NEW PORT RICHEY
Ray Dunn is doing something his oldest son never got to do.
This 64-year-old X-ray tech will climb onto his dark blue Cannondale 16-speed bike and ride 100 miles around Lake Tahoe, that massive body of water on the border of California and Nevada.
Dunn will be raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, donating all he collects to help the charity find a cure. And he'll be doing it for his son, Keith, who died of leukemia seven years ago.
"(The ride was) what Keith was going to do," Dunn said. "He said he was going to, and I don't know why he picked that. He was going to do the Tahoe ride when he got better for everything (the society) had done for him. He was going to do it in June of 2000, but he passed in July of 2000 and he was in bad shape then. He just couldn't."
Keith was on an erratic roller coaster during his battle with leukemia.
He went through transfusions, chemotherapy and radiation, and he traveled to Seattle to have a bone marrow transplant. He even got engaged and was determined to beat the disease that killed 21,790 people in the United States in 2007, according the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Web site.
The doctors told Keith that if he made it past five years since he was diagnosed, he'd be in the clear.
Keith made it four years, nine months. He was 34.
He built up his hopes for riding around Lake Tahoe, even writing to family and friends, saying: "For the most part, our society takes LIVING for granted. It is a precious thing. When there is a chance that it could be taken away from you it becomes a reality. … Don't wait until then. Start now!"
Those words seem fresh to Dunn.
"Sometimes I forget that's he's gone because everything recently has been about him," Dunn said. "It's hard not to (talk about him). I mean, how could you not talk about him? He was in my life for 35 years. He's my son! How couldn't you? You can't. It's impossible.
"But I certainly don't want to."
And Dunn won't be alone.
His second son, Kirk, 35, will join him on the ride, even though he is fighting a hamstring injury. After seeing a therapist and trainer, he was given the green light to ride.
While Kirk gives his father the credit of taking "an initiative to go ahead and do this, especially at his age," Kirk adds that Keith wouldn't believe his dad would attempt the trek.
"I think (Keith would be) surprised," Kirk said in a phone interview from Michigan. "I think he'd be surprised my dad would actually do it, and I think he'd be grateful for him doing it"
Both Ray and Kirk admit they still haven't thought about how overcome with emotion they could become during the ride. Ray even wishes he could be a spectator instead.
"I can't imagine coming across the finish line," Ray said, "because it's going to be a very emotional moment because who'd I'd rather see come across than me would be him."
Added Kirk: "Honestly, I really haven't thought about how emotional it actually will be. I have to imagine it will be pretty emotionally, especially since we'll both be doing it. I don't think I can even begin to describe what will be going through my mind."
In a sense, Keith is still there.
Kirk talked as though Keith was just in the other room, and for Ray talks about his eldest son so much that "it almost feels like he's back because he's always in my conversations every day."
Both of them will be thinking about Keith the entire ride. It would be hard not to, but Ray and Kirk realize that it's also for a good cause, that the society is not only beneficial for surviving family members, but survivors as well.
"He's gone been for seven years," Kirk said, "and he met some absolute wonderful people and doctors through the Leukemia Society, and it'll be nice just to give something back."
"But this, this will be just a little extra special."
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