After using Zwift to recover from three cancer reoccurrences!
David Donovan Bunn is a man who seizes life and takes control. He is a former professional drag racer and personal watercraft top-speed record holder—106 miles per hour. Life doesn’t come to him. He takes it.
When doctors diagnosed his wife Mimi with a rare and fatal form of adrenal cortical carcinoma in 2016, he faced the vulnerability of having control ripped from his grip. After months of treatment at hospitals worldwide, the lifesaving measures were exhausted, and doctors projected that she only had weeks to live.
A Medical Miracle
A family friend, Dr. Oliver Sartor, of Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans, suggested that Mimi receive a new drug called Keytruda. David pleaded with Mimi’s reluctant doctors to administer the medication, and she received her first dose on October 23, 2017.
In what David could only explain as a medical miracle, Mimi became the first adult to survive this rare, aggressive cancer when within six months, a CT scan showed the tumors were gone. With this new lease on his family’s health, David began to take destiny back into his hands, but fate had other plans.
While his wife was recuperating, David suffered nine broken bones in a severe motocross accident. What’s worse, scans revealed a baseball-sized mass in his left kidney that looked dangerously like cancer. David underwent partial kidney resection soon after, and the couple thought they had both beaten the devastating disease.
The Dream Ends
They sold their home, bought an RV, and planned to travel across America to celebrate life. A second reemergence of David’s cancer waylayed their plans, and another risky and complicated surgery to remove the rest of his left kidney put a solemn end to the dream.
Severely debilitated from the toll multiple surgeries and chemotherapy took on his body, David, an on-and-off cyclist who enjoyed BMX as a kid, discovered Zwift. “In January 2022, I was recovering from cancer surgery, and I started on a spin bike using the hr2vp app and cadence to send a signal to Zwift.” It hooked him, and he upgraded to a Stages SB20 soon after.
David recalls, “I rode it hot and heavy for the next three months, enjoying my recovery and getting stronger.” Then tragedy struck again. A CT scan showed suspicious spots on his lungs.
Cancer Returns Again and Again
In March 2022, David began treatment with the miracle immunotherapy drugs that saved his Mimi. After several months of grueling therapy that shrunk his tumors and ravaged his body, progress slowed, and David required targeted lung radiation.
“The doctor expected me to have trouble breathing due to damaged lung tissue,” he explains, and “Again, I turned to Zwifting for recovery, pedaling for an hour or 2 per day built my strength back.”
David doesn’t ride for a team. Instead, preferring to join group rides or follow Coco around Watopia. He developed a love for virtual cycling and an outlet to push himself as he had always loved to do.
In a way only a cyclist can understand, David took back what cancer tried to steal from him. He shares, “After so many years of dealing with the effects of cancer, including having a kidney, adrenal gland, and several lymph nodes removed, it was a personal challenge.”
Taking Back What Cancer Tried to Steal
Targeted radiation devastated both of his lungs. While he is technically cancer free now, his doctor is surprised he can cycle without significant breathing issues after multiple surgeries to remove tumors from his lungs.
“All my life, I’ve pushed myself. The vEveresting was just an extension of that. I believed it was possible but had to prove it to myself.”
David picked a day when Mimi would unwittingly be out of town visiting family to avoid worrying her. At 5:30 pm on March 13, 2023, David set out to prove that he still had life left and began pedaling.
“Physically, it was grueling. I wasn’t out to break any records, and I just trudged along,” David says. When he hit the 12-hour mark, the sun was rising, his legs were cramping, and he realized he wasn’t even close to reaching his goal.
“I was exhausted and had tears welling in my eyes as I contemplated quitting.” Then he thought of all he’d been through and the others in his situation and said to himself, “Don’t let your health define you. Find ways to push, explore your capabilities, and take your life back.”
Health Challenges Don’t Define You
After 15 hours, twenty minutes, and nine trips up the Alpe du Zwift, David completed the effort and some. “It was surreal seeing it flash on the screen. For me, achieving it was worth the grind. Not for the badge but to prove I had more life after three cancer reoccurrences.”
David has this message reflecting on the enormity of the achievement and overcoming the personal challenge.
“Opdivo and Keytruda immunotherapy is what made it all possible. I wouldn’t be here without it. If I can get that message out for people struggling with cancer to talk to their doctors about immunotherapy, that would be great.”
And this! “Make the most out of life!” he urges. Thank you for proving it to us, David!
What has cycling proved to you?
Comment below! David and your fellow cyclists want to know.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!
Never ever give up 🤙🏼
Words to live by!