Pedaling to Support LRF’s Mission One Mile at a Time

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Pedaling to Support LRF’s Mission One Mile at a Time

Jim Baker cycles every day to stay in shape, clear his head, and do his best thinking. His passion for cycling is one he shared with his wife, Pia Samson, who was an avid cyclist in her own right. After Pia passed away from primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma in 2021, Jim has found a whole new and deeper meaning in their shared hobby to support the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF).

Jim and Pia met in 2016 in Washington, D.C. through their jobs. The two quickly bonded over a love of cycling and cocktails and a romance ensued. Jim recalls how they realized that they were “a perfect match for each other” from day one. He was skilled in long-distance cycling while Pia knew how to expertly navigate street cycling within the city. “We really clicked so well together. She was such a little bundle of fun and joy,” Jim says of Pia. “We were soulmates.” Jim and Pia soon moved in together before moving to Virginia and later to California, where Jim’s two teenage sons reside. Pia worked for Jim’s technology company, and they loved traveling the world together. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Jim decided to relocate the family to their rural farmhouse in England.

One evening that April, Pia was painting at the kitchen table while Jim was cooking when she suddenly fell. “It was like she had had a stroke. She couldn’t move on her left side,” he says. A scan at the hospital revealed a “strange blur in her brain” and she was ultimately diagnosed with CNS, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

With private UK hospitals reserved specifically for COVID patients at that time, Pia was transferred back to the U.S. for treatment. “Because it was COVID, it was very, very hard. No one could visit her. It was very isolating for her,” Jim says. He was finally able to get back into the states to join Pia that summer.

Pia made progress at first and went into remission in October 2020, before relapsing three months later.

This time, the lymphoma had spread. “She fought for her dignity and fought for her life,” Jim says until she passed away peacefully on April 17, 2021 – almost exactly a year after she had first developed symptoms. “She was so strong,” Jim recalls.

Pia was only 44 years old when she succumbed to lymphoma. “We were expecting to have at least double that in our lives, for the things that we wanted to do and the places that we wanted to go,” says Jim. “It was not her time,” he insists. “We didn’t have the longest time together, but she was the love of my life.”

While coping with such a devastating loss, Jim never wavered in his gratitude for the excellent care Pia received. “I was so grateful to the doctors and nurses and professionals who have made their careers out of looking after people who have this disease. I wanted to find any way I could of giving back to the community to support the work that they do,” he says.

LRF resonated with him most because of its focus on research and education. “To understand how this comes about in the first place, you have to go in at a certain level and tackle it at its root,” says Jim. “That’s how we will get to the crux of the matter the fastest,” he reasons, by investing in research to understand the disease, raise awareness, and ultimately, save lives.

After contemplating how he could give back to the lymphoma community, he landed on the idea of organizing a fundraiser through a memorial bike ride across America. “I love cycling, Pia loved cycling, and I
knew it would be a way to honor her memory while also raising money for a really good cause,” he explains.

In November 2021, Jim set out to raise $10,000 over the following year. Thanks to his supportive network, he not only hit but exceeded that goal and raised $11,125. Embarking on his journey from San Diego, California on September 5, 2022, Jim biked 3,150 miles along the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route in 35 days. He ended his journey in St. Augustine, Florida on October 15, 2022 – on the very beach where he and Pia’s parents had scattered her ashes into the ocean just a year and a half earlier.

Jim describes how he felt Pia’s presence on this epic journey and how it helped improve his overall well-being. “I was able to talk to her in my own way every day on that crossing,” he says. “For me, it was this incredible
catharsis because I didn’t have an outlet for my grief, and I needed something to put my energy into. That
bike ride really helped me get this pain out through just sheer sweat and activity.”

In hindsight, Jim now sees how there were early signs of Pia’s lymphoma before she fell at the dinner table that
night. “She was having difficulty grasping words or she was repeating herself a little. I had no clue at the time,”
he says. “But now I look back. It’s like, oh my gosh – yes. We have to become more aware.”

Jim emphasizes how increased awareness can help others combat lymphoma. “It opened my eyes to so many things and now I take a little more care of myself, and I advise other people to really check up,” he says. “I am more aware now of how important it is to check your body physically.”

In recognition of his fundraising efforts, LRF honored Jim as Rookie of the Year during its inaugural Fundraise Your Way Awards in March 2023. He is humbled by how this has brought him even closer to the organization. “I’ve still been coming to terms with grief but I’m in a happier place than I was two years ago. It’s things like this that help you get there. I’ve had as much support from LRF as I’ve given them,” he says. “That gives me something to look forward to and something to say, to keep going. Pia would want this. It’s about bonding and supporting each other.”

Planning to do another ride in the spring of 2024 from Canada to Mexico, Jim’s ambition is to contribute to LRF
annually in memory of Pia.

“Pia unfortunately was in the percentage of people who didn’t recover,” Jim acknowledges, but he hopes his contributions to LRF can help others have a different outcome. “That’s what research into lymphoma is all about,” he says. If a treatment doesn’t work, he advises, “don’t despair. It could still work for others.”

For Jim, giving back to LRF is all about helping to raise awareness for the disease that took Pia’s life and affected him personally.

“If there is something that we can do after seeing this tragedy that’s befallen us – contribute back and make a difference, make a change, I will do anything to support that.”

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Pulse is a publication of the Lymphoma Research Foundation, providing the latest updates on the Foundation and its focus on lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research, awareness, and education