Dan Rembold and the other six members of his cycling team lined up shoulder-to-shoulder at the starting line for the toughest bicycle race in the world.
The moment was surreal.
“Four years ago, I was in a hospital bed expecting to die, and now I was surrounded by positive energy and dreams of accomplishing something great,” Dan said. “I couldn’t believe we had made it. Cancer, COVID and life seemingly conspired – unsuccessfully – to interrupt that moment. Half the race is getting to the starting line, and we had accomplished that much.”
For the next six days in June, Dan and his teammates took shifts cycling day and night for 3,038 miles from Oceanside, California, to the Race Across America’s finish line at Annapolis, Maryland. They rode through extreme desert heat that left their eyes dry and throats raw, blistering wind and a dangerous sandstorm. They climbed the Rocky Mountains and rode fearlessly down exhilarating descents. They survived on three hours of sleep a day.
“I was awed by the natural beauty of our earth and humbled to be alive and experiencing the many moments of joy and challenge,” said Dan, who leads a business unit at our company that creates novel technologies tailored to the individual requirements of some of our customers.
Dan and his team – all of whom have either survived cancer or had loved ones affected by the disease – finished the Race Across America in a respectable third place in six days, six hours and 33 minutes. They have raised more than $325,000 for cancer research thus far, including gifts from TIers that were matched by the TI Foundation. The goal: $500,000.
“Life will bring many undesired challenges,” said Dan, who is the first leukemia bone marrow transplant survivor to finish the race. “But we are independent. We are blessed by God to have the right to choose how we respond to adversity. I choose life. I choose joy.”
A tough diagnosis
Four years earlier, however, his future looked bleak. It was February 2017. He’d been facing down a high fever for nearly two weeks and was also preparing to take leadership of three new teams at our company. He’d been diligently documenting his symptoms and his conversations with multiple doctors, hoping to get to the bottom of his mysterious illness.
“I eventually started to realize that this was more than the flu, but I had no idea what to expect," he said. After a battery of tests at an emergency room in Dallas, Dan got his answer. He had acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – an aggressive and deadly blood cancer – and his case was so advanced that his organs were starting to shut down. He would have died within a matter of days without treatment.
“Obviously, that’s a tough diagnosis, but initially I was just relieved to know what it was," he said. “Engineers want to dissect the problem so we can come up with a solution. So my first reaction was to learn as much as possible so I could help my doctor get to the root of the problem."
A tough challenge means a big opportunity
Dan loves a challenge.
That’s what drew him to a high-pressure leadership position at our company.
It’s also why he’s not fazed by raising five kids and managing a farm with his marathon-runner wife, and former TIer, Julie Rembold. It’s what gets him up before 5 a.m. to fit in a cycling workout every morning – with more on the weekends.
He was used to facing down seemingly intractable problems in demanding circumstances. And he dissects those problems using the same method of thorough analysis, attention to detail, documentation and tracking that led doctors to an accurate diagnosis – and to a course of treatment that would save his life.
“In my job, we deal with some of the hardest challenges the company faces, because we’re directly accountable to our customer’s needs,” he said. “So the tougher a challenge is, the bigger the opportunity to get stronger by overcoming it. That mindset directly applied to battling cancer."
‘There is nothing more beautiful than to be able to do this.’
Five thousand miles away in Kerpen, Germany, a woman Dan had never met was waiting to save his life.
The only chance to prevent a recurrence of his cancer was a stem cell transplant.
“I told the doctor to give me the toughest treatment with the best chance to eradicate the leukemia so that I could move on and live the rest of my life."
Even with siblings, there’s only a 25% chance of a match, and neither Dan’s brother nor sister met the criteria. Without a family donor, they turned to the international donor registry, where the odds of finding a viable candidate are one in 5 million to 10 million.
Dan had five potential matches. Four of them backed out of donating.
But for Andrea Frank, a 49-year-old German whose father had died of leukemia when she was just 15, the chance to donate stem cells to Dan was a dream come true.
“Years ago I couldn’t help my father, but now I had the chance to help someone else," she said. “Bonnie, Naomi, Freja, Lucas and Elyas can still experience a life with their father. Julie has her husband. Anne and Bill have their son. And Bonnie and Eric have their brother. There is nothing more beautiful than to be able to do this.”
5 life lessons Dan Rembold learned from his experience with cancer:
- Great experiences can come from the toughest challenges. Some amazing things came out of my situation.
- Be grateful for what you have. As bad as things seem, someone else has it tougher than you do. Count your blessings and appreciate the small things.
- When confronted with a desperate situation, set big goals and reward yourself when you get past the tough times. As a reward for making it through treatment, my wife and I planned some major trips and got VIP seats to see a concert pianist I listened to during my stay in the hospital.
- Take it easy on yourself and be patient. Continually remind yourself to be patient with slow progress and steps backwards. Focus on the future. Try to stay optimistic, and don’t get discouraged by things outside your control.
- Accept help from others. Be selfish when you need to, don’t worry about imposing on others and let other people help!
On the road to recovery
Remembering the 84 days he spent in the hospital makes Dan appreciate the opportunity to solve engineering problems at work every day. “After I got out, I couldn’t sleep for two weeks because I was so excited to work on projects and think of ideas and things that Julie and I wanted to do," he said. “Now when I have challenges at work, I think: ‘Bring it on!’”
That explains why he joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s relay team for the Race Across America. Even split between members of the team, more than 3,000 miles of nonstop cycling was a big step up for someone whose longest race had been 100 miles.
“One of TI’s senior leaders once told me: ’If you’re going to work hard anyway, you might as well try to win the Super Bowl,’” he said. “I’ve always felt that way about life in general."