When the doctor told Scott Nicholson, “It’s cancer”, he asked his wife Connie one question – What are we going to do?
Yes, there were decisions to make about treatment and surgeries. But ultimately what they chose to do was to continue living fully and to make a difference in the lives of others.
Scott was diagnosed with Liposarcoma, a rare cancer of the soft tissue. A surgery he had took a good portion of muscle from his shoulder blade, but it couldn’t take away his spirit of adventure.
Connie explained, “When his arm became weak from the surgery, he bought a four wheeler with power steering. When using a bow and arrow was too difficult for hunting, he switched to a cross bow that was easier on his muscles. And on an annual Elk hunting trip to Montana with his friends, he took me along to change his dressings and to keep his medication on track.”
Two years and two surgeries later, the couple’s motorcycle rides through places like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida continued as did their trips through Jackson, Wyoming, Montana and onto the Black Hills of South Dakota. “Sometimes we needed to cut back on the miles, but we still rode,” said Connie.
It was that same “seizing the moment” attitude that Scott would display the day he waited for his first radiation treatment after having finished a another series of chemotherapy.
Recognizing a Neighbor’s Need
“We were sitting in the waiting room and talking about his next surgery. As I was looking at a magazine, Scott saw a woman walking out from the chemo treatment area. She had lost her hair and was wearing a turban. He asked me, ‘Do you know who that was?”
The change in appearance of Connie’s neighbor made it impossible to recognize her. But what Scott recognized at that moment was a need, that as the co-owner of Ed Nicholson and Sons Lumber, he could do something about.
After the woman passed by, he told Connie, “I know how she’s going to feel tomorrow. She won’t be able to work. And she won’t be able to make ends meet.”
Connie said that in the car on the way home from his treatment, Scott was on his cell phone calling his friends. The 40 year old motorcycle enthusiast had an idea to build a unique motorcycle to auction off. The proceeds would be used to help people, like their neighbor, make ends meet during cancer treatments.
A Motorcycle Ride on a Mission
While Scott had his friends support, Connie didn’t think an auction for a custom made motorcycle would be the right fit for their friends and neighbors on the mountain where they live. So they came up with another fundraising idea – a motorcycle bike run.
The year was 2007 and the planning got underway immediately. Scott and his friend Neil Brown purchased a Harley-Davidson to give away at the event that was scheduled for late summer. A planning committee of close friends was formed and everyone took on a role. Connie’s work centered on creating a charitable agency for the cause – the Nicholson Cancer Fund Inc.
Scott passed away before the first motorcycle run at the age of 43. The Scott Nicholson Memorial Ride drew 700 people that first year and has done so every year since.
Held annually in August, the 120 mile journey through the scenic Laurel Highlands in western Pennsylvania includes a stop at the cemetery where a small group of riders, including Connie and Scott’s two sons, Shawn and Weston, pay their respects.
“They leave 10 minutes ahead of the riders to make this visit. As hundreds of riders pass by, they give a cemetery salute. It’s our way of showing loyalty and respect for the dedication Scott had for this mission. It’s also a reminder to us that we’ll always do this,” Connie said.
Making a Difference
Funds from the memorial ride enable the Nicholson Cancer Fund (NCF) to help more than 100 cancer patients each year from western Pennsylvania to focus on their health instead of their bills.
“Recipients may be in need of help paying for heating fuel, utilities, or transportation costs of going back and forth to the hospital. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve fallen behind on insurance co-pays,” Connie said.
The NCF Board receives many thank you notes like this one, which reads in part – “The weight that you have taken from our shoulders is tremendous! It is organizations like yours that make living through this horrible time A LOT easier…Just when I was about to lose hope, you guys rushed in and saved the day…I pray that someday I will be able to give something back to someone in need.”
Connie remarked, “Cancer patients who are assisted are most often the people in the middle who can’t get financial assistance or can’t work. It’s just enough to help them so that they won’t get their electricity shut off or so they can go back and forth to appointments. That little bit makes the difference.”
It’s what Scott had in mind the day he recognized his neighbor’s need.