Robin after his 7 mile ride in 2005 at the Ride for the Roses. It was the single most incredible cycling performance I've ever witnessed.
Robin after his 7 mile ride in 2005 at the Ride for the Roses. It was the single most incredible cycling performance I’ve ever witnessed. Photo by Chris Brewer.
On August 18th, 2006, driving out of the driveway of Tattoos By Rick in Green Bay, WI, my cell phone rang. I was in town for a few days to celebrate my birthday with my family. Glancing down I saw it was a buddy of mine, Robin Brewer. I picked up the call. “Hey Robin! How are you?!?! What’s going on?” “Well, not much and a lot. My cancer came back a few months ago even worse than before.The doctors said there was zero chance it would go into remission this time and I’ve chosen not to treat it. There isn’t much time left, so I’m calling friends to say goodbye.” I’d met Robin two years prior down in Austin, TX at the Ride for the Roses, a big fundraising event for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). His brother, Chris, was a friend of mine, a cancer survivor, and an employee at the LAF. Robin and I sat at Chris’ kitchen table one night and shot the breeze about all kinds of stuff. Tattoos. Computers. Photography. Robin was really into toy camera photography, using Holgas with plastic lenses. This was well before the retro “analog” film movement came to pass. He and his partner Melisa, along with other friends, self-published a gorgeous book of toy camera photography. Robin was enthusiastic, smart, talented, hilarious and personable. We struck up a friendship that night and kept in touch after we went home. A phone call now and then, or an email. Inspired by Chris, he started cycling big time so he could ride in the next Ride for the Roses. I really looked forward to seeing him again in Austin in 2005. When we all met for dinner in 2005 Robin looked like he was barely alive. It turns out that was the case. Everything had been going great. He’d been cycling a ton, losing weight, and fundraising for the Peloton Project. Then out of nowhere came some pains in his stomach. Diagnosis: Stomach cancer. The doctors removed his stomach, most of his intestines and put him through an aggressive chemotherapy treatment. Robin had literally just finished his last round of chemo before flying to Austin. He’d trained his ass off and raised enough money to qualify for a white jersey. Cancer be damned, there was no way Robin wasn’t going to ride his bike in the event. He proceeded to slowly, and without any complaint whatsoever, ride the 7 mile kids course. It was hard to watch, he was in so much pain. Every single gust of wind, every little roller or hill just took more and more out of him. Yet Robin gritted his teeth, hung on, and pedaled until he crossed the line to collect his cancer survivor’s yellow rose.
Robin had a wicked sense of humor. His "tri-chemo" tattoo that he got after his stomach cancer went into remission.
Robin had a wicked sense of humor. This was his “tri-chemo” tattoo that he got after his stomach cancer went into remission the first time. Photo by Robin Brewer.
It honestly still stands as the single most awe inspiring cycling performance I have ever been witness to. Screw the Tour De France, or even the Tour Divide. Have the majority of your guts ripped out, get course after course of radioactive poison pumped through you, and then get on your bike and go ride 7 miles. Let me know how you do. In the end, the treatments worked. Robin’s cancer went into remission. He started riding again, getting ready for the next Ride for the Roses. We chatted here and there, as usual. Life went on. Until that phone call. Stunned I pulled over on a side street, turned off the engine, and listened. The cancer was back, he said, in a more aggressive form than before. The prognosis was that chemo would give him some extra time but remission wasn’t in the cards. Chemo would also make his life a living Hell. Or he could not take treatment, let the cancer run it’s course, and live his last few months in comfort. “They gave me 3 months to live about two and a half months ago.”, he said. “It’s almost time, so I wanted to call and say goodbye.” We talked for as long as he was able about everything that came to our minds. His partner, Melisa, whom he loved so much. His son, Alex. Chris. Cameras. What I’d been up to. What the last few months of his life had been like. It ended with him saying, “I just want you to know that I love you, and that I’ll be watching out for you wherever I end up.” *click* I never heard his voice again.
08/21/06 at 2:47 AM Hello Everyone, It’s with great sorrow that I have to tell you all that Robin fought his last battle and passed from this life at 3 o’clock this morning. He passed peacefully in his sleep as we had hoped he would. Melisa
Robin had a saying, a motto he lived by, “This For Now”. This is what’s happening right now, but things will change. So, for now, what we’ve got is what we’ve got. Complaining doesn’t do any good. Make the best of that hand you’ve been dealt while trying to get to a better place. It’s hard, though, to find a silver lining in Robin’s death. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since that call; that his son Alex has gone 10 years without his Dad, Chris 10 years without his brother, and Melisa 10 years without the guy she was madly in love with. I’m pretty sure Chris would rather be going on a bike ride with Robin today instead of raising a pint of Guinness in his memory. I know I’d be a damn sight happier talking to him about the Travelwide 4×5 than looking through it, wondering what image he’d see if he was here. People sometimes ask what I’m looking for out there while cycling Route 66 on Brian’s Ride. There are many things, but one of them is to talk to ghosts. All that time alone riding gives me the space I need to remember these cancer stories, to mourn, to have little made up conversations that I wish I’d had with Robin while he was alive, try to remember what his voice sounded like on those rambling little calls we used to have. Maybe that’s a messed up thing to do. I don’t know. I just know that’s what I’ve got and I’m doing the best I can while trying to make something good come out of it all. But today, on August 21st, I’ll raise a pint of Guinness in Robin’s memory, send him a greeting, wherever he is, and thank him for keeping an eye on me. Tomorrow I’ll ride, take photos, and try to keep his memory alive. Rest in peace, my friend. Fuck Cancer. This For Now.
On September 24th, Erik Mathy will be cycling the entirely of Route 66, with a 4×5 camera, to fight cancer in honor of his cousin Brian Brendemihl who passed away in August of 2015. For more information on Brian’s Ride, please go to Erik’s website for more details, or, just visit Erik’s Generosity Page to help fight cancer yourself.

3 Comments

  1. I want to thank you for this beautiful tribute to Robin my younger son. I cannot even express what it means to me – just thank you so much. He was a very special guy as you found out and I miss him every day of my life. I have been granted 81 years so far and he only had 40 – I am sure he would have done so much more if he could have lived as long as me. It is sometimes very hard to understand why such things happen but I am thankful for the time we did have together. My sympathy to you in the loss of your cousin Brian and wish you all the very best for your ride in his honor in September.

  2. What a lovely tribute. This for now.

    Oh, and — Fuck cancer!

  3. Pingback: So It Begins - Bikepacker

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