the Children's Tumor Foundation and donates additional funds to community causes such as purchasing a new tandem bike for an area man who suffers from seizures and providing transportation for families of children with cancer.

Businesses like Fitness Experts in downtown Naperville support Bike Bald efforts right back. Co-owner Gerad Cassello will be lending a few health club-quality spin cycles for the 24-hour cycling event and has participated in past rides.

"She's amazing how much she's committed to this," Cassello said about Mossburg, who has lived in Naperville for almost 10 years with her husband, Gary, and their sons, ages 22 and 16. "She's a very dynamic person and knows a lot of people and tries to match people together to help each other."

Bike Bald events have drawn as few as two participants for a Green Grub & Pub ride on a chilly Sunday before St. Patrick's Day, or as many as 400 for the largest gathering.

Aside from seeking donations for head-shaving in September, Bike Bald brings in money by charging participants between $5 and $20 to join most rides. Some are a few miles, while others rack up roughly 20 miles round-trip on paths such as the DuPage River Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path. Mossburg said she tries to use trails instead of streets to keep the events safe and family friendly.

When she's not working for a corporation in the home improvement industry or planning Bike Bald rides, Mossburg might be running. She did her first 5K in 2009 and quickly built up distance to run the London Marathon in 2010. She's running the London Marathon again April 13 to raise money for the Children's Tumor Foundation, one of her favorite charities in the fight to help cancer's youngest patients.

"Still a lot of doctors don't know how to treat childhood cancer," Mossburg said.

Cassello said he admires how Mossburg has combined her passions for helping childhood cancer patients and sharing her understanding of their challenges with her passion for leading a healthy life.

Once weighing more than 300 pounds, Mossburg said she hasn't always focused on fitness. But since shaping up at the Kroehler Family YMCA before that first 5K in 2009, she has made fitness -- and the fight against cancer -- a big part of her life.

"I just said I've been given life," Mossburg said, "I need to appreciate everything I've been given with it."

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