Burnsville man with incurable cancer diagnosis endeavors on multistate bike ride for charity

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It’s wheels up for Thomas Drayton.

“Getting on the bike is my happy place,” he smiles. “Be out in the trees and away from cars and traffic. It really gives me some peace of mind.”

Drayton, 51, from Burnsville is on a mission of hope.

“He wants to create meaning in his world, and he wants to educate people,” his wife Gretchen says. “That cancer can be detected at stage 1 or 2, and it doesn’t have to be stage 4.”

On Sept. 11, 2020, Drayton was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer after a long-delayed physical checkup urged by his wife, a nurse practitioner.  

“Near the end of the physical, the doctor was saying, ‘Everything looks great. I’m just going to check your neck for some lumps,’” he recalls. “She stopped and said, ‘Oh, I feel something there. You’re going to have to get that biopsy.'”

Doctors removed Drayton’s thyroid gland the next month.

Then, this past August, they took out his lymph nodes on the left side.  

But Drayton says the cancer has metastasized to his bones and lungs.

He says he has a 20% chance of living another 10 years.

“There’s no chemotherapy that will help me, so once it does start to really run away the metastasis becomes really aggressive,” Drayton explains. “There’s nothing we can do to treat it.”

Married to Gretchen just four months now, he decided to start his own nonprofit website, called No Thyroid? No Problem! It’s inspired by Terry Fox, a young Canadian whose leg was amputated after a cancer diagnosis but still ran more than 3,300 miles over 143 days as a way to raise awareness in the 1980s.

“In the vein of Terry Fox, I’d like to do something big and impactful,” Drayton exclaims. “And what could be more big and impactful than riding across every state of the country?”

In between training runs — riding between 25 and 40 miles a day in nice weather — Drayton says he’s raised about $3000 so far.

“I think it’s just this simple message that speaks volumes, and promotes healthy behavior, you know,” Gretchen says. “The downside is they had to find this disease to have this outcome or this message. Of course, I wish this wasn’t the case, but such is life.”

Drayton says he’s been in talks with one Minnesota health care system about providing counseling for cancer patients, even supplying them with goody bags containing a post-diagnosis checklist, brochures from helpful organizations and other useful items.

He hopes to start his state-to-state bike ride next year — a message of early detection that could help save lives.

“So my goal is to try to do a couple of states a year, every year, and kind of cross off every state,” Drayton says. “That’s kind of the impetus, is to try to make an impact while I’m still here. Create some sort of legacy that will outlive me.”