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For PMC riders, fight is personal

Desire to find cancer cure fuels finish of day one

A rider supporting stem cell research pulled in for a lunch break on Saturday during the 34th annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge.

Colm O’Molloy for The Boston Globe

A rider supporting stem cell research pulled in for a lunch break on Saturday during the 34th annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge.

BOURNE — Janeen Parave’s participation in the 34th annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge is two things: a form of revenge on her cancer and an effort to prevent others from suffering in the future.

“It’s a little bit to prove to myself that I can do it,” she said, minutes after riding into Bourne Saturday. “But I also met other women with cancer that I’ve become really good friends with. And it really just made me mad. I was very, very angry that it’s happening to so many young people.”

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For Parave and other riders and volunteers in the PMC, the quest to find a cure for cancer is deeply personal. For them, the two-day, 190-mile ride — this year, by 5,506 cyclists — is a way to strike back at a disease that has afflicted them, their families, or both.

The PMC raises money for cutting-edge cancer research and has quickly become the largest athletic fund-raiser in the country. If the group reaches its goal of $38 million this year as expected, it will push the PMC’s total of Jimmy Fund donations since its inception to $413 million.

With sponsors and registration fees covering the event’s costs, all of the money raised by riders goes directly to research, organizers said.

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Parave, a 44-year-old Nantucket resident, had donated to the ride for years before getting a diagnosis of breast cancer in January 2012. While doctors were preparing Parave for chemotherapy, they discovered she also had ovarian cancer, a particularly deadly form of the disease that is often asymptomatic until it’s too late for treatments to help.

After successfully completing radiation treatments last November, Parave decided to ride in this year’s PMC. She rolled into Bourne late Saturday afternoon, exhausted but excited about finishing the ride in Provincetown Sunday.

A team sponsored by the Boston Red Sox was riding in honor of Ryan Keleher, a 10-year-old with advanced-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The group stopped along the race course in Lakeville to meet up with Keleher at the Jimmy Fund Clinic, an encounter that saw inspiration flow two ways.

“Whenever Ryan’s around the riders, he’s always excited and happy to see them,” said Thomas Keleher, Ryan’s father. “And the riders are inspired by him and how he’s progressing and handling his treatment. It makes the ride more personal for them. They’re doing this for him.”

Ryan Keleher is set to start radiation treatment Monday, his father said, and doctors expect the boy to be in full remission in about two months.

After a 2012 ride beset by high temperatures, Saturday’s overcast and relatively cool conditions were a relief, said several riders.

Volunteers and riders at the PMC wear badges bearing their names and the number of years they’ve been involved. At the staging area in Bourne, wide-eyed rookie riders nudged each other to point out passing veterans with badges indicating 12, 17, and even 21 years of service.

“The long-term rider built this event,” said PMC executive director and founder Billy Starr, who also rides in the event. “We never spent a dime on advertising for riders. It was always, I bring someone, and next year that guy brings someone. That word of mouth gives us credibility.”

Organizers said that about 80 percent of riders are returning alumni, each of whom has ridden for an average of about eight years.

The high number of returning volunteers and riders makes the annual event something of a reunion. Lisa Martel is one such familiar face, having volunteered for 17 years. Standing behind a vat of steaming chowder, ladle in hand, she greeted rider after rider by name.

“This means more to me than you could ever believe,” she said, doling out another cup of soup to an exhausted rider. “I look forward to this weekend all year.”

Martel’s mother died of cancer in 1985, and her brother subsequently rode in the PMC for 25 years. She said she is heartened by progress in research.

“Every year we get a little closer to the cure,” she said.

Many riders Saturday wore signs and shirts bearing the names of loved ones who have died from cancer. Others, like Parave, are riding for friends who cannot attend because they are too sick and undergoing treatment.

“So I’m doing it for them right now until they can do it again. Maybe next year I’ll have all my girls back.

“That would be quite a team.”

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.
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