Fulfilling Big Dreams in the Big Apple and Beyond: Phil’s Story (2 of 5)

by Alice Blackmore

On the first Sunday in May, 32,000 bicyclists gathered in Lower Manhattan at 7:30 in the morning to begin their 40-mile ride through the five boroughs of New York City. The TD Five Boro Bike Tour is the second-largest bike race in the world. In the spectacular sea of yellow helmets was a small team of cyclists riding to raise money for Livestrong. Phil Toomey, whom we met in a previous blog post titled An Ordinary Guy Living an Extraordinary Life, and the Livestrong team raised more than $18,000!

Man with bicycle in New York City
Phil at the TD Five Boro Bike Tour

Phil began running marathons around the world to raise money for Livestrong in 2013. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he used his story to help others in treatment. He arrived early before race day to visit oncology departments so he could talk about his faith and how it related to cancer. He added that “When you walk in the door and say I’m fighting cancer and have run 50 marathons, people listen. The experience gives the message depth, and long-distance endurance events tracks the fight every cancer warrior intimately knows.”

Phil’s running days ended with a hip replacement in 2020, so he began cycling. This May’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour was the first in the series of five cycling events he has planned for this year. Phil spoke at the Livestrong team happy hour the day before the ride, telling others, “I look at my cancer as a blessing. It has allowed me to understand others and the battles being fought as they go through their cancer journey.” He shared one of his greatest motivations with his teammates: “I am riding for those cancer warriors who can’t.”

Cycling team on streets of New York City
The Livestrong team at the TD Five Boro Bike Tour

His next race, the Tahoe Trail 100, takes place in July, where Phil will ride through pine forests with stunning views of Lake Tahoe and an almost 4,500-foot elevation gain. The Tahoe Trail 100 is part of the Leadville series, a group of preliminary races for people (like Phil) who are in training for the 100-mile Leadville Trail 100 MTB in August. Phil is humbled to be a part of Livestrong’s charity team racing at Leadville.

Participating in events like these is Phil’s way of honoring those who are living with cancer while supporting an organization that aids cancer survivors in practical ways. Cancer never gives up, and for Phil, “the fight is personal.” In October 2022, an MRI detected some new spots on Phil’s prostate. His cancer had “come back strong,” and he had brachytherapy radiation in November.

It was hard not to feel beaten. However, Phil soon found comfort in a fellow cancer survivor who shared his story at Livestrong’s 25th anniversary event, giving him a fresh perspective on life. Phil remembers how this man told a room full of survivors and supporters about his cancer journey and prognosis, which at the time was “only a few more months to live. It was one of those kick in the pants to quit feeling sorry for myself.” Phil got back on the bike.

“This is the bad-ass attitude Livestrong has toward cancer and that steels the inner soul for the days ahead. Their attitude is, ‘So, you’ve got cancer? What’s the next indicated step? How can we help? No chance to wallow in self-pity.’”

Livestrong focuses on the practical issues of living life with cancer, prioritizing a person-centered approach to the disease. Services include personalized navigation, fertility preservation, and solution grants to cutting-edge organizations which address the daily problems that make life with cancer even more complicated. Livestrong needs your help so they can continue to help others. In Phil’s words, his goal is to “highlight the organization, and be passionate about its mission so that it never disappears.”

Since his original diagnosis, Phil has learned many valuable lessons. Shawn, one of Phil’s friends, was a musician diagnosed with brain cancer after experiencing a seizure while performing onstage. Phil heard about his admission to an intensive care unit in Los Angeles, so he snuck in to visit him. He told Shawn, “I will walk with you for as long as this journey lasts, but there are three things Livestrong taught me and that you must promise to do. First, you can’t play the victim and say, ‘Why me?’ Second, you must be as knowledgeable as the doctors on your treatment options. You must take responsibility and own your decisions. Thirdly, you must pour your life into someone else.” About eighteen months later, when speaking at his funeral, Phil realized that it was he who Shawn had entrusted in fulfilling the latter. “Experiencing the mystery that in sharing the sufferings of others means sharing in the glory of God.”

2 men in hospital, friends
Shawn and Phil

And that is the message Phil has for you about Livestrong. “When you give to Livestrong, you are doing much more than simply helping others. You are making the fight personal and will receive back more than you gave in ways you currently do not see or expect.” Phil is gearing up for his upcoming races this summer, including Leadville Trail 100 MTB, where he will be raising money for Livestrong as a charity participant. You can support him here.

Stay tuned for Phil’s third blog post at the end of July. We will catch up with him after the Tahoe race and see how he’s faring with his busy training schedule. We will also learn the history of the Leadville races and discover why Phil calls this upcoming race in August, “my misogi.


About Livestrong Events

When you participate in a Livestrong event, you are helping cancer patients access Livestrong survivorship programs and services. Whether you choose to bike, run, or walk, dedicate your miles to a loved one who has battled this disease. Challenge yourself. Challenge cancer. Challenge accepted? View our full 2023 event lineup.

About the Author

Alice Blackmore is a freelance writer who uses her nursing expertise to craft blog posts and health articles that resonate with readers around the world. When she is not writing, she is hiking, running, kayaking, or just hanging out with family. Read more of Alice’s work at InsightfulNursing.com.

Fulfilling Big Dreams in the Big Apple and Beyond: Phil’s Story (2 of 5) was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.