At 16 years old, Catherine Nester was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, that she would battle for the next three years. Now at 22 years old, Nester has been recovering from nerve damage to her legs and ankles following treatment.
Nester, a junior at Elon University, is preparing to tackle her next challenge — a 4,000-mile bike ride across the United States over 50 days. She is set to embark on her cross-country ride on June 20, 2021.
The ride is something Nester said she has always wanted to do, but at one point during her treatment didn’t seem possible.
“I would just focus on just getting myself to be able to walk or climb stairs,” Nester said. “So at that point, I was like, ‘OK, maybe that’s not a realistic thing for me to do anymore.’”
After years of rehabilitation, Nester said her body feels ready to make the trek from Baltimore to San Francisco.
“It’s definitely just going to be a total challenge of willpower,” she said. “Just forcing yourself to keep pedaling when it feels like you can’t anymore.”
It’s a feeling Nester knows already.
“I’ve already proven to myself that I can keep going when it’s really hard, that I can do hard things and really fight to keep going no matter what the obstacle is,” she said. “So I feel like if I beat cancer I can definitely bike across the country. I feel like that’s something I get to do versus in my past there’s so many hard things that I’ve had to do.”
15 to 39-year-olds make up 5% of all cancer patients in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Nester is riding and raising money for the Ulman Foundation, a non-profit that supports teenagers and young adults with cancer — a demographic she said faces unique challenges.
“I was being treated in a hospital made for really catered to pediatrics and catered to kids,” Nester said. “[The Ulman Foundation] helped me find scholarships for college, helped me get Christmas gifts for my family when I had to quit my job, just all sorts of resources and just support for what I think what’s often a really overlooked population of cancer patients.”
Nester said the one thing that will keep her pedaling across the United States is thinking of patients like her 16-year-old self.
“When I’m on day 25 or whatever and crossing through the Colorado mountains, when I can’t go any longer,” Nester said, “I get to think about all the people that I’m going to help and why this means so much to me.”