Cycle of life: Two students end cross-country bike ride for cancer cure

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 09:30 PM

Nick Abram’s mom would have celebrated her 52nd birthday on Saturday.

Instead, the Stanford University junior biked from school in California to where he grew up in Durham, a nearly 7,000-mile journey in remembrance of his mother and to raise money to cure the disease that took her.

Abram took the last turn into his neighborhood Saturday and was greeted by family and friends in the front yard, among a “Welcome Home, Nick” sign and streamers strung between the trees.

His adventure with Stanford economics junior Chris Min, whose grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, began July 10. The ride took him through the 110-degree Arizona heat and up and down the mountains of Colorado.

They had no trailer. No car followed them. And they’re not even avid cyclists - they trained only for a month before they began.

They battled dehydration and sickness, they stayed in Vegas, passed rolling fields of windmills near Mojave, ate pretzels and bear claws at a German restaurant, rode through Monterey wine country, and toughed it out through a hail storm on the way to Salida, Colo. They lived in motels and friends’ guest rooms. They couch-surfed or pitched tents.

At the end of the road Saturday in Durham, they calculated that they’d raised almost $4,000 so far for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University.

“While it’s a known fact that sometimes runners get runner's high, I'm pretty sure Chris and I got biker’s high,” Nick wrote on their blog Aug. 8, which chronicled their trip. At this point, they were on the way to Kayenta, Ariz. “We sped through the last 40 miles as adrenaline pumped through us.”

During 11th grade at Phillips Exeter Academy boarding school in New Hampshire, Nick found out his mom was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, ovaries and stomach lining at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Doctors gave her three to six months to live, but she survived more than three years.

“She was a very kind and strong woman,” Nick said. “A lot of people would gather around her.”

Toni, who grew up in Durham, was nicknamed “Miracle Girl” by her family and friends. Even though she was battling multiple forms of cancer, said her widower and Nick’s dad, Mark Abram, she proved the doctors and nurses that she had more to give.

“She helped them see what the naked eye can’t see,” Mark said.

He said that before she passed away May 25, 2012, he would help Nick travel home from school to see her. Their three boys, including Wesley, 18, and Adam, 15, spent time together.

“We never know when our last day is going to be,” Mark said. “I wanted to make sure (they) can stand with each other, back to back, no matter what.”

After she crossed over to the other side, Mark said, Nick went through silent grief. But his philanthropic spirit took hold, and the cross-country bicycle ride took shape. Nick wanted to connect with his mother’s struggles and her love of travel.

Nick said he never once thought about giving up during his journey on two wheels.

“I did this because I wanted to understand my mom’s struggles,” he said. “If she can do chemo, I can bike across the country.”

Visit to donate to the cause and read more about their journey on their blog.