Yesterday was long. It started with a meeting at the funeral home, taking care of the business end of Susan’s funeral. Then I worked for a while on the program for the funeral itself. Then I took my boys to buy us suits.
And then, when I got home, there was a big chunk of the core team, hanging out at my house and ready to go for a ride. I have great friends.
Then I wrote Susan’s obituary for the local newspaper. As I did that, I realized a few things. First, that I had more to say about Susan than what I could fit in an obituary (especially since the newspaper charges me $3.50 per line). Second, that more people who care about Susan read my blog than are likely to get the Deseret News (a Utah-wide newspaper). And finally, I wanted to make sure that any of my readers who are able to make it to the funeral have the information they need to get there.
And if you’re not able to make it to the funeral, well, what I’m writing here will be pretty much the same thing, but with a lot fewer stutters and stammers.
Susan Ellen Nelson
Susan Ellen Nelson (born Reeve) passed away August 5, 2009, after a long and hard-fought battle with breast cancer. She finished her life at home, at peace, and with her family: her husband Elden, sons Nigel (15) and Brice (13) and twin daughters Katie and Carrie (7).
Susan was born September 15, 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, to Richard and V. Karen Reeve, the first of three children. Susan’s sisters are Celia Reeve and Christine Krueger.
We Meet and (Very Soon After) Marry
The best place for me to really start telling Susan’s story, though, is when we met. Specifically, we met April 27, 1988. My college roommate was engaged to one of Susan’s roommates, and I was along for the ride when he stopped by her apartment.
When I saw Susan, I was immediately stricken. In addition to her general hotness, she had eyes that conveyed her smile so perfectly.
Plus, I really liked her dark red hair.
I was not the kind of person to ask girls out on dates without spending time getting courage up, but in this case I made an exception.
When I went to pick Susan up the next day, I did a double take — her hair color was now blaze-orange. Which I also liked, but was confused.
As it turns out, Susan was in cosmetology school at the time — she wanted to learn hair as a skill to put in her quiver for her love of stage makeup — and her hair would change style and color roughly twice a week through our courtship.
Our courtship, by the way, didn’t take long. We married on August 13, 1988 in the LDS Los Angeles Temple — about 3.5 months after we met.
After twenty one years (this Thursday) of a truly happy marriage, I can’t help but be amazed that I made such a good choice so quickly.
Before long, Susan went back to college, finishing her BA in Classical Civilizations at BYU. Here, I learned about Susan’s incredible gift of memorizing. For her upper-level Latin classes (yes, at one point Susan could speak Latin), Susan would memorize page after page of Latin and their English translations.
I would tease her about the practicality of learning Latin, but Susan wasn’t really in school for the language. She loved history and mythology, whether it be ancient Greek or modern JRR Tolkien (or, eventually, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) — if Susan became interested in something, she immersed herself in it and quickly became an expert.
While Susan loved history and mythology and stagecraft and art — and took to any and all of these quickly and naturally — once we started having children, she threw herself into being a mom with patience and energy. And I see many things I love about Susan in each of our four children:
- Nigel has Susan’s patience and creativity. Like Susan, Nigel really never gets angry. They’re both calm in every circumstance. And like Susan, Nigel loves to draw, although he has taken this ability in new directions — on the computer — which Susan always loved to see. Like Susan, Nigel is happiest when he is creating something.
- Brice has Susan’s love of reading and learning. As Susan lost the ability to get around, she and Brice spent more time together than anyone else in the family, reading out loud to each other for hours. Like Susan, Brice has the ability to bring text to life. When he reads aloud, everyone in the family gathers around. Like Susan, Brice is a perfectionist, and always turns in (much) better work than is required.
- Katie and Carrie: I don’t know if identical twins usually have identical talents, but both Katie and Carrie — in addition to looking very much like Susan’s pictures from when she was a little girl — are artistic whirlwinds. Like Susan, they love to draw and paint and sculpt and paper-piece and anything else that lets them create with their hands. The day Susan introduced them to the fundamentals of jewelry making was a watershed moment for them of Keppleresque proportions. But Katie and Carrie have different art emphases — Katie loves to draw, Carrie likes to make things — and watching and helping the girls develop their different talents was one of Susan’s greatest pleasures.
Susan has left me with four smart, kind, and creative children. This is almost certainly her greatest legacy.
Arts and Crafts and a Novel
Susan was a talented artist, entering her Freshman year of college as a scholarship art student. Her interests in art varied and grew, from pen and ink to paper piecing to sophisticated scrapbooking projects. Susan published several scrapbooking articles in magazines, and even had a monthly column in one.
In the past five years or so, Susan’s interest in art moved to jewelry making. In particular, Susan loved twisting, shaping, and melting silver wire into beautiful and complex bracelets and necklaces. Even as cancer took her ability to walk away, Susan remained positive — from her easy chair, she could still wield her acetylene torch.
As she was forced to spend more time seated, Susan had the idea to write a young adult-oriented novel. While many would think this was just too daunting a task, Susan simply got to work, outlining, writing, and editing her first novel. Chemo and radiation and the cancer itself would often make it difficult for her to write, but she continued, encouraged by the fact that teenage girls from around the neighborhood demanded that she keep writing so they could see what happens next.
Susan’s novel is within a few pages of completion. Susan told me what happens in the end, and I may do my best to finish it for her and see if I can honor her by bringing it to publication.
For a more detailed telling of Susan’s battle with cancer, you may want to read a recent post, Fighting Like Susan. The brief version is that Susan fought cancer for more than five years. She endured a mastectomy — and moving shortly afterward with twin toddlers in tow. She endured chemo. She endured a hip replacement. She endured radiation multiple times, and more chemo.
And when there was nothing left we could do, Susan endured — for months and years longer than anyone expected — assault after assault by cancer on her body: bones, lungs, and brain.
And throughout, she remained herself: creative, focused, and kind.
And also — very importantly — she was brave.
In an act of constant courage, Susan agreed to let me tell her story, as it happened. Because of this, thousands of people, all around the world, were inspired to take up her fight against cancer.
And I mean “thousands” very literally. More than 500 people — people she never met in real life — joined her namesake LiveStrong Challenge team, raising money to fight cancer. And those 500 people — along with many, many others, have raised well above half a million dollars in the past half year.
When I ask myself, “What could be the purpose — the point — of Susan having cancer?” I think that Susan proved something essential: sometimes we have to make our own purpose from the circumstances we’ve been given.
And if you consider that people have emailed me saying that, inspired by Susan’s story, they have decided to join the fight against cancer, or they have quit smoking, or they have decided to be brave and get a mammogram — well, that’s a powerful purpose.
The money we have raised in her name will help in the fight against cancer, but Susan’s legacy goes way beyond that. It is, in fact, immeasurable.
Funeral and Donations
Funeral services will be held Monday, August 10, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., with a gathering at 9:00 a.m. at the LDS Chapel located at 890 N. Main St, Alpine, UT 84004 (Official address is different, but this address will get you to the right spot).
In lieu of flowers, please donate via Paypal or send donations to Elden Nelson, 407 Quincy Ct., Alpine, UT 84004. Donations will be used for the Nelson children’s education funds.
PS: One of the most touching tributes I’ve seen on the web is the Twin Six home page. And so maybe you can imagine how I felt this morning, when, on a ride to the top of the Alpine Loop, I saw this at the summit:
As well as this, at the “half-mile to the top, start going fast if you can” marker:
And there was another, at the finish line for the toll-booth sprint (Dug beat me by a bike length by the way).
Whoever did this, thank you.
PPS: To the more than 2000 of you who have left comments and sent email since I left the short post about Susan dying, thank you. I haven’t read all your comments yet; I tend to dip in and read until I’m too choked up to continue. I will get through them, and I appreciate everyone reaching out the way you have.
Susan died tonight (August 5) at 7:25pm. It was a hard, long day, and Susan fought right to the end, for much longer than anyone would have thought she could.
My mom, my sisters Kellene and Jodi, and my Brother-in-Law Rocky were all here to support my family as Susan passed away.
I’ll have more to say soon, but consider this. Susan inspired me to expand the focus of my blog from nothing but bike-related jokes to a serious and pitched fight against cancer.
Then she inspired 500+ of you to join Team Fatty, the largest LiveStrong Challenge Team there has ever been.
And Team Fatty has raised close to more than $500,000 — a record amount.
Susan’s part in the battle is over, but she didn’t lose. She led the charge. She showed the rest of us how to fight: with determination, focus, creativity, and outrageous endurance.
Now it’s up to the rest of us to Fight Like Susan.
The contest I’m launching today troubles me, because it reveals a previously-unknown weakness in me.
Specifically, I find myself in the ethically-problematic position of trying to figure out how I can possibly be the winner of this contest, the prize of which is a 2010 Orbea Orca or Diva (winner’s choice). Either bike will be outfitted with a Dura-Ace Di2 group with Dura-Ace carbon tubeless wheels, PRO Stealth handlebar, PRO Vibe seatpost and other PRO accessories. The estimated value of this bike is $9,600.
I ask you to consider the below photograph (click the photo to see a larger, more exquisitely detailed version), then decide whether you can really blame me for wanting to keep it myself.
That bike is sexy. Dangerously sexy.
But no, I will not keep this bike, even though I would like to. Instead, I will give it to a random person who has donated any multiple of $5 to my LiveStrong Challenge page, or to a random Team Fatty member (any city) who has raised money in their own LiveStrong Challenge since Friday, July 31.
So, go donate now, or read on for details.
What This Is
So what do you get with this bike?
- Frame: Orbea Orca or Diva: The Orca is Orbea’s flagship bike, and the Diva is the women’s-specific variation on the Orca. Frankly, there just isn’t much I need to say about these bikes. Just look at them. They’re beautiful. But they’re not just vanity bikes. Oh no. If you’ve ever ridden an Orca, you want an Orca. They ride as sexy as they look. Which, I would like to point out, is very, very sexy.
- Drivetrain: Dura-Ace Di2 Group: Back at Interbike last year, Shimano was showing off its not-yet-released Di2 electronic shifting group, called “Shimano Electronic Intelligent System” (SEIS). Until I saw it in action, I didn’t really get the “Intelligent” part, but the fact is, it’s incredibly cool. When you tap to shift in the back, the front derailleur senses and trims to make sure your chain’s still aligned. If the rear derailleur gets bumped, it adjusts back so it’s true to the cassette. And it shifts fast. This bike is just off-the-charts fast, light, and high-tech.
What? You say you want all the details? Good call. Here’s the bike’s spec:
- Frame/Fork: Choice of 2010 Orbea Orca or Diva (Choice of size & color from stock on hand)
- Shifters: Dura-Ace Di2
- Rear Derailleur: Dura-Ace Di2
- Front Derailleur: Dura-Ace Di2
- Brakeset (F&R): Dura-Ace
- Crankset: Dura-Ace 7900 (Regular or Compact)
- Bottom Bracket: Dura-Ace 7900
- Chain: Dura-Ace 7900
- Cassette: Dura-Ace 7900
- Wheelset: Dura-Ace Carbon Clincher Tube/Tubeless compatible…WH-7850-C24-TL
- Tires: Hutchinson Tubeless
- Handlebar/Stem: PRO Integrated Carbon Stealth Bar
- Seatpost: PRO Vibe
- Battery / Charger / Wire Kits: Dura-Ace Di2
- Saddle/Pedals not included
How You Can Win
Oh, you think you’d like to have this bike? Well, of course you would. Well, to win it, you’re going to need to do a little cancer fighting with me. Here are the ways you can donate.
- By Donating at my Philly LiveStrong Challenge Page: For every $5 you donate at my LiveStrong Challenge page, you get another row on my spreadsheet. That DOES NOT mean that if you want to donate $50, you’ve got to do ten $5.00 donations. I’m awesome at Excel and will be able to give you the correct number of chances automatically, based on how much you donate. Click here to donate now .
- By Raising Money at Your OWN Team Fatty LiveStrong Challenge Page: If you’re a member of Team Fatty, now’s a great time to donate money to your own LiveStrong Challenge, as well as to get others to donate to it. For every $5 you raise starting last Friday (July 31) to the end of the contest, you get another row on my spreadsheet.
The contest ends August 13 at Midnight, MDT. At that point I will choose a winner at random from my spreadsheet, using random.org to pick the lucky person. I will then fire off an email to the winner. Once I get acknowledgement, I’ll announce it on my blog, and you can begin collecting envious looks.
Why This Is Important — AKA, How I Got This Bike To Give Away In The First Place
Perhaps you are talking to yourself right now. And if so, perhaps the thing you are saying to yourself is, “How did Fatty wrangle this kind of bike to give away? I had no idea he has that kind of juice.”
Well, the fact is, I do not have that kind of juice. Not even close.
However, there is a guy at Shimano whose fiance has the same kind of breast cancer my wife Susan has, and he and I have spent some time talking. He’s got the same kinds of reasons to hate and fight cancer that I have.
So. He’s got the goods, I’ve got a ready-made soapbox, and you’ve got a serious need to get yourself the sweetest bike you could ever imagine. It’s a match made in heaven.
And, more important than all that, is the fact that if and when we all work together to fight cancer, we will eventually succeed. So please, donate now. You may — or may not — win this incredible bike. Regardless, though, you’ll have done something good and important.
And how often do you get to say that?
People are asking some good questions in the comments, so I’m adding this section to respond to some of the ones I’m seeing frequently:
Q. Can I win if I live outside of the U.S.?
A. Yes, but you’ll be in charge of any customs charges if you win. Fair enough?
Q. What’s the name of the guy at Shimano who’s gone to all this trouble?
A. He asked to not be named. Just think of him as a great guy at a great company who cares a lot about doing the right thing. Because that’s who he is. Just like you.
Q. Are we automatically entered if people have donated to our personal site since 7/31 or is there something we have to do to be sure we are entered?
A. It’s automatic. I took a snapshot of everyone’s personal site earnings on 7/31 and will do so again at the end of the contest. The amount you’ve earned during that period, divided by $5, is the number of chances you get.
Got more questions? E-mail me or ask in the Comments. I’ll do my best to get an answer to you.
A Note from Fatty: Be sure to check in tomorrow, when I will be launching the contest where you can fight cancer and win the Orbea Orca / Diva with the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 build. This bike is a work of art (click the thumbnail to the right for a larger view of the bike). Very fast, light, responsive, and technically-advanced art. Rideable art that retails for $9600. That your riding friends will be jealous of forever and ever, and rightly so.
So, like I said: Check back tomorrow. And bring your wallet.
Another Note from Fatty: Team Fatty members (all cities), you’ll be able to work toward winning this bike by getting people to donate to your LiveStrong Challenge page. So start bugging your friends and family now and tell them to start donating right now. All donations made to your account starting last Friday count toward your chances of winning this bike.
For each of the past twelve years, I’ve signed up for the Leadville 100. I’ve started all twelve times, and I’ve finished all twelve times (stories here, here, and here, just for example). I’ve been as fast as 9:13, and as slow as 11:40. This race is one of my very favorite annual traditions. If, for instance, I had to give up my birthday and Father’s Day to go to Leadville, it would be a very easy trade. I’d throw in Halloween and Thanksgiving, too. And Arbor day.
But here’s a little surprise I wasn’t planning to reveal until after this year’s race: I’m currently in very good shape. I weigh about 161 pounds and am currently riding with the fast guys in my group. Last Saturday as we rode together, Kenny said I was climbing stronger than I ever have before.
The weight loss has been easy this year: my interest in food is way down. Evidently, I’m only a stress eater up to a certain level of stress. Past that, I start to forget about food.
And the “fast” part has come easily this year, too. My two hours on a bike every day has become more than a fun way to exercise and be with my friends; it’s become a pressure release valve. I’ve been riding angry, to good effect.
My descending skills have improved dramatically over the past season, too. In a race that includes several multiple-mile descents, that could buy me several important minutes.
Add in an extremely light and responsive bike — my Gary Fisher Superfly Singlespeed — and I’ve got myself a recipe for a fast Leadville 100. Certainly not in under nine hours, but quite possibly under 9:30. And on a singlespeed, that’s not half bad.
But I just don’t see how I can go.
I’ve always made a four-day trip out of the Leadville 100. Leave Utah (or Washington for a couple years) on Thursday, hang out in Leadville on Friday, race on Saturday, come home on Sunday.
Theoretically, I could shorten this to an extremely tightly-scheduled (and exhausting) Friday-Saturday trip. But the fact is, the annual Leadville 100 trip stopped being mostly about the race a long time ago — I’d say about 70% of why I like to be there is to catch up with old friends and spend a couple days wandering around the town being a bike bum.
And there is just no possible way I can leave Susan for four days — or even two days — right now. The truth is, last Saturday I had a difficult time leaving her for six hours. Sometimes she needs me — and only me. And sometimes I just need to be with her. True, she spends about 20-22 hours of most days sleeping now, but when she wakes up, she calls for me. And I need to be there.
I guess it says how much I love this race, though, that in spite of the realities of my situation, I still play through the possible scenarios, trying to find the path that lets me go to Leadville without feeling like a total heel.
In my heart I know there’s no such path. But my head’s still looking for it.
And I guess that at least a piece of me thinks I can still go, because when friends ask whether I’m going to Leadville, I say, “I’m at about 10-90 right now.”
But that 10% chance — which is in all honesty more like a 3% chance — is enough for me to keep training like I’m all in.
I know: it’s just a race, and it’s not as important as taking care of Susan and my family right now.
Still: when you’ve done something every single year for a dozen years, missing it for the first time isn’t easy.
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