Six years ago, he arrived at Duke University with a brain tumour. Now, Tony MacEachern is walking home without one.
The world class athlete and former Linden resident, who now lives in Florida, is nearing the end of a 750-mile 35-day walk aimed at raising money for the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumour Centre at Duke, where he had his own successful surgery. MacEachern has been cancer-free for two years.
"The walk has gone very well," said MacEachern, in a recent e-mail to The Citizen. "The weather has been a challenge at times. I've had 92 degree heat, some of the worst lightning storms I've seen, and, one morning, I could see my breath."
Mr. MacEachern now lives in Sarasota, Fla. with his wife, Jody, and works at Village Bikes, and a local bike shop and coffee bar that serves as a clubhouse for local cyclists, triathletes and adventure racers. He has competed as an athlete for his entire life in such sports as mountain biking, track and field and adventure racing.
It was after completing the 2002 Raid Gauloises, a grueling 16-day adventure race in Vietnam, that Mr. MacEachern was diagnosed with brain cancer. What started out as a mysterious seizure while riding his bike turned into the discovery of a large tumour on the right side of his brain called an anaplastic astrocytoma.
Surgery removed the tumour, but he lost 95 per cent of his left peripheral vision, thereby losing the ability to comfortably ride a bike. Still a competitive athlete, and alive years beyond the expectations and predictions of many doctors, he continues to celebrate life surrounded by a support group of family and friends that he calls "Team Tony."
A few years ago, he embarked on a 170-mile trek across Florida on his eight-day journey. But that was just the beginning.
"I met hundreds of new people and learned from them," he said. "I began to see the walk as a way to touch people from many backgrounds and to 'pay it forward' and help others in the way that so many had helped me in dealing with my challenges."
On April 25, six years after his first diagnosis with brain cancer and two years after being declared cancer free, Mr. MacEachern left Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, N.C. on his "Walk of Life" home to Sarasota, with a plan of logging 21 miles per day. The team arrived in Stark, Fla. on Monday, 30 days into the walk. Despite some unexpected foot problems (a deep tissue blister,) he seemed undaunted by the rigourous journey.
"Cancer for me at one point might have been a curse, but now it is a cause," said Mr. MacEachern, who said he has received tremendous support along the way, and the experience has renewed his reassurance in people.
The goal is to raise $100,000 for the centre, who he considers himself indebted to for his life, to help enable them to do for others what they did for him, he explained. The second part of the goal is to meet more people, share his experience with him, and learn about their own adventures.
"My brother is such an inspiration and my hero," said his sister, Nicole MacEachern, a Halifax photographer who has joined her brother for his journey and been documenting it all along. "We all need heroes and inspiration, especially when fighting cancer."
After losing their parents at a young age, Nicole and Tony were raised by their grandparents, Wilfred and Florence Finley of Linden, and attended high school in Pugwash.
The walk will finish on June 6, after which Mr. MacEachern plans to take a year off, and then possibly share his experiences of what he has learned over the past seven years during his cancer battle.
For more information on the Walk of Life, and to learn how to support the campaign, visit the website www.teamtony.org.