Bike Riders Take On Thousand Mile Trip To Help Find Cure For Rare Cancer

02/25/11  Portland, Ore.

A group of bicyclists are attempting something nearly impossible for the average person. They will ride part or all of 1,000 miles from Bremerton, Wash., to San Francisco, Calif. They'll pedal about 100 miles a day for 10 days from Aug. 5 through Aug. 15 - about half of the length of the Tour de France.

These are not ordinary riders. They either live with or are riding for a friend or family member with what was once one of the deadliest cancers: a rare tumor known as gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GIST.

Mike Prozan, 47, the organizer of the Peter Thomas Memorial Ride 2007, is surviving GIST cancer and the only rider planning to do the entire 1,000 miles. During the ride, Prozan will climb a total of 48,000 feet - the height of Mt. Everest almost 1.5 times over. About 10 others riders, some with GIST, including Genny Fox, 49, from Napa Calif., and Deanne Johnson, 52, from Diamond Springs, Calif., who also are surviving GIST will collectively ride six days.

Prozan, an avid cyclist and attorney from San Mateo, Calif., is participating in the ride to raise money and awareness in the hope that one day there will be a cure for this form of cancer. The ride is named after a 2006 United Kingdom ride started by GIST patient Peter Thomas, who has since passed away.  

To help battle his cancer, Prozan is taking Gleevec, a targeted cancer pill developed by Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute Director Brian Druker, M.D., and Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Laboratory and clinical studies led by Michael Heinrich, M.D., and Charles Blanke, M.D., of the OHSU Cancer Institute, showed that Gleevec is effective against GIST. Gleevec works by blocking an enzyme the cancer needs to grow. Before Gleevec, GIST was considered untreatable and incurable, with life a life expectancy of about one year. With Gleevec treatment, most patients with advanced metatastic disease live for more than five years. Money raised from pledges will go to the OHSU Cancer Institute for further GIST research.

Now, like Mike Prozan, most GISTERS, as they call themselves are able to live their lives symptom - free.

"Along the way, I have found that organizing and training for the ride is very therapeutic in that it takes my mental cancer time away from worrying about when (if) Gleevec will stop working for me and onto something more positive. I'm also hoping that the extent of the challenge will help raise media awareness about this disease and those of us in the new era of cancer who live with it not as cured or uncured but chronic with the very real threat of return and possible death.  Awareness is one benefit I hope to achieve," Prozan, said.

The riders will embark at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 in Bremerton, wind their through Washington and Oregon, and finish in San Francisco Aug. 15. Cities the riders will pass through include:

Sunday, Aug. 5: Bremerton to Shelton, Elma, Centralia, Wash.

Monday, Aug. 6: Centralia to Chehalis, Toledo, Castle Rock, Longview, Rainier, St Helens, Scappoose, Wash., Portland, Ore.

Tuesday, Aug. 7: Portland to Beaverton, Tigard, Lafayette, Amity, Sheridan, Ore.

Wednesday, Aug. 8: Sheridan to Willamina, Neskowin, Lincoln City, Newport, Waldport, Ore.

Thursday, Aug. 9: Waldport to Florence, Reedsport, North Bend, Coos Bay, Ore.

Friday, Aug. 10: Coos Bay to Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach, Brookings, Ore.

Saturday, Aug. 11: Brookings, Ore., to Crescent City, Klamath, Orick, Trinidad and McKinleyville, Calif.

Sunday, Aug. 12: McKinleyville to Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale, Garberville, Calif.

Monday, Aug. 13: Garberville to Leggett, Fort Bragg, Calif.

Tuesday, Aug. 14: Fort Bragg to Mendocino, Point Arena, Gualala, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Calif.

Wednesday, Aug. 15: Bodega Bay to Tomales, Point Reyes Station, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Corte Madera, Sausalito, finishing at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Each year, 4,500 to 6,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with GIST, according to the American Cancer Society. Although these tumors can start anywhere in the intestinal tract, they occur most often in the stomach or the small intestine. The rest are found in the esophagus, large intestine, colon and rectum. Most people diagnosed with GIST are older than 50, but these tumors can occur at any age. They are slightly more common in men. Blacks are more likely to develop GISTs than whites.