All cancer stories are similar in that they create a sense of fear and sadness, a hopeless urge to help. Yet, some stories hit harder than others when that fear turns into sorrow. Kerry Grinkmeyer’s story of his team, Warriors Team Shay, dedicated to the memory of his daughter, Shannon, is one of those stories that hits a little bit harder. Shannon was only 13 when she started getting pains in her foot, initially causing concern at a cross country camp, but due to misdiagnoses and life’s distractions, she was not properly diagnosed with cancer until 2002, when she was 29 and only two years into her marriage to her husband Justin. Shannon, whose nickname was Shay, went through various surgeries, including amputation of her foot, and rounds of chemotherapy over the next 12 years, until her untimely death on December 26, 2014. Her years of struggle were intermittently tossed into years of blessings from giving birth to her son, Aidan, success as a financial advisor, and creating a beautiful life. Part of what makes Shay’s story so emotional is being able to read about those many years in her own words through the blog that she kept, My Hotel Yorba.
In October 2014, only 80 days before Shay’s death, she participated in 24 Hours of Booty in Atlanta, and was the awarded Rookie of the Year. Her team, at the time simply called Team Shay, consisted of herself, her father Kerry, and her good friend Alan. On her blog, she wrote, “Since I had so many generous people in my life, I ended up reaching the $3,000.00 donation designation. I got an awesome biking jersey and 24 Hours of Booty jacket. I think my dad was a bit green with envy.” Even though Shay was going through chemotherapy treatments at the time, her goal was to ride one lap with her teammates by her side. She wrote about the struggles to make it around the 3 mile loop, particularly the cobblestone portion (“what is this, the Tour de France?” she joked), but she prevailed. She wrote, “I wanted to prove it to myself that I was stronger than cancer and my disability… that neither of them were going to stop me.” And they did not stop her. She made it through the lap, she made it through the fall, and then she made it through Christmas day before taking her final breath, her family by her side.
Shay’s inspiring attitude and positive energy despite her situation has persisted even beyond her own life. The Warriors Team Shay have continued to fundraise for what we all now know as 24 Foundation through various events and cities. In 2015, Kerry and Aidan traveled to Charlotte to participate again, and Shay’s friends and family raised over $19,000 in her honor. On top of an amazing fundraising effort, Kerry recalls that over 1,300 riders and supporters gave the Warriors of Team Shay a standing ovation in recognition of Shay and to award Aidan the new Pinarello bike that Shay has said she would win the prior year. Aidan was also invited to ride in the Livestrong Ride for the Roses in Austin, TX, where he was awarded the “Yellow Jersey,” one of 14 among 2,200 riders. In 2016 the team of two decided to ride in Indianapolis, which Kerry said was a “coming home trip” for he and his wife, Nita, Shay’s mother, as they both went to high school there at North Central High School. Aidan continued to bring home awards as he was given a plaque for being the largest child fundraiser, and even rode his Pinarello bike from the previous year. Kerry said that the trip provided time for he and Nita to get to know their grandson better and to keep Shannon’s memory alive. No stranger to loss, Kerry also lost his mother to cancer at a young age, 8, the same age Aidan was when Shay passed away. He has said that after his mother’s passing, she was not often spoken of. This is something he intends to change in Aidan’s situation. He strives to keep Shay’s memory alive by speaking of her often and, of course, through the 24 Foundation events.
This year the team will return to Indy, and Aidan is doing well with his fundraising, meaning great potential at winning yet another award. While Kerry sets no goals on mileage, his individual purpose is to continue sharing Shay’s story, one that he feels is important to be heard. “We can trace Shannon’s cancer back to that injured foot at cross country camp when she was 13 years old. We’re educated people; we took our daughter to educated doctors for 15 years and none of us considered the possibility of cancer in her foot. As I look back I’m puzzled; I knew of my mother’s history, I saw my father subsequently die from cancer, yet we never asked the question, “Could this be cancer?” Kerry continued, “Our story screams the importance of education. If by hearing Shannon’s Story people ask ‘Could it be cancer?’ and early detection is the result, lives will be saved.”
The many participants that come to 24 Foundation events, through riding, walking, volunteering, or bystanding, all bring their own individual reasons and purposes to be there. While everyone’s purpose is meaningful, and each person is appreciated, some of those reasons hit a little bit harder. We send our love and strength to the Warriors of Team Shay as they prepare to set out for this year’s 24 Indianapolis, and thank them for sharing their story.