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Jun 24, 2019

Daytona 200-Winning Team Owner Michelle Lindsay Talks About Being Diagnosed With Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer, The Support She's Received, And What Comes Next

Michelle Lindsay, before she was released from the hospital.

On September 19, 2014, TOBC Racing founder/owner Jon Couch died when the vintage military aircraft he was flying crashed at VIRginia International Raceway. Couch’s mother Dr. Frances Gene Couch also died in the crash of the two-seat aircraft.

Couch’s TOBC Racing team had given many riders and mechanics opportunities to continue in motorcycle road racing at a time when the sport needed all the help it could get. Couch’s fiancé Michelle Lindsay knew that and how important the team was to her fiancé, so in an attempt to continue the mission of TOBC Racing and to keep Couch’s legacy alive, Lindsay bought the motorcycles, equipment, trucks, and rights to TOBC Racing from Couch’s estate and kept TOBC Racing going.

Just months into the project, Lindsay’s reborn TOBC Racing won the Daytona 200 with rider Danny Eslick. TOBC Racing then went on to win the Daytona 200 two more times with Eslick, in 2017 and 2018, and won MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 races with Taylor Knapp in 2015 and with Eslick in 2016 and 2017.

In April of this year, Lindsay went to her local urgent care near her home in Alexandria, Virginia, to have a stomach problem looked at, shortly before her wedding on April 20 to her new love, Myles Wilson.

On May 24, Lindsay’s doctors diagnosed her with cancer of the pancreas, which required surgery, which was performed on June 14 in Falls Church, Virginia.

“They took 30% of my pancreas, my gall bladder, a portion of my bile duct, my duodenum, and in that tissue was the tumor,” Lindsay told in an interview June 24. “They biopsied other areas--the liver, lymph nodes, the bile duct–and they didn’t find any evidence of cancer. So their thought was it was a very small, [removable] tumor that had not spread and I may not need chemotherapy.

“I was so excited. I worked so hard to get out of the hospital and did everything the doctor told me to do, doing laps [walking] and eating, even though it was hard. I was excited to go home, and right before we went home we found out that the pathology came back and the tumor that they thought was 1.2-1.8 cm was actually 4.5 cm. Had they known it was that big they wouldn’t have operated on me. They would have had me do chemotherapy first.

“So that was a little bit of a blow. Then we found out that the final pathology came back and it had spread to five out of 23 lymph nodes [making it Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer].

“So now it’s a little bit of a waiting game. You call all of the top places for this type of pancreatic cancer, which are Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson, the Mayo Clinic. You have to travel everywhere you go with probably five pounds of medical records. Then you hope that they will agree to review your case, to see you. I will definitely need some type of chemotherapy, potentially radiation, but in the next two weeks we’ll be flying to all these places to meet with the people because I’m putting my life in their hands.

“It’s a lot. We just celebrated our two-month wedding anniversary. Most newlywed couples are thinking about a honeymoon. It’s definitely a lot to deal with early on. I’m OK. I’m up for a good fight and a challenge. I don’t think there’s ever good timing for cancer. It definitely grates on you because you’re trying to fight something you can’t see.”

And it’s definitely going to be a fight. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for Stage Three Pancreatic Cancer is 3%. That means 3% of people survive for five years after diagnosis.

“Pancreatic cancer is the second-most-deadly cancer because there’s almost no way to identify it,” said Lindsay. “You don’t go get your pancreas scanned. That’s not a normal thing to do in a normal physical. Most people don’t catch it until they’re Stage Four and it’s huge and they’re having issues.

“My tumor was small and it just happened to be resting on my bile duct and I became jaundiced and went to urgent care. So I’m lucky that they caught it early, but there’s nothing you can really do to prevent it or even to try and catch it.

“I’ve lost a partner, and not that long ago. It’s surreal to even have to think about it. I didn’t plan to lose Jon [Couch] and we weren’t even married yet. So the week before my surgery, we were running around adding my husband to titles and making a will and a trust and adding each other to insurance and life insurance policies. So there was a lot of adulting to do in a very short period of time. My husband has been great.”

While Lindsay is a good candidate to be a survivor because she is only 40 and in good overall health, she also chose to tap into her support network, the motorcycle road racing community, by sharing her diagnosis on social media.

“I really wasn’t sure if I was going to share or not,” said Lindsay. “The only thing I have to compare it to is Jon passing away, and I know in my discussions with other people who lost a partner it was comforting to them to know that someone else was going through the same thing.

“I was a little shy at first, but I’m really glad that I shared it because the text messages and people reaching out on Facebook has been really motivating. So when I’m having a crap day or a crap morning, I don’t want to let down the people who are behind me. I have to walk for two to three hours a day and getting up to do that first hour is really hard, but I go on Facebook and read the messages and realize it’s time to put my big girl pants on and go.

“Knowing you’re not alone is comforting, because this is like having an anvil dropped on your head.

“I try not to pay attention to [the survival rates] and realize that every person is unique, but this certainly makes you evaluate your life and think about it in a much different way. You want to make sure your family and friends are taken care of and really prioritize what’s important. And right now what’s important is getting a plan of attack and going wherever we need to go in the country or the world to get the best care that we can. And then kind of figuring out from there how to manage the treatment and what’s important.”

So how can people support Lindsay’s fight against pancreatic cancer?

“I put a lot of faith in thoughts and prayers. Please keep those coming,” said Lindsay. “And honestly, I didn’t know my friends were setting up the GoFundMe. Insurance takes care of a good bit of it, but it doesn’t take care of the plane tickets and hotel rooms to help us go around the country and find the best care possible. And although my company has been great, short-term disability only pays about 60% of what you normally make. And living expenses don’t go down when you have cancer.

“Going through surgery people think about what the scar’s going to look like or going through chemo they wonder whether or not they’re going to lose their hair. I just love being alive.

“I think I came through a lot when Jon passed away [in 2014]. Now, I just got married, and I don’t care if I have a scar or hair or whatever. I’d like to have my hair, but I just want the opportunity to be a wife and maybe a mother someday. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I get as much life out of my life as possible.”

Lindsay said one of her goals is to get healthy enough to where she can bring TOBC Racing back to Daytona International Speedway in 2020 to try to win the Daytona 200 again.

For more information on the GoFundMe campaign set up by Lindsay’s personal friends, go here: 
#TeamMichelle Fighting Pancreatic Cancer

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