BARRINGTON – A Barrington man and his daughter recently completed a 50-mile bicycle ride in honor of his long-time partner, who lost her life to cancer.
Timothy Cunningham and his daughter Taylor Cunningham, who lives in Dover, Dedicated their ride to JoAnn Huber, 68, who died on Jan. 13 of this year. She had adrenal cancer, which spread to the lining of her lungs and was also in her liver.
"JoAnn was courageous and graceful, and is dearly missed by all who knew her," said Cunningham. "This ride is called Jo’s Turas, an Irish word for journey and pilgrimage. JoAnn was told before she died about this ride in her honor, and it brought a smile to her face. We raised over $3,000."
The father and daughter cycled on June 4, from the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth to North Beach in Hampton and then returned to Portsmouth, for two 25-mile loops.
Cycle the Seacoast’s annual rides support the American Lung Association. This year, because of COVID-19, the rides were run virtually, completed individually by each person or group registered for the annual fundraising event. This year, $25 million nationally is being donated to COVID-19 research, as well as to lung disease research.
"This year was going to be our 11th year for the bike trek," said Melissa Walden, spokesperson for Cycle the Seacoast. "Annually we raise about $100,000. We had to go virtual and I am inspired by all those who are taking part. We are up to about $75,000 and there is still time. The riders have until June 30 to complete their event."
Registration is at www.biketreknewengland.org.
Walden said lung disease can take someone's breath away, leaving them unable to work, exercise or play. Growing faster than almost any other major illness, lung disease, including lung cancer, asthma and emphysema, is the third leading cause of the death in the United States.
"Timothy and Taylor are prime examples of why people get involved," said Walden. "People do it for someone they love, often someone who has passed away from lung disease or cancer."
"This is the first time I have done this event, but I have done Turas in the past," said Cunningham, 68. "My parents came to America together on the Queen Mary. They settled in New York City, and I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was first or second generation Irish. In 2017, I did a turas for my dad. His name was Patrick, but everyone called him Sonny, so it was Sonny’s Turas. I did four days of cycling, four hiking and then did some kayaking. In another, I always wondered how far I could continuously dribble a basketball. My daughter and I did it around a school yard, for four miles. I did another in a gym, where I leg lifted a half million pounds in two days. All of these and more are always dedicated to someone. JoAnn was by my side to help with them. So, this one is for her."
Huber and Cunningham had been partners for 23 years, in life and with great love. She owned and operated her own cleaning business, and Cunningham serves as a guardian Ad-litem to help children who need to be involved in the court system.
"She was diagnosed in September of last year," said Cunningham "Adrenal cancer is rare and by the time they got to it, it was too late. She was terminal. She had been struggling with breathing problems and when she went to the hospital, they did chest X-rays and a CT scan. They found a mass near her liver and that an aneurysm (blood clot) had traveled to her lungs."
Huber, who had been treated about seven years ago for breast cancer at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, was sent from there to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. A biopsy confirmed the adrenal cancer.
"They said we could try radiation, to extend her time, and we did," said Cunningham. "It reduced the size of the mass for a while and gave her some relief. She developed more problems, and they said there was nothing they could do, so I took her home."
Huber went home two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2019. The family contacted Cornerstone VNA in Rochester for hospice services.
"They were wonderful," said Cunningham. "The staff of Wentworth-Douglass were wonderful, and I can’t say enough about how they helped her, and me. We set up a bed for her in the living room and I slept on the couch because I could not bear to be away from her. I had to be able to touch her."
Cunningham said he and Huber met while both were going through divorces, and they had been together ever since. He said she helped him raise his daughters, Taylor, and Cady, both adults now.
"One day toward the end, JoAnn had medication delivered," said Cunningham. "She was with my daughter Taylor. When the delivery arrived, JoAnn called out that her daughter could sign for it, and she did. Later she said, ’I hope you didn’t mind I called you my daughter.’ ... She never had children, but she became such a good mom."
The couple have many close friends who rallied around them.
"We have one group who we get together with every year the day after Thanksgiving and we share leftovers and friendship," said Cunningham. "We couldn’t go this past year, so they FaceTimed with us, and sang to JoAnn, James Taylor’s ’You’ve Got a Friend.’ We were surrounded with love when things got difficult."
JoAnn died on a Monday, surrounded by friends and family. Cunningham said he will always love her and will cherish the great memories they made.
"We had a wonderful life," he said. "We decided when we met that we wanted to go as many places as possible. We have been to the islands, so many places. We would just get in the car sometimes and go."
Truro, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, held special significance to Huber. She spent many years there at her beloved Ballston Beach. She and her ex-husband had a house there.
"When I knew there was nothing left to do, I told her I would hold her ashes," said Cunningham. "When I die, our ashes will be combined, and my daughters will bring them to Ballston Beach to spread there. Our love was amazing, and we want to be together forever."