RELATED LINKSAdventure Treatment
-- Official Web site of the hike.American Cancer Society
-- ACS Web site.
For an instant, while he was mountain biking last summer, Steve Beggs forgot that he'd ever had cancer.
At one point during his ride, Beggs felt something on his hip, and reached down with his hand to discover what it was.
It was his urostomy bag.
The fall before, Beggs had had a radical cystoprostatectomy, a procedure to remove a cancerous tumor that also cost Beggs his bladder and prostate. That meant that Beggs' urine is collected in a tiny bag he wears on his waist.
But during his ride, he forgot all about the medical encumbrance. That realization convinced Beggs once and for all that his life would not be any different from that of anyone who'd never had cancer.
Beggs, 24, is going to prove that again this summer, and he hopes that his story is going to reach a wider audience. On May 10, Beggs and two college friends, Mike Adamo and Blaine Garrison, will set out from Springer Mountain, Ga., to hike the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail in four months. The group is being sponsored by the American Cancer Society, and they hope to raise as much as $100,000 to donate to the ACS. They hope also to raise awareness that cancer survivors like Beggs can lead normal, active lives.
Beggs, an animated and wiry young man with short-cropped curly hair and clear blue eyes, exudes the physical and mental confidence that an Appalachian Trail hike requires.
It's not an easy feat. Only about 300 people out of the roughly 2,000 who set out to hike the entire trail each year actually make it, according to the Appalachian Trail Conference. Barely 4,000 have ever completed the entire hike, either all at once or in sections.
And not only do Beggs and his friends hope to tackle the whole trail, they hope to do it faster than anyone else this year, completing the hike in just four months. That means hiking about 25 miles every day, each carrying about 30 pounds of supplies over the rugged, mountainous terrain of the 14 states the trail winds through.
He first considered the idea to hike the trail in 1994. As a freshman at James Madison University, Beggs and Adamo would frequently take day hikes along the trail. But Beggs admits that back then, the idea was just a "pipe dream."
Over the next three years, Beggs' chances of hiking the Appalachian Trail didn't get any better. In the summer of 1994, doctors found a baseball-sized tumor in Beggs' pelvic area. They removed it, and found that it was benign. But two years later, in 1996, doctors found another tumor, in the same place. Again Beggs had surgery, and again, everything went fine.
But two months later, Beggs' doctor found another tumor, again in the same spot. This time, the doctors had different news: Beggs had cancer.
After a course of radiation treatment to reduce the size of the tumor, Beggs had the cystoprostatectomy in October of 1997.
The following summer, while Beggs continued his recovery, Adamo and Garrison began discussing an Appalachian Trail hike while they prepared to attend another year at JMU. Garrison and Adamo decided to get Beggs involved and give the hike a cause. "With his cancer, if we could pull that in, [we could] make it a little more meaningful ... than a bunch of slackers out there hiking," Garrison says.
Beggs was all for it. "I thought it could be a pretty inspiring endeavor," he says.
That fall, the group began planning the trip. Garrison contacted the American Cancer Society, and the organization agreed to help out with publicity, mailings, and fund raising.
"It's a great event for us, in terms of talking about how there is hope in a cancer diagnosis," says Judy Miller, the ACS's assistant communications director.
Beggs, who is a clerk for Episcopal Bishop Peter Lee, and Adamo and Garrison, are busy assembling equipment and getting in shape for the arduous hike. They are following an exercise regimen laid out by Adamo, who is finishing his graduate degree in exercise science. They plan to update their progress on the group's Web site, complete with pictures from a donated digital camera.
Garrison estimates that they've already raised about $3,000 for the ACS, and he's optimistic that they'll reach their $100,000 goal by trail's end. "It coming along," he says. "[We have] four more months while we're on the trail to raise money."
Beggs can't wait to get started. His doctors gave him a completely clean bill of health last month, and he's been able to bike, run, and even surf and snorkel in the aftermath of his surgery.
"I didn't think I'd be able to fulfill an active lifestyle. That's turned out not to be true," Beggs says with a wide smile. "I hope people look at us and have faith that things are going to work out. It's not an easy thing to deal with, but it's