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Cyclist with cancer finds inspiration in Armstrong foundation

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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While cycling fans new and old are watching Lance Armstrong’s cycling comeback on the Amgen Tour of California this week, Cyndi Litzko has a more personal reason than most to follow the event. Litzko, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer in late September. A Granite Bay resident and rider with Auburn’s Bella Fiore women’s cycling team, she’s in a fight for her life that is being aided by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Litzko’s cancer diagnosis came a few weeks after she climbed Yosemite Park’s Half-Dome and days after riding in the 100-mile Emigrant Trails Bike Trek. “I was the one who had perfect health before I found a lump,” Litzko said. “It was quite a shock because I’m known as the marathon-running, long-distance cycling, mountain-climbing, vegetarian athlete.” After eight rounds of chemotherapy, Litzko remains on her bike, riding an average of 500 miles a month. Much of it is with Bella Fiore and another team, Folsom’s Bodacious Biking Babes. After her diagnosis, Litzko found out that the Armstrong Foundation’s Web site — livestrong.org — provided valuable information. Through the site, Litzko was able to find and take part in two clinical trials related to cancer. The site also provides inspiration from one cancer survivor to another. “One of the things Lance Armstrong is trying to push for is a cure,” Litzko said. “That’s one of the reasons I admire him. He’s the greatest cyclist to date but he also remembers that he is a cancer survivor and is helping find a cure.” Michelle Marengo, of Auburn’s Bicycle Emporium where the Bella Fiore team rides out of, said she rode with Litzko this week and heard more about how the foundation, Amgen and the cycling community is benefiting her attempt to beat cancer. Litzko said Amgen medications keep her on her bike. “She’s absolutely amazing,” Marengo said. “It’s inspirational to know she’s working full-time and riding while going through what she is going through, both physically and emotionally.” Litzko completed her eighth and final round of chemotherapy on Wednesday and was out to watch the first leg of the Amgen tour on Saturday in Sacramento. In December, Litzko was voted most inspirational rider by her club but was unable to accept the award in person because she was in another round of chemotherapy at the time. Don Whitecar, Litzko’s fiancé, said that a typical first step is surgery but the Livestrong site was able to take her to different resources. Add Litzko’s tenacity, and doors were opened to new avenues of hope, he said. Today, Litzko remains on her bike, eager to tell her story and help other potential cancer survivors. “The big thing is I want to promote the knowledge anyone can find at the Web site,” she said. The 16-year Granite Bay resident said her battle with cancer has also been helped by her employer, Lowe’s, where she works as a commercial sales specialist. “My company has been marvelous in supporting me for treatments,” Litzko said. “Hopefully this is just a small bump in the road.” Since undergoing chemotherapy, Litzko has continued to make the Bella Fiore rides every week — traveling sometimes as far as 50 miles. “When you get diagnosed, you’re overwhelmed with what is a life-changing experience,” Litzko said. “I draw on the physical, emotional and mental strengths I developed as a member of the Bella Fiore cycling team to now fight for my life.” And on Saturday, she drew on the power of a world-class athlete with the same dream — a cure for cancer. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.