BYU student, alum bike to raise awareness of oral cancer

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Two men, 40 days, 3,000 miles and one goal: raise awareness of oral cancer.

Kyle Nelson, a 24-year-old BYU student majoring in psychology, and his brother-in-law, BYU alumni Richard Huffaker, are biking across the country to support a cause they love. The duo left from the base of the Washington Memorial in Washington, D.C., July 2 and headed to Oregon, hoping to make the journey in 40 days.

[media-credit name=”Michael Caruso” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
Kyle Nelson (left) and Richard Huffaker (right) at the Washington Monument
Nelson’s father also biked across the country 46 years ago and was the inspiration for Nelson to do a trip of his own. He suggested the idea to Haffaker, who agreed to join him.

“Wanting more from our trek than bulging calf muscles, we took a cause close to my heart and decided to ride for oral cancer,” Huffaker said on their website, tourdecancer.org.

Huffaker recently graduated from a head and neck surgical fellowship at Columbia Ear, Nose and Throat, or CENTA, medical group in Indianapolis. He worked as an Otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT, and frequently performed surgery to remove tongues, jaws and other parts of the body affected by cancer.

Doctors and dentists can often detect cancerous tissue while it is still very small and easy to treat. However many people confuse it for a common canker sore and ignore the problem until it becomes serious because they don’t know the early warning signs. Nelson and Huffaker are hoping to change that with their bike trip.

“The goal is for them to have this adventure, but also raise awareness for oral cancer as well,” said Kaitlin Caruso, public relations representative for the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Nelson and Huffaker started preparing a few months before their trip by gathering all the equipment they would need.

“I didn’t really train,” Nelson said. “I just kind of got everything.”

After doing a few test rides to make sure they had everything they needed, Nelson and Huffaker flew with their bikes to Washington, D.C., to begin their journey.

The first few days of the trip, the duo quickly became acquainted with high temperatures and rolling hills.

“I think we drank 15-20 liters of water a day,” Nelson said.

They decided to opt for a more self sufficient route and have no support vehicle follow them. All the equipment is carried on their bikes and they take care of most of the bike maintenance themselves, only going to bike shops if they need assistance. They ride mostly on the highways, using the wider shoulder to avoid cars. But a few semi trucks have gotten close enough that Nelson guesses he could have high-fived the drivers.

Most nights Nelson and Huffaker camp wherever they can find a place, often setting up their tent behind Presbyterian churches.

“They have nice lawns,” Richard said.

Nelson said they know it’s time to find a hotel when people start to back away when he and Huffaker approach. They stay in a hotel about once every three days to shower and wash clothes.

On multiple occasions, Nelson and Huffaker have been offered food, water and even a place to stay for the night from complete strangers.

“The coolest thing about this trip is the generosity people have,” Nelson said.

The bikers said one woman gave them directions to get to a restaurant and, after they left, she sent someone after them to make sure they were able to eat. Since the restaurant had already closed, Nelson and Huffaker were invited back to the woman’s house for dinner.

About halfway through their journey, Nelson explained some of the difficulties of the trip.

“(The hardest part is riding a) straight road for miles and you have nothing to think about but how far you have to go,” he said.

Despite the long, and sometimes grueling, rides that face them everyday, Nelson and Huffaker remain positive by joking and laughing with each other. They have already gained more than bulging calf muscles from their journey.

“What I’ll take away from this is the idea that I can do hard things,” Kyle said. “No matter what happens, if I keep chipping away, I can achieve anything I want.”

Follow Nelson and Huffaker’s cross country adventure by following them on Twitter, @tourdecancer, or visit their website, tourdecancer.org. To learn more about oral cancer see the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website, oralcancer.org.

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