Three months ago, Michael Murphy had never heard of AXA Community Bike Rides. The Wexford man, now residing in Cork with his wife Denise, and children Caoimhe (16), Dermot (12) and Cormac (9), was more accustomed to a different mode of transport. Working as a truck driver, Michael was used to travelling around the country, albeit on 18 wheels rather than two. That was until a life changing event took him off the roads, as Michael was diagnosed with Metastatic Bowel Cancer. Keen to keep active in spite of this diagnosis, Michael looked to the outdoors. He found himself exploring the country once more, only this time it was on a bike rather than in a truck.
“When I first got the serious cancer diagnosis, I needed a bowel bypass straight away. Then, I was awaiting chemo which I was in great fear of. I had to sign off work sick and in doing so lost my network of work colleagues and most importantly, the second wage coming into the house. When told you have a life-threatening illness you no longer think of the future. It's instantly taken away from you. Retirement, grandkids, an end to the tough money pinching days of having a young family, gone in one consultant meeting.
Left in a cancer limbo, I recovered from the operation and the chemo had little to no effect on me. So, with all the extra time I had, I made the decision to live every day to the fullest and to carry on as normally as I could. Unfortunately, you don't get any warning of cancer so you can't prepare financially, so I'm limited financially in what I can do. Having walked every road in Carrigtwohill where I live and as the weather was improving, I took out my bicycle.
It can take you away from the well-wishers you meet walking, and I would forget all together about the cancer. For every cycle on the road I did, my son Dermot and I would do one on the mountain bikes in the forest close to our house. Seeing me physically active and happy lessened the worry on the rest of the family. It seems silly, but the bicycle was an escape from the new reality we were now living with daily, and it cost nothing, only my time of which I now had loads of.”
Having reignited the love for cycling that he had as a child, Michael stumbled upon AXA Community Bike Rides one day while receiving treatment.
“I got involved with AXA Community Bike Rides after seeing an ad on Instagram while I was sitting attached to a drip receiving chemo and scrolling through my phone. It was so easy to register and to sign up for a ride, I did it straight away. Since joining AXA Community Bike Rides, my day-to-day life is much more fulfilled and seems to have a bit more purpose. I signed up to two solo cycles during the week and in doing so, have the motivation to get out and get off the sofa.
Having my priorities changed since the diagnosis means conversations with work colleagues are less enjoyable and friends are often so focused on my treatment, they never talk of much else so it’s great to have a new outlet. An upcoming ride in two weeks gives me something to look forward to and being physically active means the loss of conditioning I had been warned about never came to pass.”
Michael hasn’t just thrown himself into Solo Bike Rides, he has also linked up with leaders Mark Cronin and Des O’Mahony in Cork and has become an integral part of their Group Rides.
“The group in Cork could not have been any more welcoming. Mark and Des, two truck drivers like myself, are very professional and I’ve watched them help new people who didn't know how to operate their bikes yet in a completely non-judgemental way. Adults of all ages and abilities attend the cycles and electric bikes are as welcome as the carbon fibre lightweight models. Mine is a cheap, old, heavy thing but I don't feel too out of place. When cycling myself I tend to go way too fast, so the slower more social pace was an eye opener to me and much more enjoyable.
I've always had a wish to go on a cycling holiday overseas and by chance or good fortune 11 of the group had booked a trip to France in summer 2022. I've joined up and hopefully if my treatment goes as well as it has been, I'll be off for a week next July. The cycling trip to France was always on my to do list. Unfortunately, now it might be on my bucket list but without AXA Community Bike Rides I would never have gone on one, so I'm so glad I joined that day.”
Looking to the future, Michael’s outlook is both humbling and inspiring, in equal measure.
“I wouldn't like to tell anyone with an illness to look at me as a role model, as each illness is different, and no two patients are the same. The advantages of physical exercise are immeasurable, a simple 30-minute walk can lead to a half hour conversation with someone you otherwise wouldn't have met. Sitting alone with your thoughts all day isn't good for anyone, so get up and do something you would have done before your illness where at all possible.
Life is for living and every morning you wake up is a reason to live, so find something to make you happy and do it. Nice coffee, a sit by the sea or something you do just for you. I find cycling great, and it helps me to put order on the chaos that is my life now. My future is quite uncertain. I may be gone in a year or two or may survive until old age, I have to wait and see. But, in the meantime, AXA Community Bike Rides has been a great distraction and keeps my mind and body going for me, my wife and my three children.
I'd like to advise anyone with a bicycle to join AXA Community Bike Rides. It is free, easy to do and very welcoming. Older people on electric bikes are as welcome as fit, carbon fibre cyclists. The pace of the rides suits the slowest cyclist and high levels of fitness aren't needed. It's about the chat and the journey to get to the coffee stop, so don't put it off.”