By Valerie Shelton
Sometimes all it takes is just one person to make a difference. That’s how Eric McIntyre, 58, felt two years ago when he got the urge to ride across the country I support of his wife, Liz, who is battling pancreatic cancer.
“It was divine intervention,” McIntyre said. “I knew someone had to do something and I thought, why not me and why not us?”
McIntyre made a deal with God at that moment that if Liz was well enough he would do it—he would be the one to raise awareness for advanced stage cancers by hopping on his bicycle and riding 50-plus miles a day for 110-plus days.
On April 19, after over a year of planning, Liz was well enough and McIntyre was confident enough that he could leave her—the love of his life and wife of 20 years—to go on this journey dubbed the Pancreatic Cancer Victory Tour. Thus, he rode out of New Orleans and headed west.
On June 6—day 49—McIntyre reached the city of Clovis, where he was greeted by a host of local cyclists, including Mayor Nathan Magsig.
The next day, day 50, Magsig led McIntyre and a group of about 14 in a 50-mile picturesque ride up Auberry Road to Millerton Road, then toward the 168 highway down to a small country road called Nicholas, then up to Humphrey Station, up Pitman Hill to Watts Valley Road which turns into Ashlan Avenue, then from Ashlan to Academy, then Shaw Avenue to Clovis Avenue, finishing near the famous Gateway to the Sierras sign.
Magsig said he was contacted several weeks before McIntyre rode into town and was asked just to welcome him to the city, but after hearing McIntyre’s story, Magsig wanted to do more than just shake his hand, he wanted to ride with him.
“I really admire his determination and I’m happy to do whatever I can to help him spread his message,” Magsig said.
Throughout his journey, McIntyre said he’s been privileged to ride with several groups of supporters, but this was the first ride he went on with a public official.
It was also the first time McIntyre was able to ride with people from the Lazarex Cancer Foundation, the non-profit organization receiving 100 percent of the funds raised from McIntyre’s Pancreatic Cancer Victory Tour.
Lazarex, which has its headquarters in Danville, California, was founded by Dana Dornsife under circumstances similar to the McIntyre’s.
Dornsife’s brother-in-law Mike was just 42 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“It’s a devastating diagnosis with a grim prognosis,” Dornsife said. “Mike was given half of a 1 percent chance at survival for three months without treatment and five months with treatment. At that time in 2003, according to the American Cancer Society, 35,000 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 35,000 died from it.”
Dornsife knew that Mike wouldn’t have any better results if he did the same thing as other patients, so she went searching online for clinical trials and after five weeks of full-time research was able to find trials Mike could participate in. Although Mike eventually succumbed to the disease, he lived 19 months with it instead of three.
Other patients took notice that Mike was beating the odds and turned to Dornsife for help finding clinical trials for them. It was then that Dornsife started to realize that not only did people need help finding clinical trials, they also needed help paying for ways to get to the trials.
“As I was sharing and trying to help people find clinical trials, I realized many couldn’t participate because of the logistics and the costs,” Dornsife said. “The clinical trials themselves are free, but there are costs associated with traveling to the trials and some other medical costs aren’t covered. It wasn’t right that people who wanted to fight couldn’t because they couldn’t afford to. I realized Mike lived 19 months because our family was able to write a check. I felt that was morally and fundamentally wrong. Anyone desperately clinging to life should be able to participate in a trial that can give them more time, whether or not they can afford too. That is why I decided to start Lazarex.”
Lazarex is unique in that it helps patients find clinical trials and helps pay the travel expenses of the patient and a companion so they can participate in the trials.
While McIntyre said he and Liz haven’t had to rely on financial assistance from Lazarex, they did use their services to find some clinical trials for Liz. McIntyre said he chose to support Lazarex with his cross-country ride because he knows of no other organization that assists cancer patients and their families in this way.
“Lazarex is unique in its advocacy and research,” McIntyre said. “Also, no other organization fills that financial gap. That is why I wanted to partner with them.”
From the start, McIntyre said he knew this journey was about much more than he and Liz.
“I have been there for all her treatments so far so this is difficult, but we knew when I started this journey that it is bigger than the two of us,” McIntyre said. “This is about helping other people, raising awareness and getting people talking about pancreatic and other advanced stage cancers and raising money for Lazarex.”
While McIntyre was able to rendezvous with Liz in Las Vegas, he had to say goodbye to her before riding from Los Angeles to Clovis, as she had to go to a hospital in Maryland to start a 12-day vaccine trial.
At a Clovis fundraising event held after the ride at Valerie and Kevin McElroy’s home, McIntyre’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke to a group of Clovis supporters about being separated from Liz during the trial.
“It’s not easy, but I made a deal,” McIntyre said. “They say physical fitness and emotions go hand-in-hand and I will definitely say this has made me more emotional. It’s tough to be away from her, but we are spiritual people and we both know that in the end this is worth it. All the people who will receive help from Lazarex because of this are worth it.”
The Clovis event raised more funds of any other fundraiser along the Pancreatic Cancer Victory Tour up to that point, with many residents making generous contributions to the cause including several local State Farm agents who were inspired to donate to McIntyre not only because it is a worthy cause but because he is a State Farm employee.
“I’ve been following his journey for a while and brought it to the attention of my fellow agents,” agent Antonio Fabila said. “He is a State Farm employee and we want to help him be successful and we are in awe of what he is doing. It’s also our policy to be a good neighbor so it’s right for use to support causes like this.”
Magsig, who presented a proclamation on behalf of the city to McIntryre at the fundraiser, said it’s also fitting that the community of Clovis be involved.
“This is what Clovis is all about,” Magsig said. “We build each other up and support causes like Eric’s.”
To follow McIntyre’s journey, visit facebook.com/Pancreaticcancervictoryfoundation. To donate to the cause, visit http://www.lazarex.org/events/pancreatic-cancer-victory-tour.