Faithful Thunder Press readers and avid motorcyclists Paul and Terry Poor fight leukemia one ride at a time with a dream of returning to Sturgis
Words by Joy Burgess
Photos by Paul and Terry Poor Archives
After the 2019 Sturgis Rally, Thunder Press posed a question on Instagram: “Do you love Sturgis as much as we do? Let us know why you love Sturgis in our stories, drop a comment, or shoot us a message!” It was a two-word comment that grabbed my attention: “Cancer therapy.”
That short comment led to the exchange of many messages as @iridetolive (Terry Poor) and I got to know each other on Instagram. We had an immediate connection that neither of us could explain. Her husband is battling cancer, and she wrote to me, “Yes, I have cancer, this is our struggle. When you love someone unconditionally you, too, have cancer.” And I understood that, because I, too, have walked through the darkness, losing my own husband to kidney disease four years ago becoming widow at the age of 35.
No one plans on these things happening in life. These are the things that rip our breath away and drive us down on our knees. But for some of us, motorcycles become a saving grace that somehow pulls us through the darkness and set our souls free.
“Ride to live.” For some it’s a slogan to toss around or a hashtag to use on social media. For others – like Paul and Terry Poor – it’s the thread of hope they’re hanging onto for dear life.
Two Roads Crossed
Both Paul and Terry grew up riding, long before they met. “I always felt a need to ride. My soul yearned for the open road,” Terry told me. “My first ride was from a neighbor, and that fire was lit. When I met Paul, he was a dirt bike rider, but eventually I talked him into a street bike.”
As Paul was growing up, a lot of the kids in his area were into motocross and going pro. “We got hand me down bikes and tagged along with those guys,” he said. “Half the time our bikes broke down, so we pushed them back home. The first brand new bike I ever had was a Yamaha YZ490, and I did a lot of hill climbs with it. One time I went up one of those hills so fast on the thing I went airborne at the top, which wasn’t my intention whatsoever,” he laughs.
Their paths crossed in 1982, when they headed out on a date during a blizzard, and after their roads crossed, they continued to share the same path come hell or high water. And motorcycles have been a huge part of their life. They’ve spent all their spare time riding, doing charity rides, taking long summer evening rides, exploring new roads, riding with friends, heading to the nearby Laconia Rally, and riding out to South Dakota for Sturgis.
Hold on for Dear Life
In 2009, life as they knew it skidded to a stop when Paul got hurt at work. He went to the hospital for a serious arm injury, and they were blindsided with the news that Paul had leukemia and likely only days to live if he wasn’t treated immediately. “The first diagnosis in 2009 was a real wakeup call,” Terry told me. “Leukemia? ‘What the fuck,’ we asked ourselves. This couldn’t be happening.”
Fighting cancer and dealing with the side effects of daily chemotherapy, Paul spent some time unable to physically handle getting on a motorcycle … and it was killing him. “I would always go outside and watch the cars and bikes go by,” Paul said. “I was losing my mind watching those bikes go by.”
“It got really bad,” Terry continued, “So one day we were at our local Harley shop meeting friends and Paul joked that I should try out the trike and give him a review. I gave it a beating, ran it hard, and took it over uneven roads at a good pace to see what it could do. When I returned to the shop, he asked, ‘Well?’ I gave him a detailed review of the ride and the bike’s mechanical capabilities, and he said, ‘Buy it!’ So, I did.”
“When we got home, he let me take him out on the trike. He still didn’t have the strength or confidence to ride by himself. A couple miles down the road he leaned over my shoulder and whispered, ‘This is the first time in years that I have truly felt alive!’ Choking back tears, I just kept going, not wanting anything to spoil the moment. That trike, it’s saved us many times, and while his leukemia has never fully gone away, we’ve learned to live with it.”
“When we first got the trike,” Terry noted, “many people looked down on us. They’d say it wasn’t a real bike. Once, someone in a minivan yelled at us, ‘Get a real bike.’ I’ll be honest, I ripped into him for speaking bullshit without knowing the facts. He tried to apologize, and I told him I didn’t want sympathy. What I want is for people to think before they speak. You never know someone’s struggles, so don’t judge.”
Paul’s been fighting the molecular enemy for over 10 years now. It’s been rough, but he’s been kicking cancer’s ass. But then in May 2019, their world got rocked again. “We went to the hospital thinking he had a kidney stone,” Terry said. “But no, it was another cancer diagnosis – adenocarcinoma. This one was worse, I think. The doctors looked really freaked out. Within two weeks of finding out, he was very sick. We had to get that tumor out of him, there was no choice.”
Already on daily chemo for leukemia, treatment with another type of chemo was added to fight the adenocarcinoma. And chemo isn’t cheap, even if you have insurance. “It’s kind of ironic,” Terry told me, “It helps you live longer, but it costs a fortune with huge out of pocket expenses. But I’ve always said, ‘I would sell the furniture’ if I must to pay for it.”
Ride the Wind Until Cancer Can’t Catch You
Throughout the battle with cancer they’ve been fighting together, the one thing they’ve held onto is riding. “Getting on the bikes, you forget about it,” Paul choked out. “When you ride the wind, cancer can’t catch you.”
Terry added, “You feel alive and happy. Your soul is set free. When you stop, reality sets in, but that memory of the ride carries you through to the next one. It gives you confidence knowing that you can do this, and you know that on the next ‘good day,’ you’ll be able to ride again.”
Heading to Sturgis 2020 is the dream they’re hanging onto right now. “We have a wish to get well enough to go to Sturgis” Terry confided. “Having a goal helps get you through the rough stuff. We had the most amazing time out there before, and it’s truly a spiritual place. The roads, history, and natural scenery are awe inspiring, and the rally is so big. The Sturgis Rally also takes place on our wedding anniversary. We wanted to go in 2018 for our 30th, but the cost of medication wiped us out. Life gets in the way sometimes, but I’ve been trying hard to save so we can go. I’ll do everything in my power to make it a reality for Paul!”
As I’m writing this, Terry just let me know that Paul’s doctors are concerned. They’re worried the current treatment for the adenocarcinoma may make the leukemia grow worse. “It freaked Paul and I both,” she told me. “We have literally broken the bank to get this far; financially, and Paul physically.”
When I asked them what they’d like to share with other riders going through similar battles, their answer was this: “Always have a goal. Once you reach it, get another. Live each moment you have the best way possible. Cry, breathe, laugh and, most of all, live!”
Their fight isn’t over. So, if you think of it, send these fellow riders some good thoughts or prayers. And if you have an encouraging word, send us a message at Thunder Press and we’ll get it to them.