Oakland Police Officer Mark Piercy gets on his Harley and suddenly is free.
Riding alongside his brothers in Maywood's Untouchables Motorcycle Club with his wife, Tara, holding him from behind, Piercy's problems seem to disappear.
All he sees is the road ahead.
In that moment, nothing else matters.
This is how the 44-year-old officer assigned to the detective bureau has cleared his head and coped with stress for the better part of his life.
But from August 2010 to January 2012 as he battled two forms of aggressive cancer, Piercy didn't have the motorcycle handles to lean on. Just friends, family, colleagues and a whole lot of faith that he'd one day make it back on the bike.
Piercy has three words of advice for those fighting: "Never give up."
The first symptom he had was a rash, or so he thought. Small, red rings across his chest and arms.
Piercy's general practitioner gave him a topical cream but after a week, the officer knew he'd need something stronger.
That's when he went to a dermatologist, who found a lump near his belt. She took a biopsy and called him back two weeks later for a follow-up.
"The furthest thing from my mind was that the doctor was going to say cancer," Piercy told Daily Voice.
In August 2010, Piercy was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
He'd spend the following three months on an aggressive treatment plan at HackensackUMC's John Theurer Cancer Center.
And so began the first few months away from the motorcycle in one of the most beautiful seasons to ride.
By the time Piercy pulled through, it was already December. The roads were wet and the air was cold. He began readjusting to his job at the police department, waiting for better days.
As fate would have it, the officer had a long way to go.
A few weeks after his treatment plan finished, Piercy began feeling chest pains at work.
"I'm not the guy that says, 'Call an ambulance,'" he said. "I told chief, he got me in the car and brought me down to the emergency room."
The doctor there took blood work before telling Piercy matter-of-factly that the cancer probably returned.
Soon after, HUMC doctors confirmed that was the case. This time, it was leukemia. Doctors said without a transplant, Piercy had little chance of survival.
"All of the doctors worked together to try to fight for me and come up with a plan," the officer said.
But they'd have to do it fast, because Piercy's body was beginning to fail him.
Weeks after his trip to the emergency room, the officer found himself in the intensive care unit at HUMC on dialysis with organ failure.
He doesn't remember much of it, either. One of the medications was causing him to hallucinate.
"I wasn't myself," Piercy said.
"On Christmas Morning, I rolled over, looked at my wife and said, 'Good morning, honey.' She seemed shocked that I was coherent and talking to her."
Piercy remained in the hospital for chemotherapy and radiation as his doctors worked to find the perfect treatment plan.
In March 2011, they found a perfect match for stem cell treatment.* Finally, after the procedure, Piercy began turning a corner.
The following month, he was ready to go home. He says that was when his illness united members of both the Untouchables MC and the Oakland Police Department.
"They went to my house and had it all prepared," he said. "They changed the furniture out and worked for hours cleaning out my basement. They took care of all of it."
Piercy saw all of his loved ones under the same roof that spring at a benefit for him, held at The Brownstone in Paterson.
He walked in through the glass atrium on the side of the building, and as soon as he entered the room, the nearly 400 people stood up and clapped.
"Tears came to my eyes," Piercy said. "To this day, the memory has the same effect on me."
Knowing that he had an entire army of friends, colleagues, family and even doctors -- the entire Oakland community -- rallying behind him, the police officer put all of his energy into his fight.
Internally, he pictured himself back on his Harley, revving his engine, the wind on his skin.
"The thought of riding made me work harder to strengthen myself," he said. "I wanted to be able to ride again."
In less than six months, Piercy was back on his feet. With help from colleagues at the police department, he made a full transition back to work in January 2012.
Although the Oakland Police Department hasn't had enough manpower to maintain its motorcycle unit -- which Piercy said fell by the wayside years ago -- he has found a way to honor police officers, motorcycle enthusiasts and cancer victims.
"I had a sergeant that I used to work for who was into motorcycles, had a friend who died of cancer," Piercy said. "He knew I was looking for a Harley, so I bought his bike."
The man's motorcycle club name in the Renegade Pigs was "Preacher," so that became Piercy's new license plate -- "PRCHR."
Although Piercy has been in remission for more than six years, not a day goes by he doesn't think about his journey or the people who helped him along the way.
He often visits HUMC patients who might need cheering up.
"I can't say enough about the treatment I got at the hospital," said Piercy, whose story was documented by HUMC to inspire others.
"They were my family for months. That's all I knew, so I go back to show them and the patients that there are success stories."
So when Piercy rides his bike, he says it's for them.
*Because of HPPA violations, HUMC release Piercy's donor's name. Instead, Piercy must request him directly for contact -- which he has done twice, and both requests were left unanswered.
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