The first words that Bryan McMillan's best friend said to him when McMillan visited him in the hospital in March 2010 were, "How are you doing?"
What would otherwise be an ordinary question shocked McMillan. His friend of 32 years, who was just diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lying in a hospital bed adjacent to a healthy McMillan, was more interested in the other's well-being than his own.
From then on, McMillan made a point of visiting his friend regularly and their friendship grew stronger in a matter of months than it had in over three decades. On his last visit, McMillan told his friend how much he cared for him.
It was the last time the two would speak.
McMillan, whose grandfather died of lung cancer and mother is a three-time breast-cancer survivor, had already reached his boiling point with the disease.
"Cancer is life-changing," he said. "You are never ever the same person once it has touched you."
Even before his friend was diagnosed, McMillan wondered what he could do to fight the disease that had affected his family throughout his life. He found his answer in what many find recreation: cycling.
McMillan saw a flier at his local bike shop in 2008 for 24 Hours of Booty, an organization that holds 24-hour cycling events to raise money for the fight against cancer.
McMillan, looking for a way to combat the disease and for a new method of exercise because of a knee injury that prevented him from running, was easily convinced.
He hasn't missed a 24 Hours of Booty event since.
And when the fifth annual 24 Hours of Booty Columbia event takes place Aug. 25-26 in Columbia Gateway, his streak of competing in the organization's events will continue.
He will be one of 600 participants of varying cycling ability riding around a 2.1-mile loop that is closed to traffic. The participants will ride different distances — whenever bikers get tired they can stop — but all will be riding for the same goal: raising money to help find a cure for cancer.
McMillan will ride as captain of "Team bootySTRONG," which combines two of his involvements with his fight. "Booty" is taken from 24 Hours of Booty, in which McMillan serves as an organizing committee member; "strong" is taken from LIVESTRONG, because he serves as the Maryland leader for the organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by cancer. He is also a board member for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
But he still isn't satisfied with his commitment to fight the disease.
"I wish I could find a way to do more and still be able to keep a roof over my head," said McMillan, who is the division manager of internal operations and export/import atNorthrop Grumman Corp.in Baltimore.
"If there was some way to do both. … The times that I feel that I'm not making a big enough difference is whenever I read about another friend who has been diagnosed and runs out of time," he said. "That's when it's kind of disheartening."
Friend Stephen Powell thinks McMillan is being too hard on himself.
"Bryan is very determined," said Powell, who owns Thoroughbred Auto Care in Laurel. "He has been involved not only with Ulman and LIVESTRONG … but he will send pictures back when he is involved in a fundraiser or send us an email about something [regarding] a survivor that needs help or something like that."