The Rider

July 27, 2010

Pets, Pelotonia … and Battling Cancer

Filed under: Rider Profiles — The Blog @ 6:01 AM

When she was 13, Michelle Harcha’s pet basset hound, Bimbo, died from thyroid cancer. It was a traumatic experience for the young teen … and one that set her on a career path.

“That’s the reason I chose to become a veterinarian,” said Michelle, who is currently director of Alumni Services and Professional Development Education of OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Over the years, research has improved the survival odds of a greater and greater percentage of the people – and pets – who develop cancer.

Michelle and Mary Lee are both cancer survivors

This research, Michelle said, saved the life of her mother, Mary Lee, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2008 and is being treated at The James.

“The treatments today are so much more advanced,” said Michelle, a Pelotonia rider and breast-cancer survivor. “And so many of the advances came from clinical trials and the research done 10 and 15 years ago.”

Many of these advances, Michelle said, have trickled down to the treatment of pets … and she put them into practice in her years as a practicing vet.

“There have been so many advances in veterinary medicine, we now absolutely have cancer specialists and veterinarian radiation oncologists.”

All of the above – plus the inspiration of Stephanie Spielman – is why Michelle is part of Pelotonia.

“I didn’t ride much until last year,” she said of Pelotonia 2009. “And I rode my mountain bike last year … and I didn’t even know it was a mountain bike.”

This year she’ll be riding a 25-year-old, 10-speed road bike.

A few years ago, Michelle had the chance to hear Stephanie Spielman speak and was moved by the words of the wife, mom and breast-cancer survivor and advocate for cancer research. Stephanie passed away in November, but her spirit and mission to fight cancer lives on in millions of people such as Michelle.

The Harchas - Michelle, Mary Lee and Howard - are huge Buckeye fans

“The way she lived her life was an inspiration,” said Michelle, who had the chance to meet and get to know Stephanie. “She was my sister in this fight against this disease and her ability to fight and to have a positive attitude through everything she went through was phenomenal. She gave back so much and was a leader.”

Mary Lee has exhibited many of these same qualities during her battle with cancer, her proud daughter said.

“No matter what happens she maintains a positive attitude,” Michelle said of her mom, who is 80. “She’s an inspiration to me. She’s fought such a brave battle and still enjoys the moment and my parents have a more active social life than I do.”

Pelotonia 2009 was an emotional experience for Michelle. Mary Lee was in the midst of a difficult round of treatment … and the Harcha family was part of a lung cancer support group formed at The James. Several members of the group rode and others volunteered to run the first rest stop of the ride.

“As I rode up to it they were shaking their bells and applauding and I knew so many of them,” Michelle said. “They were making a difference and raising awareness for lung cancer and it was a phenomenal experience to be part of that.”

10 things about Michelle…

Favorite ride


Dream ride


Current Pelotonia bike

A 25-year old, 10-speed in great condition

Dream bike

I don’t know

Favorite movie

The Sound Of Music

Favorite band/singer


Favorite TV show


Favorite book

Anything by Wayne Dyer

Favorite athlete

Chris Spielman and Coach Tressel

Favorite post-ride meal



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