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Manhattan Tales: A Trip To The Wilderness

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Published: Jan 12, 2012 1:33 pm

In the summer of 2009, six months before being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, my wife and I toured the Crater Lake area in Oregon by bicycle. 

The group we were in was small -- only four bikers -- as a third couple had bailed at the last minute, and we were in (hopefully) the deepest part of the Great Recession.  

On the last morning of the week-long trip, we began a 45-mile descent to our luncheon spot.  We were biking on isolated two-lane back roads, hemmed in by green forests.  Forestfires had been reported which restricted traffic to bikers and firefighters. The wildlife, though, apparently hadn’t gotten the message. 

Some 15 miles from our destination, as I was intensely concentrating on the downhill road and making sure I wasn’t going too fast (my personal limit was 30 mph). The peace was broken when a huge, 350- to 400-pound bear crashed out on the right side of the forest and raced diagonally across the road and passed no more than 10 yards in front of me.

Dirt, straw, leaves, and a pungent zoo smell followed him.  He sprinted into the forest on the other side of the road without a glance.  Something had clearly startled him to cause him to plunge across the road at what seemed an unbelievably fast speed to me. 

To say I was stunned is, of course, an understatement.  I don’t really comprehend how I didn’t fall off the bike. I looked over my shoulder and saw that a beautifully decorated Native American firefighter truck was just about to pass me on the left.  The driver and I exchanged a brief glance.  Perhaps he was as startled to see me as I was to see the bear.  

As one of my fellow bikers said later, if I had hit the bear (or he hit me) it certainly would not have been pretty.   The headline certainly would not have read “Bear Felled by New York City Tourist.”  I met up with the rest of the group 30 minutes later at a roadblock, where I learned that yes, indeed, bears had been sighted in the area.  It was a great story to regale to my friends when the trip was over!    

I’m not superstitious by nature.  Nevertheless, when ruminating six months later with a multiple myeloma diagnosis, it was tough not to take the near miss with the bear as a sign.  

I’ve had several additional risky encounters over the last two years, but these I attribute to the insidious side effects of steroids, and not to wildlife.   Life is indeed full of hidden dangers.  

When I started to take the medicines for multiple myeloma two years ago, the nurse practitioners and my doctor discussed at length the possible physical side effects.  

I remember being told that pianists, violinists, and other musicians might want to stop Velcade (bortezomib) at the first sign of peripheral neuropathy in their hands – tingling, burning or numbness -- but with any luck my cocktail of Revlimid (lenalidomide), Velcade, and dexamethasone (Decadron) would not pose any major hurdles. 

I did the required reading and felt that I could certainly manage these risks.  I’d be on the lookout for leg swelling, stomach problems, and all the other issues listed on the inserts in the packaging.  After recovering from the bout of pneumonia that led to the diagnosis, I felt optimistic. 

I plunged into the chemotherapy regimen and went back to being a legal counselor to the New York City Buildings Commissioner.

A lot of surprises awaited me, some as startling as the bear.

Stephen Kramer is a multiple myeloma patient and columnist at The Myeloma Beacon.

If you are interested in writing a regular column for The Myeloma Beacon, please contact the Beacon team at .

Photo of Stephen Kramer, columnist at The Myeloma Beacon.
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  • Sean Murray said:

    Myeloma, Bicycles and Bears - OH MY! Thanks for a great story, Stephen. I look forward to learning more about your MM journey and I hope that you adeptly navigate those myeloma dangers that you meet in your path. Be well!

  • Lori Puente said:

    Have had our fair share of close calls with bears! But yours sounds a bit more like the one where I almost stepped on a rattlesnake (rather large one) when I turned back to talk to someone while continuing to walk on the well beaten trail! :)

  • Kent Bradley said:

    We laughingly refer to solo bicyclists we see in the wilderness as "meals on wheels" for bears. It could just as easily have been a moose or an elk. Same result. Best wishes with your treatment protocol. Thanks for sharing your column with us.

  • Nancy S. said:

    Bears, moose and elk! Coyotes, cougars and lynx! All sighted around here... had a lovely deer with antlers drinking out of a fountain in my back yard last fall, and a young moose wandered onto our street a few years ago, quite lost. A big bear ran right in front of our vehicle once on the Trans Canada Highway near Revelstoke...a narrow miss for the bear, who ran across several lanes of traffic. I remember walking around the corner on a trail in Jasper and there were several really large elk...of course one just carefully backs away...no harm done. Banff has lots of elk about also. And we have encountered bears while hiking..from a distance! Glad to hear you did not run into the bear, that would have been a real mess. Maybe put a bell on the handlebars on for corners.. The bell is more for alerting joggers and cyclists that you are approaching, but sometimes you see wildlife along the riverbank! Looking forward to reading more of your interesting journey...

  • Kevin J said:

    Riding in Grand Rapids, MI, I don't get too many bears (though one was just hit by a car about a half mile from where I live), but I have had many encounters with deer. Had one run out of the woods and run parallel with me for about 30-40 yards before it ran back in the woods. Also had police cars and helicoptors buzzing all around one time while they searched for a fugitive that had just killed seven people - found out later he had been within a mile or so of where I was riding. Always an adventure.

  • Stephen Kramer said:

    Luckily for me this Oregon bear was more frightened than I was -- but who knows of what -- he (or she) certainly was not frightened by me. Next time I hope that I'll stay in the pack instead of being the laggard. I like to attribute my slow biking on that trip to the myeloma cells that undoubtedly were smoldering in my bloodstream! Of course, the slowness might have been old age.... I'm surely not getting any faster. But here in Manhattan we have other varmints which we must be wary of.

  • Kevin J said:

    Summer & fall of 2010, I was attributing biking slower and having trouble keeping up with my daughter to getting older. This past summer & fall, after several cycles of treatment and getting to VGPR, my speeds were back up and my daughter was again working to keep up with me. Nice to know I'm not getting old as fast as I thought (though the MM has been a bummer).

  • Pat Pendleton said:

    Bears are sometimes regarded as divine messengers. What a wonderful story!