Sitting out this year’s Toys for Tots: Not what I wanted, but…

The surgeon who sliced and diced my arm ruled out riding motorcycles for a while because of the many stitches attempting to hold a long incision together.
Toys for Tots ride in Salem, Vinton and Roanoke from a previous year.

On a Sunday in early December of each year, many of us who ride motorcycles gather at the Lowes hardware store in Salem for the annual ride in support of the Toys for Tots program of the Marine Corps with help in this area from the Roanoke Harley Owners Group,

As a longtime Harley rider and HOG member, I usually serve as a road captain, helping keep traffic cleared along the parade route that runs through Salem on Main Street, down Orange Avenue in Roanoke, down U.S. 460, then through Vinton on Virginia 24, which turns into Elm Street and then a short hop on the U.S. 220 Expressway to Virginia 419 and on to the old General Electric plant back in Salem.

Rain or shine, cold or warm, we have hundreds of bikes that take the ride and — with luck — do so each year without problems.

Sadly, I cannot ride with the crew this Sunday because of stitches in my left arm from surgery thee days ago to remove a long slice of two layers of skin tissue afflicted by carcinoma — a form of skin cancer. The operation Thursday was my fourth in six weeks on the same arm as cancer kept returning after each attempt to remove it.

If this operation does not remove all cancer, my next treatment will be chemotherapy.

Skin ailments have been only cancer found on my body in my 71 years and I hope it remains that way. Carcinoma is worse than basil cell, which is more common, but not as bad as melanoma. At least that is what I’m told.

The surgeon who sliced and diced my arm ruled out riding motorcycles for a while because of the many stitches attempting to hold a long incision together.

“Take it easy for a while,” he said. “Don’t push anything.”

That’s hard advice for a man who has spent most of his life pushing the limit on just about everything. Pushing helped me graduate a year early from high school and allowed me to become the youngest full-time reporter at The Roanoke Times at age 17. Pushing to hide the fact that I had not completed my expected college education in an agreed-upon time also left me looking for a new job five years later. Fortunately, a file full of clips and a binder of photographs got me a new job right away in Illinois.

Pushing gave me new jobs, new responsibilities, and new challenges. It also got me fired twice for pushing the limits too far but I always seem to have another job waiting. Pushing got me assignments to trouble spots around the world to put my writing and photographic skills to use for news reporting. It also brought injuries from a helicopter crash, an explosion that was too close and shrapnel that remains in my back.

Yet I have received injuries and downtime from collisions from a high school lineman who ran over me on the sidelines at a football game I was photographing here in Southwestern Virginia or a cheerleading pyramid that fell on me at another game or the cow-motorcycle crash in 2012 while returning from shooting photos at a football playoff game in November 2012. The stitches in my left arm last week caused me to cut short photographing a Lady Buffaloes basketball match Friday night.

The pain in the arm after that game convinced me to follow the doctor’s advice not to try and ride my motorcycle for the Toys for Tots ride Sunday.

Maybe I’m not as pushy as I used to be or maybe I’m just more brittle from old age.

Questions to ponder at another time.

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