Sarah Tasker made her dad promise he wouldn’t leave her house.
So Lanny Mehl, who moved in with Sarah and Steve Tasker during his nine-month cancer treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, got creative with his daily workouts. He jogged up and down their long East Aurora driveway, circled the kitchen island and kept weights under his bed. On days the cancer became too enervating, the 74-year-old did bicep curls and moved his legs as if he were riding a bike.
Though Mehl fought the cancer, it took his life in March.
So during Sarah and Steve’s 20-mile bike ride Saturday in the Ride for Roswell, they will pedal faster as they think of him. They will endure the heat as they remember Mehl enduring drug and radiation therapy and brain tumor surgery. And they will take solace in having raised $3,500 for cancer research at Roswell Park in his memory.
“He said, ‘I’m going to do the maximum – something every day,’ ” Sarah Tasker recalled her father saying when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma last June.
The way Mehl battled cancer was emblematic of how he lived life – putting forth maximum effort. And as the Taskers watched him, they became stronger people.
“One hundred percent, we were changed by our dad’s time with us,” Sarah said. “Our kids were changed, our faith was changed, my relationship with my brothers was catapulted, made better, tightened. It was a gift he was even in our house.”
Throughout their marriage, Steve and Sarah never made a major decision without going to Mehl first: Where should they invest their money? How should they choose their children’s colleges? Should they stay in Buffalo upon retirement or move back to Kansas?
“There have been multiple times since he’s passed away that we wish we could talk about things with him and run by him and get his wisdom,” said Steve, a former Buffalo Bills star who is now a CBS Sports game analyst. “And I think that’ll continue to happen until we pass away.”
Who could blame them?
The FBI agent-turned-farmer had served as a Navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War; he ran seven days a week and participated in 38 marathons; and he maintained a happy, 55-year marriage.
Though Mehl is gone, it’s almost like he’s not. He won’t just guide their bicycle ride Saturday – through the wisdom he passed, it seems like he will guide his family for years to come.
Sarah, for instance, has many of her father’s qualities: she’s militarylike regimented and organized. She runs every day. She’s passionate about reading and learning. (Mehl read the thousands of books in his office at least once each.)
Mehl’s grandchildren use Mehl’s advice to make decisions to this day. Steve and Sarah’s youngest son, who attends St. Francis High School, is heading to college in a couple of years and is going to use Mehl’s “grid strategy” for choosing the best school: Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle (one side for pros, the other for cons) and separate the costs, fields of study, athletics, dorm lives and distances from home.
And Sarah and Steve’s five children are all committed to fitness, just like their grandfather.
For Mehl, it was about finding triumph in each endeavor. How can you get the best experience out of everything you do? Even in death, Mehl was victorious.
“His biggest dream from the beginning was that his battle would help another person’s be less painful,” Sarah said.
Two days before her father died, Sarah walked into his room and told him that she and Steve were going to try to use Mehl’s story at Roswell Park so research could be done for others with his same diagnosis.
“Dad, can you hear me?” she said.
He spoke for the first time in days.
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
Mehl’s fight with cancer provided Roswell Park with research. Steve and Sarah’s donations will aid that, too. But Mehl’s life and death have affected his children and grandchildren in ways Steve says are “innumerable to count.”
Fortunately for them, losing their loved one doesn’t mean losing his spirit.
“It sounds a little harsh, but we all need to face the fact that cancer’s going to walk into our lives on some level,” Sarah said. “It can’t break us. It can’t break our lives. It can’t break our families. It can’t break heaven. We just need to be victorious in our spirit.”
Scott Hamilton, an Olympic figure skating gold medalist and cancer survivor, will speak at the opening ceremony for the Ride for Roswell this evening at UB Stadium on the North Campus in Amherst. The event begins at 4 p.m., with a chicken barbecue, and the ceremony will follow at 7.