STURBRIDGE, Mass. - Thousands of people hit the road on Saturday for the 2023 Pan-Mass Challenge, including a Worcester police officer who was inspired to get involved after the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute saved his life. 

What You Need To Know

  • This weekend, 6,500 people are riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge

  • Among them is Worcester Police Patrolman Sean Sullivan, a survivor of Stage 3 colorectal cancer

  • Sullivan said he's riding this year to raise awareness of the mental health challenges associated with cancer

  • He hit the road with his wife Caryn and best friend Sergeant Timothy Segur

In December 2019, Patrolman Sean Sullivan was told doctors had found a cancerous tumor during a colonoscopy, eventually diagnosing him with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. As he described in his fundraising page for the Pan-Mass Challenge, his whole life changed in the blink of an eye. 

"I think when you first get diagnosed, obviously it's overwhelming and scary," Sullivan said. "But going to Dana-Farber, they set you at ease, the best hospital in the world, we're so lucky to have that so close to us. Going through all the treatment, that was kind of the easy part, you just put your head down. You don't have a choice."

Sullivan was out of work for an entire year, undergoing six surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. The end of 2020 brought some good news, however, as doctors told him there was no longer any evidence of disease. 

His wife Caryn and their two children then watched as he trained to overcome a new challenge. 

"He fought so hard, and had said if he was able to get through it all, he wanted to find a way to give back," Caryn said. "He really dedicated himself last year to training and doing the Pan-Mass. Last year when we lined up to cheer him on with our signs and our two children, I said 'I'm absolutely doing this next year with him, I want to join this incredible team and do this."

When he crossed the finish line last year, Sullivan said if he had any ounce of energy left in his body, he would've chucked his bike off a cliff and never rode it again. The months since have shed light on a new reason to get those wheels moving again. 

"I'm riding this year to bring awareness of the mental aspect post-cancer," Sullivan said. "Being worried about your scans that are coming up, whether cancer is going to come back, the constant bloodwork every three months, and just the anxiety you get thinking one day you'll have to go through treatment all over again."

His team includes Caryn and his best friend and coworker, Sergeant Timothy Segur. Both are excited to take on the Pan-Mass Challenge with him, and remain in awe of the bravery he's shown during and after his cancer treatment. 

"Watching him battle with that and overcome it was just a huge inspiration for me," Segur said. "When he said that he wanted to ride in the PMC, there was just no question we were going to get a team together and ride with him."

“I’m incredibly proud of him and his strength every single day," Caryn said. "I think what most people don’t know is cancer never leaves you, it’s a part of everyday life and there’s a true anxiety that comes from the scans, the bloodwork and the continuous follow-ups. I think it’s just so important to really support him.”

For anyone battling a cancer diagnosis, Sullivan said his best advice is to take it one day at a time, find someone you can vent to, and never shy away from finding support. 

Since its inception in 1980, the Pan-Mass Challenge has helped raise more than $900 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.