BOSTON (CBS) – The Pan Mass Challenge is a life-affirming tribute to people who have been lost to cancer and a celebration of survivors.

This year, more than 560 survivors will be either riding or volunteering.

One of those riders is Pam Elrod from Chelmsford who told WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes she believes the PMC helped save her life.

When Pam Elrod is training, she doesn’t draw attention to herself. But she wants you to notice her jersey.

“People ask me about it when Iride. ‘Oh, you ride the Challenge?’ And I say, ‘Yeah. You should, too!’”

But when Pam crosses the finish line, she trades the jersey for a colorful tribute T-shirt, mindful of the life each ribbon on the shirt represents.

1:49:06 my cousin Cynthia’s on here.

Almost everyone who dies in her family dies of cancer and they each are represented by a ribbon.

One of the 34 ribbons on Pam’s shirt represents her friend Marcia Sacco, who she says was “full of the joy of life.”

“She had more friends, honestly, than the heavens have angels,” Pam said.

Marcia was the friend who convinced Pam to ride the PMC.

“She just insisted. She said, ‘That’s my favorite charity.’”

Pam was intrigued. And intimidated. But Marcia was relentless.

“She said, ‘No. I’m serious! You have to promise me.’ And I said OK. I promise. I’ll figure it out this year.’”

Three months later, Marcia died. Pam didn’t even know she was sick and that she’d been battling cancer for a while.

Watch: Video of Pan-Mass Challenge Opening Ceremonies

The next terrible surprise came just months later. Pam rode her first PMC – the 26-mile Wellesley to Foxboro route – which proved to be unusually painful.

“I did the ride and I thought I pulled a muscle,” she recalled. ”But it wasn’t a muscle.”

It was a slow-growing uterine tumor that doctors only found because of the discomfort Pam felt on her bike, keeping that promise to Marcia.

“Marcia did save my life. Marcia and the PMC,” Pam said. “I don’t ever get on my bike that I don’t say ‘thank you.’”

Pam’s about to ride her third PMC, 50 miles, Wellesley-to-Wellesley.

She trains solo, but says she’s never alone.

“Marcia. My mother. My sister. My brother in law-Malcolm,” said an emotional Pam. “Yeah. They’re there pushing me saying ‘You’ve got this. You’ve got this!’”

Seventeen months after her surgery, Pam says she’s doing great.

She’ll ride the PMC as long as she can. And after that, she’ll volunteer.

And Pam’s friend Marcia’s son,  Stephen, this year is riding his 28th PMC.


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