John Fuoco update: A tale of hope from a PBP Ancien

We recently learned that longtime randonneur, doctor, family man and all-around classy guy John Fuoco of Lewistown, Pa. (one of three rando Fuoco brothers) is unable to attend his third PBP this year because of illness.

John has graciously decided to share the details of his lung cancer diagnosis, and, thankfully, the positive outlook for recovery. All this came about after he saw a decline in his strength during the brevets this year and recurring chest colds. Surgery appears successful, but he has to sit out PBP to undergo chemotherapy.

John at the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet. Courtesy Bill Beck.

John also has some great ancien’s advice about enjoying PBP. Let’s all keep John in mind and heed his suggestions. We’re looking forward to riding again with you soon, John!

John with my daughter DF back in 2008

No PBP for me…this time
by John Fuoco
August, 2011

I don’t want to make this too long. Two days after the 600 in early June I was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was the second such pneumonia and was occurring in the same part of my lung as the one back in February when I had to cut short a cross country ski trip due to cough and fever. On that occasion I was right as rain after just a few days of antibiotics. But after the 600 brows knitted and more tests were run. Turns out it was not a simple pneumonia but a case of, well, lung rot. Inflammation, fibrosis and cavitation were seen on cat scan. More tests showed no cancer, no TB, nothing but rot. It would never get better and it had to come out.

I have had a childhood cancer and had received highly damaging radiation treatments to that section of lung when I was five years old. The theory is that it was weakened all along and over the past several years had gotten infected so many times that it was irrevocably injured. I, who seldom need to see a doctor and am reasonably faithful with getting my yearly physical, am floored. In retrospect I’ve had one “chest cold” after another for the past several years. They last three to six weeks and no sooner is one gone than the next one starts. I have not strung two days together without a cough since I don’t remember when.

During the 600 I remember riding comfortably with the front bunch but never feeling perky enough sit on the front and just drill. I was asked if I was alright and had to answer that nothing was wrong (I thought) but I just did not feel that great. In retrospect my top end has been leaving me for quite some time. So on 7/27 I had my right lower lobe removed. The surprise, to me if not to the docs, was that there was indeed cancer present. Though my lymph nodes had no cancer in them and it looked like “they got it all”, I will still have to take chemotherapy to try to reduce the high risk of recurrence.

Naturally this is all crushing news for me. As far as getting back on the bike, or xc skis or whatever, I know that my exercise capacity will be reduced but honestly my primary focus right now is getting over the surgery and then through the chemo. I’ll deal with what comes after when it gets here.

I’ve had to cancel out of the Colorado High Country 1200 and PBP. That last one hits hard. But I wanted to give those of you who are going something. Call it advice, insight, I don’t know. I just want to give you something. And I do not want to write about training, nutrition, or equipment.

Good gravy, you’ve heard enough about that to make your eyes roll back in your heads. So here goes:

Tell your story
Even if this is your first PBP or your first 1200 you are now, through qualifying, full of rando adventure stories. Share them freely. Tell them over and over. By the third day you may be making s**t up. So what. We are all about helping each other get through. I love telling tales of past exploits and foibles and love hearing them. Allow yourself to be entertained by rando stories from around the world. Let this 3-4 day roll be a real treat.

Wear the flag
How bout we let em know where we’re from. Don’t hide the red-white and blue in you. In this multinational event a major source of energy will be the pride you have in being an American. It will sail you down the road, showing good form and a strong, smooth style, all because you, yeah you, are representing your country. You will see most other riders wearing their flags too. Talk to them. Find out where their strength comes from. Share in it.

Go, go, go!
Whether you have chosen the 80, 84, or 90 hour groups, make no mistake: PBP is all about riding your bike. Stopping should be only a means to keep going. PBP is all set up for you to ride, ride, ride. My strategy has been to sleep when I have to, eat when I have to. And you will have to eat. In fact you eat so much so often that you get tired of it. This can be a real problem further into the ride. How can I need to eat when I just ate a full meal? Who cares. Just eat.

How much sleep? Enough. Enough that you are not falling asleep on the bike. The ride itself is one big adrenalin rush. And a little sleep deprivation provides excellent fodder for a juicy hallucination or two. Makes for great stories for the next ride.

In my two PBPs I finished early enough to get a night’s sleep at the finish and go back and watch the last of the 90 hour people finishing the next day. Though they were truly happy and celebratory, they looked just as tired and tortured as I did on much less rest. So ride, my friends, ride.

Ride with those other guys
Ever do a tour or brevet in which you see a tightly knit group of riders who are clearly riding together? You will see plenty of that at PBP. The really cool thing is that you can check it out. Yeah, just get in there and stroke along silently with the group. After a few miles and a few word exchanges you will be their new foster child. You will learn where they are from, what their plan is, how they all got in this together. When you do eventually bow out it will be with regrets.

My favorite such experience was in ’03 when I found myself in the midst of a group of Frenchmen who spoke no English. I learned their unique pace (go hard up hill and freewheel down), their pattern of rotation (no formal paceline but when you found yourself on the front you stayed there for 5-10 minutes, no more no less), and who was the boss. There was clearly an alpha male present: it was he you had to answer to. Though we could not communicate verbally, my time with them went by in a flash, I had such a good time.

Ignore the squeaks
By now you’ve read about and discussed every conceivable mechanical trip wire in the books. Most of them you’ve neither encountered nor seen. But here’s the rub: you probably won’t see them here either. So after you’ve pulled up to the start with all new cables and tires and threads tightened to so many newtons, remember this: Your bike is much less likely to fail you than you are to fail it.

And just like your body, as the ride wears on, all of its parts will not function so crisp and cleanly. You get some creaks and squeaks and some sloppy shifting (especially if it rains like in 07). But if it still shifts and steers and stops when you want it to, ignore them. Don’t let them bug you. They can ruin your fun.

Listen to advice…
It’s possible you may learn something.

But don’t take it!
Because by now you are a full fledged randonneur. You have what it took to get you this far and that will be enough to get you through. Trust in yourself and your own ability and enjoy the ride.

John Fuoco
PBP ancien 2003, 2007

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7 thoughts on “John Fuoco update: A tale of hope from a PBP Ancien

  1. Great post! John, we all wish you well and a speedy recovery. Though I can count the number of times I have ridden with you (actually, tried to keep up) on one hand, you have always found a way to inspire and motivate me. I’m looking forward to adding to that experience on the other hand. See you soon, my friend.

    p.s. Wonderful advice for the PBP riders. They know you will be riding with them in spirit.

  2. Hey John – great, inspirational writing as usual. So sorry to hear that you’re out of commission for a while, but I wish you all the best for a speedy and full recovery. I really look forward to riding with you again (next season?) Please keep us all posted on your recovery.

  3. John, sorry you can’t make PBP this year either. I decided to bail too, but I had a choice. Hope you come out the other side stronger than before. And don’t worry about reduced “exercise capacity” from a reduction in lung capacity. Take it from someone whose lungs are too small for his body (also by choice, I guess) that you will still enjoy riding your bike, and your non rando friends will still think you are nuts.

  4. Absolutely excellent, the part about the stories. That’s the aftertaste of PBP that lingers on the palette literally for years. I won’t be there this year but I can’t wait to hear the stories. I’m sure you’ll be back there in years to come, perhaps we’ll meet up for a croissant at Sizun and … exchange stories!

    Yr Pal Dr Codfish

  5. John:

    I am so sad to hear of your illness, but so inspired to hear your strong voice and spirit. I don’t want at all to equate what I have experienced to what you are up against, but I, too, have had a health setback that will keep me out of my 4th PBP. I had a heart attack on the 600 km brevet on Memorial Day weekend, just 100 miles away from finishing and qualifying for PBP. Got the helicopter ride, the emergency surgery, and everything.

    Obviously, no PBP for me this year, although I will be traveling there with my wife to provide support to my buddies. John, both of us need to get well and be back at it for 2015.

    A votre sante!

    Dale in Missouri

  6. John, I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve got this fight on your hands. However, having witnessed your unparalleled dedication to your responsibilities in the midst of “distractions” noth in our years at Bishop Egan HS and especially in 1974-75 at Saint Francis College, I know that you’ll prevail and beat this thing. I’m very much in awe of, but not a bit surprised by, the accomplishments you’ve attained not only in your career but your family life and competitive sports undertakings. All the best my old friend. See, some old coots are watching and pulling for you even from some rather old woodwork :)

    Bob McCrindle

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