From the Archives: Spring 2008 Issue of Lupus Now
Circle of Hope: A Journey of Self Discovery
By Geoff Thomas
When I was diagnosed four years ago, I was told I was lucky to only have discoid, or cutaneous lupus. Maybe I was lucky, but I was also very confused—especially when I deciphered the doctor’s handwriting and punched a long, scientific name for lupus into a computer.
Why did I have a “girlie” disease? Why didn’t the sun affect me, though stress did? Why was this thing potentially deadly? And why didn’t anyone on the street seem to know what lupus was really about?
When I decided to leave my home in Sydney, Australia, to cycle around America during the summer of 2007, my main priority was to raise awareness for a condition I didn’t fully understand. The journey turned out to be the defining point of my life.
I was in a position to make a difference. There are so many suffering a great deal more than myself, and I figured that if I could dig up some publicity along the way, it could only help. After all, even an inch of column space is better than nothing at all.
So on a sunny April morning, I tentatively rode along the edge of Manhattan, across the George Washington Bridge, and into the thick New Jersey traffic. Nine thousand miles later, I’d cross the Hudson River into New York City, a completely changed person.
For a start, I “came out” and declared my condition to anyone who’d listen. I felt so good about it. I was in a foreign country and didn’t really care what anyone thought.
In doing so, I gained confidence. Walking sweat-soaked into a newspaper office became a formality. There were prime-time television interviews, and I even managed a few rounds of public speaking. Not bad for a shy guy who previously would have shivered with nervousness at the thought of any of the above.
Over the summer I experienced a beautiful country, not to mention magnificent cultural diversity. Just as lupus doesn’t discriminate and actually brings many races and colors together, it was rewarding to witness America loving, living, and laughing as one.
There were many challenges. Roads on maps wouldn’t exist in reality. Huge mountain climbs were beaten with the mind rather than muscles. And no amount of swearing was going to fix flat tire number 44.
The pain of burning feet, frozen hands, and road rash seemed irrelevant when I thought of those who couldn’t get out of bed, let alone ride 100 miles a day.
In many ways, it was a humbling experience. I found it hard to accept being labeled as an inspiration to some. I felt a word with such meaning was more appropriate to describe those I was riding for. However, I was proudto accept that I may have made the slightest difference.
Hitting the finish line in New York was thought-provoking. My journey was over, though I also knew the past five months would be a waste if I didn’t use my experience to further our cause.
Yes, I was lucky in a sense.
I’d learned there was an upside to lupus. I’d connected with so many kind and beautiful people along the way. The summer hadn’t been a vacation, and I still have the scars to prove it, but it was fulfilling in so many ways.
On that last Sunday of September when I completed one major journey, I knew another was about to commence. I finally had a purpose in life and a duty: to increase awareness of lupus wherever I go.
When I look back at those 156 days on the road, the most difficult moment wasn’t battling the brutal heat of Arizona or the draining humidity of Louisiana. It was reading an e-mail from a girl who extensively praised me for what I’d achieved.
Sue concluded her message apologizing for not having been in touch for a while. In a two-week period, she’d lost three dear friends to this disease. Everything had been put into perspective. I am not important—lupus is.