Inspiring Story, Cancer Research Updates Kick Off Ride To Survive

Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital (SGCMH) staged its ninth annual Ride to Survive bicycle challenge and walk/run to benefit cancer treatment, education and research on September 14.

Sandy Schilli, RN, BSN, OCN and director of the Alan P. Lyss Center for Cancer Care and Clinical Research, welcomed participants and shared some statistics on cancer care in rural areas.

“Dr. Lyss and I were having a conversation about statistics and he shared with me that three percent of the oncologists in the nation serve a rural community,” she said. “How lucky are we to have a cancer center that can serve our patients right here in our own community? The one critical component to that mix is Dr. Alan Lyss. He has been coming to our hospital for 27 years. That in itself is very unusual for someone to be that dedicated to a small rural cancer center.”

Lyss followed up Schilli’s remarks by explaining that rural areas are a bit disadvantaged with regard to cancer care. In fact, this year rural cancer care is the focus of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Cancer Institute.

“Rural cancer patients tend to have inferior outcomes, compared to urban cancer patients across the board,” he explained. “There are a variety of reasons for that, but I have some good news for you. This past year in the Journal of the American Medical Association there was a paper published looking at 37,000 cancer patients across all 50 states. Among all those patients who participated in clinical trials, outcomes for rural cancer patients was identical to the outcomes for urban cancer patients. You have access to a rural cancer center that has access to National Cancer Institute sponsored clinical trials, so you’re offered the opportunity to level the playing field for your patients compared to other people in rural areas. We’re very proud of that. That’s good news for Ste. Genevieve community, but it’s also good news for individuals — your loved ones, your family members, your neighbors, your coworkers, all of them benefit from clinical trials right here.

“We’re very grateful to the Ste. Genevieve hospital administration, medical staff, nursing staff, who have always been enthusiastic about clinical trials.”

Lyss went on to give concrete evidence of the validity of clinical trials.

“There was a study 20 years ago that tested a new drug called Herceptin in a very early but very lethal form of breast cancer,” he said. “We had eight people participate in that trial and at its conclusion the relapse rate for that breast cancer was decreased by 45 percent by use of that drug, and the cure rate, not just length of survival, was augmented by 33 percent. My proudest moment as an oncologist was the day that I got to call our eight patients who participated in that trial to let them know that not only did they improve their own cancer outcome, but they also improved the outcome for generations of breast cancer patients who are going to come after them.”

One of those women who benefitted from those early clinical trials was Vonne Karraker, an attorney from Farmington who told her inspiring story to the Ride  to Survive participants.

“I was deathly afraid of doctors, and that combined with my stubbornness has caused me to be fired by a couple of doctors,” she joked.  “Cancer is something I’m familiar with, as this is my second rodeo. My first one was the most pathetic, humiliating experience of my life because of my fear. I found every excuse not to go to the doctor, so it didn’t surprise anybody that I got cancer again. I planned my funeral because I knew I couldn’t get through it a second time. I barely got through it the first time. I missed so many chemo treatments that it became pointless.”

Karraker had been to other cancer centers in St. Louis, but there was a piece missing in her care.

“I never left their offices feeling like anyone cared about me,” she said. “I was always afraid. The first day I walked into the Lyss Center, I stopped being afraid and started thinking maybe I could help myself if these people were here to help me. And they did. I can’t tell you how many times I nearly died, but it was a lot. I kept coming here. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

“You save lives and you helped me find courage and helped me get my life back. Now every single day I wake up, and I am excited to get out of bed.

“I’m not worried about what time I have left; you gave me time I didn’t have. And for that I am so grateful, my husband is grateful, my grandchildren are grateful. I love my life and the life that you gave me.”

Missy Sutton, a member of the SGCMH leadership team, welcomed participants and gave thanks to a number of supporters of the event, including Mississippi Lime Company, which raises funds year-round for the Ride; and Bloomsdale Bank which sponsored the route signage for riders.

Appreciation was also given to the SGCMH Friends Foundation, hospital volunteers, city of Ste. Genevieve, Ste. Genevieve County Ambulance District, Ste. Genevieve Police Department, Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s Office, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Ste. Genevieve County Roads District, Mid America Rehab, Save-A-Lot, Trans Am Cyclery in Farmington and the Ste. Genevieve Welcome Center.

In addition, Holli Ledbetter, SGCMH Friends Foundation director, thanked the nearly 100 attendees and also thanked Andrew Naeger and Jerry Bergtholdt for their help in staging the 8-, 30- and 60-mile bike routes and 5K walk/run.

This year’s Ride to Survive had a number of teams participate: Mississippi Lime Company, Bloomsdale Bank, L’hoist North America, Team Barley, Robinson Construction, Eric Scott Leathers and Team Wilson Warriors.

The Ride to Survive has been staged without incident in the past, but at this year’s event a participant was hit by a vehicle while crossing the street and was transported to a St. Louis area hospital for evaluation. The patient is home and according to the family doing well.

(Information in a release from Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital.)

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