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Bike Ride to Combat Cancer "Very Personal"

By Patrick Tandy | July 13, 2016

The passing of Jeffrey P. Nesson’s mother from brain cancer 16 years ago left him in search of a suitable way to honor her memory.

“I’m not a multi­millionaire,” says the Owings Mills solo attorney and past Chair of the MSBA Consumer Bankruptcy Section. “I can’t endow any funds or foundations.”

But several years later, by chance, he found what he needed by way of a lunch date with an old friend during a brief layover in Phoenix, Arizona. The fellow New England native and avid bicyclist told Nesson about the Pan-­Mass Challenge (PMC), an annual today, 160­mile ride between Wellesley – just west of Boston – and Cape Cod’s terminus at Provincetown that raises funds to support Boston’s renowned Dana­Farber Cancer Institute.

In the PMC, Nesson saw the opportunity he’d been seeking, and at age 56 he resolved to take part in the ride “for as long as my legs would permit.” Now 60, he has spent the last year training and raising money for his fifth PMC, which will take place August 6­7, 2016.

“I work towards staying in shape for this event all year long,” says Nesson, expressing gratitude for the support of his wife, Rachael, who effectively becomes a “bike widow” once the winter weather breaks and her husband resumes his weekly 50 ­plus ­mile rides all across the Maryland D.C. region.

Although Nesson relocated to the Baltimore area more than three decades ago to attend the University of Baltimore School of Law, he never lost touch with his Down East roots. Indeed, for the last five years, several friends who date back to his high school days have served as a sort of “support team” for him during the course of the PMC, providing transportation, lodging, food and, perhaps above all, camaraderie.

Over the years, Nesson and his network of supporters have generated more than $25,000 for the PMC, which is Dana­Farber’s single largest financial contributor. Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has raised and contributed $500 million to cancer research. Last year, Nesson raised roughly $8,000 for the event, which netted a total of $45 million for Dana­Farber in 2015 alone.

“Not a single penny of the riders’ money goes toward administrative costs,” says Nesson, noting that other resources, such as corporate sponsorship, cover such expenses. Rather, all of the money raised by riders goes directly toward benefiting research of all forms of cancer.

Nesson says that the PMC is less a race than an outdoor odyssey. Several planned stops over the course of the ride allow the participants to “absorb as much of the environment as possible” while countless supporters root them on along the way. Each year, Nesson wears the names of those individuals whom his own supporters wish to honor – survivors and those not so fortunate – on a sheet attached to his back for the duration of the ride, which he calls an “incredibly emotional” and “very personal” experience for all involved.

Sadly, Nesson’s family has an apparent genetic predisposition to cancer, which has in various forms claimed several of his relatives over the years. Noting the likelihood that he may one day face such a battle himself, Nesson quips, “I guess my efforts with this are really self-serving.”

But for now, those efforts – and his own clean bill of health – continue to benefit those currently fighting this disease in all its forms, as well as the more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer that the National Cancer Institute reports will be diagnosed this year.

To support Nesson’s mission, or for more information, http://profile.pmc.org/JN0106. For more information on the Dana­Farber Cancer Institute.  http://www.dana-farber.org/.