As a nationally-ranked cyclist and Olympic hopeful, Cindi Hart was trained to compete like an athlete and beat the odds. When Cindi was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and then launched a second battle against the disease just four years later, the Indianapolis, Indiana resident knew she needed to champion the fight against cancer for others in the midst of their struggle.
Founding Spokes of Hope in 2009, the 57-year-old registered nurse empowers cancer survivors wearing many hats: as a survivor, advocate and friend. Serving patients nationwide by establishing critical connections with “cancer buddies”, Spokes of Hope supports patients with cancer survivors in remission. Emphasizing that cancer isn’t contagious, but that hope is, Cindi is changing the way cancer is perceived and cycling towards the future to empower, unify and inspire cancer survivors.
What inspires you to volunteer?
When I was diagnosed I was really angry, because in my map, this wasn’t supposed to happen. When I was recovering from a double mastectomy, I remembered that’d I’d said a prayer just two months before I found the lumps in my breast. I’d said, “Lord, I give myself to you completely. Please use me as your instrument.” I understood my diagnosis at that point, that this service is what I’m supposed to be doing. You can’t write God a blank check and not expect him to cash it.
Your volunteerism is personal for you. Explain.
I feel like my service is why I’m still alive. That’s why I went through what I went through, so that I can help other people. It’s a huge mission, and one that I’m very passionate about.
Describe your role with Spokes of Hope.
I am a founder and current president of Spokes of Hope. A lot of our service is people power. We are advocating for cancer research, visiting patients in treatment, raising awareness and connecting the newly diagnosed with “cancer veterans” – we call them cancer buddies. We have dozens of volunteers in Indianapolis and around the country that contribute where they can. Helping a current patient can be as simple as escorting them to an appointment. You never want to go alone to your first oncology visit.
How does your passion for cycling intersect with your service?
We hold annual bike rides to raise funds and support for cancer research and patients. In addition, we do a community ride which means we cycle to visit patients in treatment. As a nurse, I’m very comfortable going into hospitals. We visit patients in our cycling uniforms, and it’s miraculous when survivors get together. It’s so uplifting. You can be instant friends because we’ve been down that same path before. We know the pain and the agony of cancer, and we don’t dwell on it. We are helping others in crisis.
As a cancer survivor, what’s your suggestion in talking with someone newly diagnosed?
I have been in remission for eleven years now. We don’t want pity, we want our lives back. The worst thing you can do is say, ‘I am so sorry,’ because to me, that means they just closed the lid on my casket. It’s better to say to a friend, family member or colleague: ‘You have cancer, that stinks. What are we going to do about it?’
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Our first year, we rode our bikes from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., visiting cancer centers. During the ride, we met a woman who said that her best friend was going through treatment, and was scared to death. She asked if we’d go visit her friend to provide her some comfort. The woman was in isolation, but we decided to sing her a song from a distance to lift her spirits. Somebody suggested ‘You are my Sunshine’, and to spell love with our fingers using the numbers 1, 2, 3. Watching us from the porch, the woman was a moon face from the steroids, bald, and wearing an isolation mask. She was visibly affected by our presence. Her friend came to us crying, thanking us for our priceless gift of love when she didn’t know how to help her friend. A year later, we heard from the woman – she was in remission, and joined us on our next bike ride.
What’s a saying you live your life by?
Lance Armstrong stated it best when he spoke of the “obligation of the cured.” Many, including me, who have gone through such an experience feel very passionately that if we can help just one person, it makes our journeys worth it.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Knowing that I made a difference in somebody’s life.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned that the greatest gift is to be able to give to others. To be a facilitator, and to help lift people up out of pain or out of repression.
What’s in the future for Spokes of Hope?
We’re trying to figure out how we can reach out to the most people simultaneously. We’re working on a DVD for cancer patients to prepare before surgery and post-op, to advise them about what they can expect.
How can readers help?
Please visit the Spokes of Hope website for more information about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Cindi Hart? Find local volunteer opportunities.