Cancer survivor finds community and support while staying physically active

November 02, 2021
Bruce Dales stands with his bike with water in the background
Bruce Dales has logged over 5,400 miles cycling since he was diagnosed with stage 4 adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2016. Photo provided

Summerville resident Bruce Dales travels to the Francis Marion National Forest, mounts his bicycle and prepares for a weekly Sunday ride with the Charleston Beer Riders, a group of cycling fanatics who have become more like family than friends to Dales. After being diagnosed with stage 4 adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2016, Dales turned to running and cycling groups to become more active, be held accountable and get involved — what he didn’t know at the time was just how important the support he got from friends would be in his cancer journey.

“I can’t control what happens in the future. I have no way of knowing if that cancer is coming back,” Dales said. “What I can control is what I do now. I can try and remain healthy and active in the event I have to battle cancer again someday.”

Prior to 2016, Dales described himself as a healthy guy who only went to the doctor for an annual physical. However, early in 2016, Dales noticed a lump on the roof of his mouth that wouldn’t go away. At the advice of his dentist, Dales saw an oral surgeon in August 2016. A biopsy was ordered, and pathology results eventually found that the mass was cancerous.

Dales was referred by his dentists to Terry Day, M.D., an oncologist at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center who specializes in head and neck cancer. In September 2016, Dales had the mass in his mouth surgically removed, followed by more than a month of radiation with Anand Sharma, M.D., a Hollings radiation oncologist.

Bruce Dales at a race finish line with his wife and daughter holding signs of support 
After supporting him through his cancer journey, Dales' family now cheers him on during rides and races. Photo provided

Throughout the course of treatment, and since it has ended, Dales has remained committed to living an active lifestyle. “I had a 6-year-old daughter at the time I was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “It was important for me to show her that even when you get dealt a bad hand, it doesn’t mean life has to stop. Having a positive attitude, living a normal life and being active helps so much in my opinion.”

Keeping active is something Dales, who works as a project manager for Blackbaud, does a lot. When he isn’t cheering on the Philadelphia Eagles, Boston Red Sox or Clemson Tigers, chances are Dales is on a bike or running. Since completing treatment, Dales has run seven half-marathons, five ultramarathons, two Spartan races and three metric century rides.

In total, Dales has logged over 3,200 miles running and 5,400 miles cycling since 2016. He said he doesn’t compete in the events expecting to win — he uses every turn of the wheel and every mile as proof that there is life after a cancer diagnosis. He hopes to encourage other patients, convincing them that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to define their futures.

“When you get the news you have cancer, you really have two choices — sit around feeling sorry for yourself and not try and enjoy what you have, or you can make a conscious effort to do things differently and do it with purpose.”

Today, Dales reflects on the countless times he had friends and family join him for runs and rides for one reason — to support him, even if they weren’t avid cyclists or runners themselves. He said he is grateful for his wife, Tanya, who was his rock throughout the whole journey, and for his team at Hollings who diagnosed and treated his cancer and gave him invaluable time to make more memories with family and friends.

“It’s undeniable that Hollings is one of the best cancer centers you can go to,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it meant for me to be able to be treated in my hometown without having to drive hundreds or thousands of miles.”

Dales plans to show his support and gratitude for his team at Hollings on Nov. 6 when he tackles the 100-mile route during the upcoming LOWVELO 2021, an annual event that raises money for lifesaving cancer research at Hollings. Giving back is nothing new for Dales, who has become involved in numerous cancer organizations, including Livestrong at the Summerville YMCA, the Ulman Foundation, and by donating to St. Jude and MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. He admits the upcoming LOWVELO ride will be extra special.

“When you get the news you have cancer, you really have two choices — sit around feeling sorry for yourself and not try and enjoy what you have, or you can make a conscious effort to do things differently and do it with purpose.”
— Bruce Dales

“I’m not riding for me. I’m riding for my kids and my grandkids. It’s crazy that we still don’t have a cure for cancer after all these years. This is just a way for me to play a part in finding that cure.”

Dales doesn’t know what to expect during LOWVELO, but he does know one thing — his friends and family will be right beside him to show their support as they’ve done throughout the entire journey. With that support, Dales hopes to aid in Hollings’ mission to find a cure one day for cancer.

“I’m excited to get out on my bike and ride beside other riders for a cause much greater than ourselves,” Dales said. “Cancer touches just about everyone either directly or indirectly. That’s one thing I’ve really learned since my diagnosis, and I hope to be able to share my story and hear other riders’ stories during the six-plus hours we will be on the bike.”