The first words that Bryan McMillan's best friend said to him when McMillan visited him in the hospital in March 2010 were, "How are you doing?"
What would otherwise be an ordinary question shocked McMillan. His friend of 32 years, who was just diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lying in a hospital bed adjacent to a healthy McMillan, was more interested in the other's well-being than his own.
"That was one of those pivotal moments you don't forget," McMillan, 48, of Columbia, said.
From then on, McMillan made a point of visiting his friend regularly and their friendship grew stronger in a matter of months than it had in over three decades. On his last visit, McMillan told his friend how much he cared for him.
It was the last time the two would speak.
McMillan, whose grandfather died of lung cancer and mother is a three-time breast-cancer survivor, had already reached his boiling point with the disease.
"Cancer is life-changing," he said. "You are never ever the same person once it has touched you."
Even before his friend was diagnosed, McMillan wondered what he could do to fight the disease that had affected his family throughout his life. He found his answer in what many find recreation: cycling.
McMillan saw a flier at his local bike shop in 2008 for 24 Hours of Booty, an organization that holds 24-hour cycling events to raise money for the fight against cancer.
McMillan, looking for a way to combat the disease and for a new method of exercise because of a knee injury that prevented him from running, was easily convinced.
He hasn't missed a 24 Hours of Booty event since.
And when the fifth annual 24 Hours of Booty Columbia event takes place Aug. 25-26 in Columbia Gateway, his streak of competing in the organization's events will continue.
He will be one of 600 participants of varying cycling ability riding around a 2.1-mile loop that is closed to traffic. The participants will ride different distances — whenever bikers get tired they can stop — but all will be riding for the same goal: raising money to help find a cure for cancer.
McMillan will ride as captain of "Team bootySTRONG," which combines two of his involvements with his fight. "Booty" is taken from 24 Hours of Booty, in which McMillan serves as an organizing committee member; "strong" is taken from LIVESTRONG, because he serves as the Maryland leader for the organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by cancer. He is also a board member for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
But he still isn't satisfied with his commitment to fight the disease.
"I wish I could find a way to do more and still be able to keep a roof over my head," said McMillan, who is the division manager of internal operations and export/import atNorthrop Grumman Corp.in Baltimore.
"If there was some way to do both. … The times that I feel that I'm not making a big enough difference is whenever I read about another friend who has been diagnosed and runs out of time," he said. "That's when it's kind of disheartening."
Friend Stephen Powell thinks McMillan is being too hard on himself.
"Bryan is very determined," said Powell, who owns Thoroughbred Auto Care in Laurel. "He has been involved not only with Ulman and LIVESTRONG … but he will send pictures back when he is involved in a fundraiser or send us an email about something [regarding] a survivor that needs help or something like that."
If there is anyone who can appreciate Bryan's commitment to fighting the disease it is Powell, a cancer survivor himself. Powell was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. He underwent two surgeries and radiation treatment before his cancer was determined to be in remission in 2005.
"[Cancer] doesn't know any age boundaries," Powell, 55, said. "It doesn't know gender boundaries; it has no respect for hitting you once and not coming back and hitting you again."
McMillan recruited Powell to join Team bootySTRONG in 2009, and Powell has ridden at his side ever since. Since then, the team has grown.
There are now more than 100 members.
Since its inception, the team has raised more than $150,000; McMillan has personally raised more than $10,000.
McMillan's involvement with cancer advocacy has begun to gain recognition. In October 2011 he was invited to ride in the LIVESTRONG Challenge/Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, and was able to meet and ride with cycling legend and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
"That was a huge issue," McMillan said. "My grandfather was a Tour de France fan; I never thought much of it. But once I started riding, I started to understand what it was all about. So it was really cool to meet him not only from a cycling perspective, but also from a cancer-advocacy perspective."
Meeting Armstrong might have been the pinnacle of McMillan's fight against the disease, but it's hardly the end.
He is adamant about raising more money.
"There's different levels of incentives … that's the beauty of it," McMillan said. "Just like the Tour de France, [24 Hours of Booty] has a red jersey, which is "King of the Mountain," and they have a green jersey for a certain level of fundraising, which is the same as [the Tour de France's] sprint jersey. And, of course, top fundraisers … get yellow jerseys at the event."
At the 24 Hours of Booty Columbia, the only competitiveness is each participant's determination to raise the most money.
Coordinating such a large event isn't easy. Finding the motivation to ride 24 hours through the thick summer heat is.
"The one thing that gets a lot of us through for this particular event with the high mileage is that you are racing for something that is bigger than you are," McMillan said. "Yeah, you might be cramping when you are going up a hill, but that cramp is a lot less painful than what somebody going through chemo has to deal with."
Fifth annual 24 Hours of Booty Columbia
What: A 24-hour cycling event to raise money for the fight against cancer. No cycling experience necessary.
Where: Gateway Business Park, Columbia
When: Aug. 25-26, 2 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Registration: $65 registration fee, plus $200 raised before the event
Information: 24hoursofbooty.org, 704-365-4417