By: Drew Roy
Allan Kokinda is no ordinary cancer survivor. He has withstood every blow this disease can deliver: thirty-four operations; numerous chemotherapy sessions; and, endless setbacks.
The 54-year-old from San Antonio was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in 2007, a rare form of bone cancer that attacked his head. For eight agonizing years, he battled the disease that changed his appearance. “It just wore me out,” Allan recalls. “I had no energy. I had gained a lot of weight because I was inactive. “ He remembers that despair was his constant companion during his journey.
Allan praises the doctors at the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center who treated his disease. “They were great every step of the way,” he says “I won’t forget the day they told me I was cancer free.”
He received the good news in 2015. During his exhaustive treatments, Allan often daydreamed about riding his bicycle during high school and college. It was his only mode of transportation because he had no car. Before his cancer, he was an active motorcyclist. He enjoyed the freedom of finding the open road. He figured he could recapture that joy with bicycling with the added benefit of healthy exercise. Allan began riding his bike around San Antonio. Cycling was not only cathartic but he lost 50 pounds in the process. He was eating better, too, thanks to recommendations from the Cancer Center’s dietitian.
Then he decided to bike to the Big Bend area near El Paso, a daunting challenge of some 500 miles. After successfully completing the trip, he had bigger dreams. The motorcycle repairman retrofitted his bike for an epic journey, one that would take him from San Antonio up to Niagara Falls on the Canadian border. He changed to bigger tires and a high-tech gear. He plotted a route that would take him through 24 states. He would ride through portions of the United States that he had never seen, including 18 National Parks. He added a couple of saddlebags to his bike. He stuffed the bags with provisions, a change of clothes and camping gear. After a chat with his family, Allan began his solo adventure across America.
He pedaled and pedaled and pedaled. It took him four days just to leave Texas. He kept pedaling until he had racked up 7,052 miles during his four-month journey that included Canada and the Great Lakes. Along the way, he camped out wherever he could, including areas near churches or city halls. During his journey, he met many other cancer survivors who were anxious to share their experiences.
“When I told them my story, they were amazed,” he says. “I hope it was an inspiration to other people. That was one of my motivations for doing this.”
But Allan also received as much as he gave. “I got so much joy from biking,” Allan recalls. “I saw so many beautiful places. Each new vista blew me away. Just when I thought I had seen the most beautiful place, the next one left me speechless.” When he’s not on the road, Allan participates in the Cancer Center’s Sarcoma Support Group and frequently attends the annual survivor conference hosted by Patient and Family Services. Now he is dreaming of his next biking trip. “I love the freedom of the road and I am healthier than I have been in decades,” he admits.
That’s why Allan Kokinda in more than a cancer survivor. He is on his way to becoming a biking legend.