Tony McEachern was in the best shape of his life when he found out he had brain cancer. The year before, he’d completed a 600-mile team expedition race in Vietnam, and as the owner of a local bike shop, he was an avid cyclist. But in April 2003, as he was taking a leisurely bike ride on Longboat Key, he had a seizure, fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital. An MRI showed he had a tumor the size of his fist growing on his brain. “It came out of nowhere,” he recalls.
To pay for the next five years of treatments, including at Duke University Medical Center, McEachern walked across Florida, raising money for every mile he walked. Then he decided to walk from Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is located, to Sarasota to raise money for Duke’s cancer program. Forty-three days, eight pairs of shoes and 22 pairs of socks later, he arrived in Sarasota, raising $27,000, which Duke then matched for a total of $54,000.
Along the way, he remembered how other cancer patients had supported him. So he and fellow cancer survivor Lori Kayser created Team Tony, a foundation that provides resources for cancer survivors—from information about treatment facilities to “matching” cancer patients with survivors to financial support to cancer patients who need help with medical-related issues. The foundation, which opened a brick-and-mortar location on South Osprey Avenue in 2018, also provides training for cancer survivors who want to work with patients. “Right now, we have 225 trained survivors in our database, and we’re working with 72 patients,” McEachern says.
Team Tony also hosts the annual “Gran Fondo” bike ride at Nathan Benderson Park; this year’s ride takes place Oct. 6. Participants ride up to 100 miles; there’s food, music and an after-party. Last year’s event drew 500 people and raised $250,000.
“Cancer patients are the only ones who really know what a cancer diagnosis feels like,” McEachern says. “But I want everyone to know that a diagnosis is not an ending.”