Going the Extra Mile for Patients and Research

Jul 02, 2012

Rafat Abonour, MD, takes his passion to find a cure for myeloma on the road


    Rafat Abonour, MD

Member since:

: Hematology, medical oncology, multiple myeloma

: Associate Dean of Clinical Research and Professor, Indiana University School of Medicine; Director, Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center Adult Clinical Research Office

ASCO activity
: Member, Scientific Program Committee’s Lymphoma and Plasma Cell Disorders Subcommittee
For the past seven years, Rafat Abonour, MD—a clinical researcher focusing on multiple myeloma at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis and a member of ASCO’s Scientific Program Committee—has gone the extra 1,400 miles for his patients.

Every fall since 2005, Dr. Abonour has set off on a two-day trek called Miles for Myeloma. He and a pack of around 20 cyclists crisscross the state of Indiana, traveling several hundred miles to raise awareness of and funding for multiple myeloma research. To date, he has helped raise more than $1.75 million.

Dr. Abonour has no plans to slow down. But before he gears up for his eighth event this September, ASCO Connection caught up with him to discuss his inspiration for the ride, his plans for 2012, and where he sees Miles for Myeloma going in the future.

AC: How many miles did you and your team travel in the 2011 Miles for Myeloma, and how much money did you raise?
Dr. Abonour: We raised about $243,000, and we rode about 130 miles the first day and 75 miles the second day for a total of 205.

AC: This year will be your eighth year participating in Miles for Myeloma. What was the initial inspiration?

Dr. Abonour: I’m a runner and marathoner...I was sitting with a group of patients trying to figure out how we were going to raise awareness for multiple myeloma and help fund multiple myeloma research and one of the patients brought up the idea of a 5K.

I said, “Well, the 5K, everyone does that....You guys come to me from all over Indiana for a second opinion, so why don’t I come to you. But instead of driving there, I will run.” I wanted to do an ultra-marathon. I was looking at it during the first year and it was going to be 120 miles, and I said, “Well, I do have a full-time job and a family. I better not train for that.” So we decided to run one day and cycle the other day, and we did that for the first four years. That was really hard, long—fun too—but the hardest thing about the run is the extra time it takes to cover the long distances. It was draining on the runners and it was draining on the volunteers.

When we started to do the 200- and 250-mile trips, it was hard to fit the run in, so that’s why the last couple of years have been only bike riding.

AC: What type of training does it take to prepare for this event?
Dr. Abonour: First of all, you can’t just decide to ride 100 miles. Serious training is a necessity. The one thing we have to do is to build up to 100 miles gradually. We try to cover that much distance several times before the ride and then do a medium-distance run the next day. You spend basically your whole summer training. If I’m not on call, I’m pretty much on the road getting ready.

AC: What are the toughest parts of the ride?
Dr. Abonour: The hours it takes to train and keeping the group safe during the actual ride are the biggest challenges. When we’re riding together, we’re riding on public roads and we don’t have a police escort the whole way. We have different levels of abilities among the riders, so it’s tough to keep the group together. The other riders make fun of me because I’m shouting, “Stay on the right! Stay on the right!” the whole way.

AC: What’s the most rewarding part?
Dr. Abonour: We get an RV every year, and the beauty of the RV is that every 20-25 miles we stop, our volunteers put food and water out, and it becomes a mobile aid station for the riders. It’s a great sight. It’s a time for getting together, talking to the patients, talking to the families of patients, remembering the people who have passed away. Every 25 miles we have a moment of reflection on someone who was a patient of ours and their journey, and we ride in their memories. The group uniting together is an amazing thing.

Everyone looks forward to coming back every year because of those two days of friendship. There’s hardship and reflection, but also memories.

AC: Did you ever imagine this event would get as big as it has when you first started eight years ago?
Dr. Abonour: Not really. I think what’s humbling is the generosity of people. They’re out there every mile of the way and it’s just been incredible.

What we’ve also done, for the last four years, is to end the ride with a patient seminar. We invite a speaker from another university who is working on myeloma, and we have a lecture and question-and-answer session. It’s been well-attended. It’s nice to end two days of physical struggle with spreading a positive message about the importance of clinical research and what’s novel and new in multiple myeloma research. Patients, by being together, encourage each other and I think that’s also fascinating to see. That evening, at the end of two days of riding, is also a lot of fun.

AC: Where do you see the event going in the next five to 10 years?
Dr. Abonour: At some point, we would like to do a ride across the country and maybe engage other colleagues. Maybe we could ride coast to coast.

AC: Do you have any other hobbies or pastimes?
Dr. Abonour: I do like to cook. That’s why I exercise so much.
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