Cross-country cyclist leaves cancer behind

Mike Cohen, center, was joined by his parents and brother at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s Monter Cancer Center when he arrived to thank Steven Allen, MD, for saving his life.

For some, riding a bicycle is a simple hobby. For Mike Cohen, a 27-year-old native of Levittown, who now resides in San Diego, biking is a personal statement of triumph and a call to action to other young cancer survivors.

Mr. Cohen recently cycled from San Diego to New York State, finishing his journey — and celebrating eight cancer-free years — at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s Monter Cancer Center, where he thanked the oncologist who helped save his life, Steven Allen, MD.

In January 2004, when he was 18 years old, Mr. Cohen was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a disease affecting the blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes. His treatment involved many cycles of intensive chemotherapy for about six months to achieve remission, followed by maintenance therapy. During Mr. Cohen’s two years of chemotherapy, he also survived congestive heart failure, a pulmonary embolism and pneumonia. The doctors told him it would be hard but that there was hope.

Mr. Cohen moved to San Diego to attend culinary school and finish his treatments. During much of his illness, he wondered about his next steps. So he wrote a book entitled Patient and he started a web site — Then, he decided to celebrate his eight cancer-free years in a really big way by bicycling across the country.

After a brief stop at his parents’ home in New Jersey, Mr. Cohen completed the last leg of his 3,132-mile trip this past spring, arriving at the Monter Cancer Center to greet Dr. Allen.

This trip to the center was different, he noted. “Before, I always had an appointment with Dr. Allen or he came to see me in the hospital. This trip,” he said, “was on my terms. I wanted to prove to people that they should never give up on their dreams.” Dr. Allen eagerly awaited Mr. Cohen’s arrival with his parents and other family members. And what did Dr. Allen have to say to the young patient who jumped off his bike to greet him? “Mike,” said Dr. Allen, with a huge smile on his face, “you’re 10 minutes late!”

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