Cancer Patient Rides Bike from Waupun to Madison for Appointment

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Cancer patient Dan Lester rides into UW HospitalMADISON – Earlier this year Dan Lester told his doctor at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center that he wanted to one day ride his bike to one of his appointments.
Maybe not such a big deal if you live in Middleton. Lester, however, hails from Waupun, a full 60 miles from Madison.

But Lester, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2006, covered those 60 miles in a bit more than six hours Monday in anticipation of his Tuesday biopsy at the Carbone Cancer Center.
Due to arrive at 2pm, Lester was delayed, as much of Dane County has been in the past months, by downtown road construction malevolent in planning and execution.

Ever the optimist, Lester put a positive spin on it.

"Bascom Hill was closed down," he said, referring to the notoriously steep slope that marks the eastern edge of the University of Wisconsin campus, "so I didn't have to go up it."

An avid biker whose interest in the sport was piqued in 2004 when his wife won a new mountain bike in a church raffle, Lester rode three or four times per week before his diagnosis. But the Waupun-to-Madison excursion wasn't merely a chance to get a little more exercise and enjoyment. This ride had a specific purpose.

"This is for people who are in chemotherapy and are in a lot of pain right now and on the verge of giving up," he said after being greeted by the applause of about 25 Carbone Cancer Center employees upon his arrival. "If I can just reach one of those people and they can make the decision that they want to fight it, maybe they can get a summer like I got."

That summer has included more riding than Lester once expected. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. As the cancer grows it can cause severe pain in the bones, and if it affects the spine, as Lester's did, it can put extreme pressure on the nerves. In the months following diagnosis, chemotherapy and drug treatments sapped Lester's energy to the point that a 19-mile bike ride – a veritable ride in the park compared to what he was used to – exhausted him.

Things began to turn around for Lester after he received a bone marrow transplant at UW Hospital in 2006. The post-transplant course of medications was tough on Lester for a couple of years, with the return of symptoms such as pain and nausea. But in July 2008, under the care of Carbone Cancer Center hematologist Natalie Callendar, MD, he began a new chemotherapy regimen that included the immunosuppressive cyclophosphamide. Though he struggled with staph infections due to the damage the drug can cause to the immune system, the results were encouraging. Lester's blood-cell counts were rebounding.

"Multiple myeloma is not something we know how to cure," Dr. Callendar said, "but we can control it."

In January of this year he got back on his bike, and at an April follow-up appointment with Dr. Callendar, mentioned that he wanted to ride in for his next appointment. Dr. Callendar suggested maybe he ride halfway, which Lester took as a challenge.

Blessed by a relatively cool day with minimal wind, Lester, accompanied by his family, set off from Waupun at 8am. Roughly six hours later he arrived at UW Hospital.

"I'm pretty tired and I'm hurting in a lot of places, but it was really worth it," he said. "It was great."

"He's been an inspiration to everyone," Dr. Callendar said. "He's wanted to do this to tell people, 'Don't give up, stay as strong as you can.' "

Date Published: 08/03/2009

News tag(s):  cancernatalie s callendartransplant

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