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Big Dan’s hosting 50 bicyclists from Texas for dinner on Thursday

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POSTED July 1, 2009 3:40 a.m.
LATHROP – Lathrop will be playing host to the group of Texas students who are taking part in the 70-day cancer-awareness bicycle ride to Alaska during their stop-over in Manteca on Thursday.

The 50 college-age riders taking part in the Texas 4000 for Cancer will be at Big Dan’s Neighborhood Diner at 7 p.m. after having dinner in Manteca hosted by the Community Presbyterian Church. Lathrop’s newest restaurant is located at the corner of Towne Centre Drive and Manthey Road behind Target and just a block east of City Hall.

Restaurant owner Dan Mac Neilage said the bike riders will be there to “share their story, and that’s what they are going to be doing in Lathrop. I’ve come to know a few of them and what they’re doing is really an inspiring story. All of these kids have been touched by cancer in one way or another.”

Mac Neilage, who is also on the city Planning Commission, said it was Manteca Relay for Life chairperson Holly Halleck who arranged for him to get in touch with the bike riders.

“She asked if I’d be interested in having a venue to do a program” for the Texas 4000 for Cancer, he said, and then gave him names and contacts in the group.

“I’ve been talking with them regularly,” Mac Neilage said. And the message that they shared with him, he said, is that what cancer patients go through in chemotherapy is “nothing compared to what we do” when they embark on their daily 60- to 90-mile rides on their way to Anchorage, Alaska.

“They remember (the cancer patients’) plight when they get on their bike,” Mac Neilage said.

The Planning commissioner has a special reason for hosting the Texas 4000 for Cancer crew: he is a cancer survivor himself plus he is the chairperson of the Lathrop Relay for Life.

“Just right here in this small community, I know many people that have fought cancer,” he said.

It’s also his way of honoring members of his family who have gone through the same battle: his father and mother, his sister-in-law who went through a radical double mastectomy “and what a brave woman that she was.”

When Mac Neilage was diagnosed with lymphoma, it could not have happened at a worse time. It happened just four months after he buried his wife, Teresa, who succumbed to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. While at Stanford, doctors realized he had not just lymphoma but he also had leukemia and had to go through a partial bone marrow transplant. Things got worse when, as a result of his chemotherapy, he developed a heart problem and had to undergo an open-heart surgery.

“All that being said, that’s why when I see young people like these (in the Texas 4000 for Cancer), I think what an inspiration they are for thinking about someone other than their own,” Mac Neilage said.

The Texas 4000 for Cancer is the world’s longest annual charity bike ride, with the riders logging 4,687 miles from Austin, Texas, to their destination in Anchorage, Alaska, where they hope to end their arduous trek on Aug. 14, according to the group’s web site. The bike riders’ mission is to fight cancer by “sharing hope, knowledge and charity across North America.”

For more information about Thursday’s program at Big Dans Diner, call 594-6683
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