When asked to describe Tom DesFosses of Peabody in one word, almost everyone immediately says, “optimist.” It seems like a very appropriate way to describe the man who was told by his oncologist in 2004 that he had a brain tumor that has a 70 percent fatality rate. DesFosses’ response: “Let’s talk about the other 30 percent because I’m going to beat it.”
According to his longtime friends, DesFosses’ approach to fighting cancer didn’t surprise them at all. “Tom is an eternal optimist, the likes of which I’ve never seen,” says Bob Barry of Peabody, who has known the man since they began working together at GE in the 1960s. “Tom is always smiling and wants to charge ahead. And he is almost always successful.”
Mike Maginn of Hamilton, whose friendship with DesFosses began at one of the first AIDS rides in the mid-90s, echoes Barry’s sentiments. “Tom is determined not to let cancer get to him, which is why when my daughter was first diagnosed with kidney cancer at 23-years-old, the first call I made was to Tom. His encouragement and advice were invaluable and today my daughter is living a happy, healthy life.”
After his initial diagnosis and recovery, DesFosses, who is the father of two and grandfather of four, wanted to do something to give back to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and particularly to Dr. Wong, the oncologist who treated him. In 2007, while still undergoing a five-year treatment protocol for Primary CNS Lymphoma, DesFosses decided to combine his love of cycling and appreciation for BIDMC. He rode his bicycle 780 miles, through all six New England states, to raise funds for cancer research.
Bob Barry was with DesFosses every day for 50-mile training rides to get him ready for this adventure. DesFosses’ wife of 51 years, Judy, was behind him as well. More specifically, she was in front of him. During DesFosses’ trek, Judy drove 20 or 30 miles ahead to wait for Tom. They would grab coffee or a bite to eat and then Judy would get in the car and Tom on his bike until they met at the next scheduled stop.
After the initial ride, which raised $18,000, DesFosses wanted to up the ante, but needed more riders if he was going to do so. At the kitchen table, DesFosses and Barry decided to create a cycling event. “The day before the first ride, we only had 24 people signed up,” recalls Barry. “And then Tom said, ‘Do you have a grill? We need to sell burgers.’ I thought he was crazy. We didn’t cook burgers, but we were thrilled when more than 100 riders that showed up.”
Coincidentally, that winter, Jim Boland of Gloucester, owner of four Fuddruckers restaurants in Massachusetts, found himself in Dr. Wong’s office supporting a good friend who was being treated for brain cancer. Boland wanted to do more and asked Dr. Wong how he could help. Wong told him to contact Tom and Judy DesFosses. It looked like DesFosses’ wish to have burgers at the event was about to come true.
Since that time, Fuddruckers has been the presenting sponsor of A Reason to Ride, which will be taking place for the 10th year on September 17 in Danvers. The ride has grown to include three distances – 50, 25, and 10 miles, as well as a 5K and a kid’s ride.
“Tom and Judy DesFosses are amazing people,” says Jim Boland. “They are completely committed to this cause and incredibly generous with their time. A Reason to Ride has become a huge success that continues to grow every year. I’m proud to be associated with them and delighted to provide a Fuddruckers barbeque for all of the event participants.”
At a follow-up visit with Dr. Wong in 2014, DesFosses learned that his cancer had returned. The two decided that the treatment worked so well the first time they would repeat it. So DesFosses once again started a protocol that began with chemotherapy every other week and is now down to once every six months.
As Dr. Wong’s longest surviving patient, the two have formed a close bond. Wong, his wife, daughter, colleagues, and patients from BIDMC can be found at A Reason to Ride each year. On their bikes, this determined doctor and grateful patient lead the way around the North Shore, raising money and awareness for this important cause. They both truly have a reason to ride.
To register to ride, walk, volunteer or make a donation, please visit: AReasontoRide.com.