Keith Bellizzi was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994 at the age of 25. Three months later, he was diagnosed with an unrelated case of kidney cancer.
“It really forced me to look at my life trajectory,” said Bellizzi, who worked as a business consultant prior to his diagnosis. On the hospital bed during a bout of chemotherapy, Bellizzi turned to his wife Danielle and said, “If I survive this, I’m going to dedicate my life to cancer research.”
BOTH OF BELLIZZI’S forms of cancer have been in remission for 10 years, and he made good on his word. After a year-and-a-half of treatment and two rounds of chemotherapy, Bellizzi enrolled in a Ph.D. program in human development at the University of Connecticut.
After Bellizzi completed the Ph.D. program, he and his wife moved to Montgomery Village. Keith Bellizzi now has a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, where he studies the lives of people after they receive cancer treatment.
“I certainly miss my family and friends back in Connecticut, but at the same time, having this opportunity to do research with the brightest people in the world is an opportunity that I would never pass up,” Bellizzi said.
The Bellizzis have two daughters, Sarah, 4; and Taylor, 5 months. To Bellizzi, they are “miracle girls,” as his oncologist told him during his treatment there was little chance he would ever be able to have children.
THIS YEAR, BELLIZZI is one of 24 cyclists from around the country selected to ride on the Tour of Hope. They will pedal from San Diego, Calif. to Washington, D.C., in nine days. The riders are split into four groups of six riders, each of whom will ride 100 miles, rest while the other relay groups pedal a century apiece, then resume riding 15 hours later.
The Tour of Hope’s national riders all train in a 16-week program that includes a regimen of 200-300 miles through six days each week. Tour trainers trained under a program run by Chris Carmichael, Armstrong’s cycling coach.
Bellizzi began mountain biking at the age of 10, but after his experience with cancer, he read Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike.” Armstrong survived testicular cancer and went on to become a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.
“Being 25, I didn’t have many young adults I could talk with about [surviving cancer],” Bellizzi said.
The book inspired Bellizzi to take up road biking. “I like the fact that when I’m out there riding, I feel as though I’m free,” Bellizzi said.
MORE THAN THE bike ride, Bellizzi is focused on raising money and awareness for cancer research. “Having people participate in clinical trials saves lives,” Bellizzi said. “I certainly benefitted from other people participating in clinical trails before me.”
Local riders can participate in the final leg of the Tour of Hope, a 50-mile ride from Columbia, Md., to Washington, D.C., led by Lance Armtrong. Riders may also join the last 10 miles of this run, which begins at Glen Echo.
Tour of Hope riders encourage people to sign a personal promise online (see “The Promise,” sidebar) to help support a cure for cancer; those who sign online can name somebody they’d like to honor.
“You can survive and thrive following a cancer diagnosis,” Bellizzi said, referring to 10 million people who have done so.