Myeloma cancer survivor tours Manitoulin, raises awareness of fatal disease

Andy Sninsky of Newport Beach, California was diagnosed with Myeloma cancer, which has no cure, in 2008. Mr. Sninsky, who is not only a cancer survivor but a bicyclist, recently spent a week on Manitoulin Island, bicycling to raise awareness and funds for Myeloma Canada.

MANITOULIN ISLAND—Myeloma cancer typically has no cure, but cancer survivor and cyclist Andy Sninsky of Newport Beach, California has gone against the grain. He was diagnosed with myeloma, which is third on the list of cancer deaths, in 2008. Mr. Sninsky recently spent a week on Manitoulin Island, bicycling to raise awareness and funds for Myeloma Canada.

Myeloma attacks the body in a variety of ways, but Mr. Sninsky’s affected his blood and bones. His expected life span on diagnosis was three to four years. When he was first diagnosed, Mr. Sninsky was living in Austria with his then wife. He underwent his first radiation treatments in 2008, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy, in Vienna. In total, Mr. Sninsky has gone through 15 bouts of radiation, eight months of chemotherapy, and a stem cell transplant.

After the radiation treatment, when he couldn’t walk up stairs, his wife managed to get him into Heiligenkreuz Abbey, a monastery in the Vienna Woods. “I was at the monastery for 16 days with a large group of Cistercian monks who would do prayers and chants before you,” Mr. Sninsky said. “They adopted me as their miracle and, so far so good.”

The stem cell transplant was in 2009. After that, Mr. Sninsky was using a walker with a wheelchair and after that, a Nordic walking stick. “I used to be five foot 11 inches tall but now I am five foot six, because of the bone damage I had,” he said.

From 2008 to 2010, Mr. Sninsky was in a lot of pain and was taking many drugs to ease that pain. At that point, Mr. Sninsky and his wife were no longer married. “We are still friends,” he said. “But she had a thyroid disease. Having two people with serious ailments is hard on a relationship.”

Eventually, his doctor told him he had to be more active and exercise more. In 2010 Mr. Sninsky, heeding his doctor’s advice, got on a bicycle and rode three blocks. “I was always outdoorsy,” he noted. “I was always busy. I thought I would live forever because of all the exercise I had, and I was never a smoker or drinker.”

He ended up calling an old high school friends who cycled and convinced him to ride from Newport Beach to Arizona, a total of 350 miles. “I did it as an awareness ride for a group that was based in California and graciously supported me with donations,” said Mr. Sninsky.

He feels he has to give back to the community and now does a bicycle trip every year for myeloma and blood cancer. “Myeloma is the number three cancer killer, behind breast cancer and lung cancer,” he continued. “Farmers get it. Steelworkers and those who work as coal miners get myeloma cancer as well. It is rare, but if you suspect you have the ailment, see your doctor and see a specialist.”

“When I was first diagnosed, I was frightened and my primary care doctor was spellbound,” he said. “I’m doing better than many. I don’t know why, but I have to wonder if it has something to do with the monks in Austria.”

Mr. Sninsky came to Canada last summer to support Myeloma Canada. The organization also organizes cancer awareness rides. As part of this year’s ride, he spent a “glorious” week on Manitoulin. “I loved every spot that I visited, from Meldrum Bay, Manitowaning, Mindemoya, Providence Bay, M’Chigeeng and all parts in between,” he said.

When he arrived in Gore Bay around 4 pm last Friday, Mary-Lea Buchan was giving out fresh veggies to town employees. Camping for RVers was still showing on Google Maps but had actually been cancelled after one season. Mr. Sninsky asked at the municipal office if there was anywhere he could camp in town and was told he couldn’t camp in Gore Bay.

“Mary-Lea was a long-distance biker, in the past riding from Sault Ste. Marie to Windsor,” Mr. Sninsky said.

Ms. Buchan told him, “’I have a backyard that we aren’t using. You’re more than welcome to stay at my house with Bob and Mrs. Lilly Third.’ They are the friendliest, nicest people you could meet.”

Gore Bay resident Tim MacTaggart, who was staying at the Buchan’s hunting lodge, heard about Mr. Sninsky’s ride and donated $100 to him. In another instance of support, a car slowly approached him as he was riding on Poplar Road, headed to Providence Bay from Gore Bay. The driver asked if he was that rider, riding for cancer. “The man lives three doors down from Mary-Lea and he gave me $50 to do whatever I need do, as his father had died from cancer.”

Mr. Sninsky’s journey began along the northern shores of Lake Huron. His ride through Ontario will encompass around 1,000 miles in total. He rides in support of patients who may not be doing well, and to support cancer research. All funds from his awareness ride will go to the International Myeloma Foundation and Myeloma Canada.

September is blood cancer awareness month, and Mr. Sninsky will complete his ride on September 16, which also happens to be his 74th birthday. His last stop is Ipperwash. From there, he will fly home.

“I have enjoyed my summer riding through Canada immensely,” said Mr. Sninsky, noting he was not always riding but driving as well.

He spent three days and two nights in Gore Bay and found the town to be “super, super friendly.”

“I love the town and the views,” he added. “I rode to the lighthouse. It’s a beautiful town and there’s a wonderful feel in the stores and restaurants.”

All of Manitoulin left Mr. Sninsky with positive feelings for the people and the places he travelled to. Some day he definitely hopes to return, he said.

His message is don’t give up. “There were times I thought I was going to check out, and it was a looming possibility but somehow I managed to beat it, at least this far,” he said.

“Here’s to my 14th year with this still incurable but manageable cancer. Some are doing better than me, and many are not.”