Beating cancer one mile at a time: How cycling is helping Chris Gibbs in his fight against colon cancer

Cyclist Chris Gibbs is using his bike to stay motivated in his battle with colon cancer // Photo by Todd Bauer, TMB Images

Cyclist Chris Gibbs is using his bike to stay motivated in his battle with colon cancer // Photo by Todd Bauer, TMB Images

Now matter how hard you try to take care of yourself, sometimes life has other plans. Chris Gibbs learned this the hard way this past May, when the 45-year-old cyclist was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Gibbs says of his diagnosis. “You try and do the right things [for your health] and then something like this just gets thrown at you.”

A father, husband, cyclist, photographer, and firefighter, Gibbs has never been one to let anything slow him down. That’s why he was surprised a few months back when he began experience abdominal pains. After several doctor visits to look into the pains, a bout of food poisoning brought Gibbs back into the doctor office where he got some shocking news.

“I thought it was food poisoning,” he recalls. “So I went in and they found a lemon-sized tumor.”

The tumor, along with a foot of his colon, was removed, and Gibbs is currently undergoing chemotherapy. After treatment concludes, he’ll have a CT scan to find out if he is cancer-free. Until then, Gibbs is turning his attention to helping others struggling with the same issues.

On Sunday, September 10, he’ll participate in the Colon Cancer Coalition’s Tour de Tush bike ride at Veterans Memorial Park in Richfield. While he has participated in cycle events for various charities in the past, this ride is especially important as it hits so close to home.

“When you get a diagnosis like that, you’re floored,” he says. “I still haven’t wrapped my head around the fact that I had or have cancer. It forces you to put your life on hold. For a while, I had to realize that my focus was no longer on cycling. It was about getting me cancer-free.”

A cyclist for over 15 years, Gibbs says he was biking between 100 to 150 miles each week before his diagnosis and had participated in cyclocross races, mountain bike races, and gravel road races, some of which were century rides (100-mile bike tours). While the cancer may have forced him to ease back, cycling has also been one of the things to keep him motivated.

Chris Gibbs is going to be riding in this year's Tour de Tush event to raise funds and awareness // Photo by Todd Bauer, TMB Images

Chris Gibbs is going to be riding in this year’s Tour de Tush event to raise funds and awareness // Photo by Todd Bauer, TMB Images

“I was back on a bike for the first time May 30 and I’ve managed to ride every day since then,” he says proudly. “That first day was just a quick ride around the block, but now I’ll do anywhere between two and 52 miles.” Just this past Wednesday after his chemo treatment, Gibbs hopped on his bike and raced his first cyclocross race of the year. “I didn’t finish last,” he says with a smile.

While it may seem unlikely that someone as active as Gibbs would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the reality is that anyone can develop colorectal cancer. In fact, colorectal cancer has been on the decline in adults over 50, but rising in adults under 50. One in every 5 of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer are under the age of 55, including Gibbs.

Colorectal cancer usually shows no signs or symptoms early, though listening to your body and seeking medical attention for cramping or bowel changes that don’t go away is a good way to catch cancer when it is easier to treat. Getting screened at age 50, or earlier for some people, can prevent cancer, as well as detecting it early. Similarly, the American Cancer Society says that maintaining a healthy body weight, regular physical activity, and consuming a diet with less red meat and more fruits and vegetables are all ways to help prevent colorectal cancer.

As for Gibbs, he knows he still has some ground left to cover in his cancer journey, but isn’t letting it put the brakes on his cycling or his life.

“Riding is a way to clear my head and provide me with a sense of normalcy,” he says. “Raising funds and participating in events like this are my way of fighting back, and helping others realize that you can live with cancer. It’s not a death sentence.

“If I can inspire one person to fight, or motivate them to keep on living, it’s a good day.”

Learn more about Tour de Tush happening on September 10 by visiting The Growler’s event calendar.