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'Breaking new ground'

November 13, 2014

The numbers are in, and more than $21 million was raised by riders and their supporters during Pelotonia 14. Those dollars move researchers and patients like Wally Yocum closer to a cancer-free world.

For Wally Yocum, and the restored something important that cancer had stolen from him.

98在线福利网The chance to help a lot of people.

98在线福利网Yocum was a faithful blood donor until 2008. After being turned away during a routine donation, blood work came back with an alarmingly high white cell count. His doctor called him on a Friday night and told Yocum to head straight to an emergency room.

“I asked if it couldn’t wait till Monday, and he said it couldn’t,” Yocum says. “We went to the ER, (stayed overnight) and was told I would see an oncologist on Saturday. It’s not an ‘ologist’ you really want to deal with.”

Yocum still has the notes from that first meeting with that oncologist. She drew diagrams that explained what chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) was and even scribbled down the name of the mentor at Ohio State to whom she would eventually refer Yocum: .

Byrd has built a comprehensive research program in CLL at Ohio State resulting in nontoxic treatments for patients. His research has been funded by the , the and Pelotonia.

Wally and Marilyn Yocum Wally Yocum and his wife, Marilyn

During the first appointment, Byrd discussed the possibility that Yocum would need an extremely risky stem cell transplant. He sent Yocum and his wife, Marilyn, home to Marietta, Ohio, with literature to review and things to consider. They would discuss it further at Yocum’s appointment in a month.

On the drive home, the couple tried to absorb the list of terrifying side effects looming ahead and considered how they would uproot themselves and live in Columbus for 100 days. They gave away their two dogs, toured temporary housing for patients and met with a lawyer to settle end-of-life directives.

At the next appointment, Byrd presented Yocum with the option to take part in a clinical trial involving a medicine called flavopiridol. “It would set up better for the stem cell transplant, make it more feasible,” Yocum says. “So we agreed.”

98在线福利网They achieved partial remission for 15 months. When his blood cell counts started to rise again, Byrd suggested another trial with a promising treatment, ibrutinib. The medicine targets a certain protein essential for CLL to survive and proliferate.

Yocum said yes again.

“You can’t take healthy people and put them on a clinical trial. It’s senseless. You need people who have the disease.
But you’re breaking new ground here.”

98在线福利网With ibrutinib, Yocum’s quality of life improved dramatically as the leukemic cells in his blood marrow plummeted. Over time, the anxiety he had going into checkups diminished, and he found freedom in doing things that were physically challenging – like joining a softball league for the first time since his 20s and riding twice in Pelotonia himself.

98在线福利网Marilyn saw her husband regain something else through the clinical trials, too.

98在线福利网“He grieved no longer being able to be a blood donor during that time. That was a huge loss of identity,” she says, “but I could see that the opportunity to be part of a clinical trial gave him the chance to be back in the game of helping.”

98在线福利网It's a contest Yocum and researchers are winning.

The Food and Drug Administration for CLL in February. It wouldn’t have happened without the tireless commitment of researchers like Byrd, funding from Pelotonia or courageous patients, like Yocum.

He shrugs though. The decision to take part in two different clinical trials was easy when considering the complications that could result from a stem cell transplant. And if volunteering for studies meant other CLL patients could avoid chemotherapy, he was a happy to oblige.

“That’s been my dream – that people wouldn’t have to go through that part,” he says. “They can just get up in the morning, take three pills and be done with it.”

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82 million reasons to celebrate

98在线福利网In its first six years, Pelotonia has raised $82 million for the groundbreaking research at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. But the goal to end cancer has not been reached.

‘Beating cancer’

The November - December issue of Ohio State Alumni magazine offers greater insights98在线福利网 about the fight against cancer taking place across the university and with the opening of the new .