Less than a decade ago, running a race or biking 30-plus miles on the weekend did not even cross her mind.

Surgery in May 2011 revealed that the then-43-year-old Robin Huffstutler had ovarian cancer.

Now, at 49, the Aledo, Illinois, woman has plans to run a 5K, Gilda’s Run for Laughs, this Saturday, and ride Tour de Brew Q-C, a 35-mile bicycle trip next Saturday along area riverfront trails.

“I feel good, but it didn’t happen overnight,” Huffstutler said. 

No kidding.

Following her diagnosis, she underwent eight surgeries in 13 months, plus six rounds of chemotherapy. She missed six months of work in 2011.

During that time frame, the married mother of two, who also carries the BRCA1 gene mutation, had a double-mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to ward off the risk of breast cancer.

"It was a whirlwind," Huffstutler recalled.  "When you're told you have cancer, it's such a shock to everybody." 

Cancer survivor opts outside

Although she defeated a later-stage ovarian cancer, Huffstutler said she knows there is a 70 percent chance it could return someday, part of what fuels her current fitness regime.

When their younger son, Adam, left home a couple of years ago to study at Augustana College in Rock Island, Robin and her husband, Clint, now pro empty-nesters, ramped up their time together outside.    

“I thought we’d slow down, but actually, we’re busier than we ever have been,” said Huffstutler, who noted Clint always has made fitness a priority. “I just needed to get more involved, and I tried to think of something that we could do together because we enjoy each other’s company, so that’s how we came up with bicycling.”

Last year, they dragged out their 15-year-old Schwinn bicycles for Tour de Brew, an annual ride that benefits cancer charities. 

Huffstutler pedaled the entire 35-mile stretch, a distance she never previously attempted. She called it "exhilarating." 

This year, they are breaking out their new Trek bikes. The cancer survivor, who is involved with various organizations, including Gilda's Club and the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of the Quad-Cities, hopes her story inspires others to follow suit. 

"When I hear about somebody from our community with cancer, I try to reach out to them," Huffstutler said. "I remember what it was like to be that person."

Bar-hopping ride picks up steam

Tour de Brew organizers, who launched the event in 2014, hope as many as 350 people participate next month in what quickly, but quietly, has become a tradition for bicyclists in the community.

In its first three years, the ride raised more than $30,000 for cancer charities, including the LIVESTRONG Foundation and Camp Kesem at Augustana College, said Tina Anderson, who co-founded the fundraiser.

The route includes eight stops in The District of Rock Island, downtown Davenport, the Village of East Davenport, Rapids City and downtown Moline.

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Anderson, 46, lost her daughter, Katie, in 2007. Before she died from an incurable form of brain cancer, called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, the then-13-year-old encouraged her mother to begin riding.

They were in Lamont, Iowa, at the time celebrating Katie's birthday while watching the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI.

Anderson got hooked on cycling in 2010 and now uses Tour de Brew to educate people and raise awareness about the resources available for families with a cancer patient. She plans to ride her eighth consecutive RAGBRAI this July. For the first time this year, Anderson will ride her fat-tire bike all 411 miles. 

“You can stop living, curl up in a ball and do nothing, or you can take what you’ve learned and move forward and try to use your story to help others,” said Anderson, who lives in Bettendorf.

She had doubts about continuing the ride this year since the other founder dropped out, but she decided to push ahead anyway when she lost her mother last summer to an aggressive form of brain cancer.  

“It’s what’s pushing me forward this year,” Anderson said. “I believe in the ride and I didn’t want to let it go.”

Editor's note: Look for reporter Jack Cullen's Notes @ Noon Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at noon. He captures various sides of life in the Quad-Cities. Contact him at jcullen@qctimes.com or 563-383-2363.

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