Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

August 23, 2013

For man, cancer diagnosis not end but beginning

Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Stephen Swift was given 18 months to live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. So what did he do? He embarked on a biking journey that has lasted 17 months.

Since setting out from his hometown of Springfield, Mass., Swift has traveled through Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, California, Washington, Idaho, Kansas and into Illinois, where he stopped in Effingham Monday.

“I’m going to stick my tongue out at Boston General when I get back to Massachusetts in November,” said Swift of Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was diagnosed.

Swift’s journey is a personal voyage to raise people’s awareness and perspective on cancer and the possibilities of life. Swift doesn’t agree with the practice of giving certain amounts of time when diagnosed with cancer.

“It makes people expect their own death, along with sitting around waiting for it,” he said.

Swift has already survived a type of bone cancer in 1998 and after seeing his 6-foot-7-inch, 300-pound father whittle down to 97 pounds from chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, Swift decided to forgo traditional treatment. Although he has lost more than 100 pounds, Swift contends he is beating cancer through a change in diet and the journey he is taking. Swift has no sponsorship or specific cause except to “inspire others.”

“I live off the encouragement from others,” he said. “And I hope I can encourage others also.”

The journey has not been without its tribulations.

Swift spent three days lost in the desert when a road on a map turned into a dirt road near Tombstone, Ariz., he was nearly run over by a drunk driver in Kent, Wash., and his bicycle was stolen in San Diego while another was confiscated by security at a casino in Albuquerque, N.M..

Swift, who has no cellphone or email, said he has experienced vast goodwill along his trek. He has been given quarters at campgrounds and allowed to pitch his tent at hotels, often for very little charge, and almost always receives much love and respect from those he comes across.

“Life is so precious,” said Swift. “So is the love between people.”

The 53-year-old has been able to finance the trip through his construction and landscaping skills.

“I don’t want free stuff from people,” said Swift. “If you have to work, I’d rather take that.”

Swift admits there is one drawback to the journey.

“The only thing I don’t like is the loneliness,” lamented Swift, who lost his wife in a car accident in 2011.    

The deep-tanned traveler carries with him a notebook filled with messages from people he has met along the way. The notebook is filled with well wishes and words of wisdom.

Swift hopes his journey will pull someone from the depths of their own frustrations.

“If there can be a message of hope from my story,” he said. “then let it be so.”

Swift’s message is simple.

“You can still make the most of the life you have,” he said.

“Some people call this a pilgrimage, some people call it a journey,” said Swift. “I just call it a bike ride.”

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com.