When Ty Burns met Craig Schauder, Burns had no idea they would become so close so fast, and that a year later he'd feed his dying friend cereal at Levine & Dickson Hospice House in Huntersville.
"He changed my life," said Burns, 53, a member of Davidson United Methodist Church. "He never gave up. He never stopped caring. We biked together, we went fishing together.
"We did a lot of things together that he was trying to do to make sure everything was right in the end. We talked about things that will never leave my lips. We became such good friends that we talked about my issues, too. He was a genuinely good person."
Dr. Schauder, an area dermatologist for more than a decade, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2008. He died in January at 49.
Dr. Nancy Astle, 50, Schauder's wife and former business partner, arranged for her husband to meet Burns through the church's Stephen Ministry caring program.
"When he was diagnosed with cancer, I knew he needed some kind of support," she said. "I went to church and asked about it. ... Ty called the next day and they went out to lunch."
Astle and Burns recently were a part of Levine & Dickson's Pedal the Park event, an annual self-paced ride that supports services and programs offered by the hospice house, with 84 cents of every dollar going directly to patient care.
About 350 bikers have raised more than $20,000 the last two years. This year, organizers hoped to raise $15,000 and expected about 300 bikers.
Burns, the owner of The Spirited Cyclist in Huntersville and Mooresville, is a three-time sponsor of the event. He admits he first supported it to get his business name out, but since the loss of his friend and because of his encounter with end-of-life care, the event has taken on new meaning.
"This is about helping a group that genuinely deserves it," said Burns. "I (was at Levine & Dickson) one day when someone passed and I saw the nurses file out of the room, crying. It must be impossible not to get emotionally involved, but it's an asset I think helps the patient and caregiver."
Astle continues to run Lakeside Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology Center, a Cornelius-based business the couple ran for 16 years. They were married 22 years and met at the University of Michigan while Schauder was studying medicine.
She lives with her daughters Stephanie, 17, and Caroline, 13, in Huntersville's Windfield community. The trio participated in the Pedal the Park event's 5-plus-mile fun ride.
Stephanie is reaching out after witnessing others help her father in his last days. For the second year, she will be a part of Relay for Life at Cannon School, where she is a senior, in Concord. Last year she raised $7,000. This year's goal is $10,000.
She told her mother she's not only doing it to honor her dad but also to help fund research that could cure serious illnesses.
Astle and her family received support on multiple levels, she said, from the Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region hospice network, which includes Hospice & Palliative Care Lake Norman and Levine & Dickson.
"Having a father with terminal illness, we hope other families will not have to experience a loss of a family member," said Astle. "We've had the benefit of using hospice as an outpatient and inpatient facility. So, it's very important for us to give back to hospice."
Astle said accessibility of nurses and social workers stood out most next to how they genuinely cared.
"Sometime it was calming just to hear their voice," said Astle. "I think there's a misperception that hospice is truly for end-of-life. What we learned, and what I hope people would realize, is hospice can provide a plan for the patient and the family so they can focus and gain some control in their lives. They allowed me to keep things in perspective."
Christine Brown, senior director in charge of community awareness for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, said the organization has cared for 28,000 families and more than 1,000 patients at Levine & Dickson. "People like Ty and Nancy mean the world to our organization," she said. "Often people who have experienced our care do get involved with our organization in a variety of ways. I think people that have this experience want to help others learn from their experience."