Thanksgiving to World AIDS Day

Thank you. Thank you for acknowledging the power of a virus to ravage lives. Thank you for extending compassion to every human being, protec...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Focus, Partner, Achieve – A World AIDS Day Reflection

The virus would surely kill him but not today. Today he was stable enough to be released. He would need the support of loved ones and constant medical care the rest of his remaining days but people were afraid of the virus and insisted on keeping it as far away as possible, even if it meant isolating its host…

Ebola isn’t the first deadly virus to come knocking on America’s door. Daily headlines of Ebola diagnoses brought the early days of HIV ignorance roaring back to life, a time when fear led so quickly to closed borders and hundreds, then thousands of people left to die, untouched and alone. 

…He was no longer welcome to stay in this foreign land and the diagnosis now banned him from returning to his own…

What had humanity learned from its 25 year crusade against HIV that could provide solace as we squarely face Ebola today? Could fears be eased by facts as they had in the past? Most importantly, would compassion rise above our worries to heal the world?

…Yet there were those who were not afraid, their ignorance eradicated by knowledge. Brave souls who knew there was no danger, chose to mask the stigma-laden facts and sent him home with dignity.

My brother got lucky in the midst of his most ill-fated days to know such bravery at the time of his AIDS diagnosis decades ago. There’s hope in the similar stories of heroic boldness in the presence of this Ebola outbreak. It causes me to linger on the “World” of World AIDS Day and reflect on the tenacity of a global generation that lassoed HIV and maintains a tight grasp to postpone its devastating spiral to a fatal AIDS diagnosis. What began as an ego-driven race to exclusive credit for the next breakthrough evolved into dependence on global partnerships, a humbling acceptance that one size treatment, delivery method, and prevention message does not fit all and AIDS cannot be defeated until the world is cured.

HIV, like Ebola, is an equal opportunity virus that laughs at the walls and closed doors containing our fear. To defeat such a beast requires no less than the message contained in this year’s themefor the World AIDS Day goal to bring about an AIDS-free generation – Focus, Partner, Achieve. Cure the world.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

To The Very End

After 20,000 cycling miles peddling your support for HIV/AIDS research and services, why would I switch gears to ask for your donation to cancer research? Again?

Greg – A brother from another mother, compadre in my youth, never missed calling on my birthday and every Mother’s Day, refused to allow HIV to defeat him and, when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was profoundly comforted that his HIV doc and cancer doc worked so closely together on his care plan. Greg had fought years to move his HIV viral load to undetectable levels but lost his life to cancer.

Nick – So hard to watch a kid spend time in hospitals and treatments instead of ball parks and talk about tumors as easily as video games, but Nick is a fighter and soundly put cancer in its place and grew into a young man I admire. Nick volunteered on last year’s Obliteride and cheered on his cycling dad from the sidelines, then decided he needed a bike too. I should not have been surprised when Dad asked me to join the two of them on a New Year’s Day ride this year and Nick kept right up with us over 45 chilly miles. Last month, Nick rode 200 miles in the Seattle to Portland (STP) bicycle classic and will certainly take his turn on Obliteride, but this year’s timing was bad. They’ll be back - Nick and his Dad.

Dr. Yuntao Wu, Ph.D – Professor of Microbiology & Infectious Diseases at George Mason University, whose HIV lab was 4x beneficiary of the NYCDC AIDS Vaccine Rides and the 2012 Stealth Ride, funding used in part to test the effect of various cancer-fighting drugs on shutting down the protein Wu’s lab discovered is responsible for allowing HIV to enter the T-cell and destroy it, leading to AIDS. Dr. Wu and his lab team, who traveled all those many miles right by our side, introduced me to the connection between cancer and HIV/AIDS research.

Dr. Mark MulliganDirector of the Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center and international leader in clinical trials of HIV vaccines in direct partnership with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Mark Mulligan was the first person on Atlanta’s AIDS Vaccine 200 to ask why the Puget Sound Riders hadn’t created a cycling event for Fred Hutch back home in Seattle. Perhaps by sheer coincidence, or the raves of a few Hope Clinic devotees to Fred Hutch colleagues about their grassroots funding arm, the Obliteride was born…and Puget Sound Riders joined the cause close to home.

Jon Fehrenbach – Co-founder of the Puget Sound Riders, stalwart training ride leader since 2000, lost a brother to HIV/AIDS who was himself a many year veteran of the California AIDS Ride, convinced me to join him on the 10 year anniversary of that event in its reincarnated form – AIDS LifeCycle 2011. On the 5th night of that 7 day San Francisco to LA ride, Jon’s phone rang. His sister Jeanne’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. Jon finished that ride knowing Jeanne was unlikely to live through the year. Jon registered for the first Obliteride faster than he descends a mountain, re-registered promptly again this year and invited me to do the same.

Initially I turned Jon down. I could easily draw up a very long list of reasons not to ask my donors to dig back into their pocketbooks one more time this year, not to spend another weekend training or (in the absence of said training) powering painfully over a 150 mile hilly weekend ride but the more I thought about Greg, Nick and his dad, Dr. Wu and Dr. Mulligan, and countless friends, relatives colleagues and classmates who have paid the ultimate price or have so much to gain from the outcome of this event….well, wouldn’t you?

This weekend I’ll join Jon and a few hundred other brave cyclists and volunteers on the 2nd annual Obliteride for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. If you’ve already given, thank you. If you want to make a donation, please do, again with my gratitude which you’ll have regardless for having read to the very end.

Hope for the journey, to the very end.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I’ve quit trying to avoid this milestone of aging that explains the more obvious wrinkles, thicker middle and rotten eyesight. Instead, I embrace the celebration of having not only survived another year but lived it to the fullest. In doing so, this day is spent less on thoughts of gifts received throughout the year and so many of those have been from you.

I had numerous reasons to dread hauling my bike to Atlanta this spring. A hectic travel schedule left little time to train and even less attention paid to fundraising but you came through just the same and your gifts made to further HIV/AIDS research at Emory University, more than $163,000, made every mile of the AIDS Vaccine 200 well worth the effort and sore muscles!

Puget Sound Riders AV200 Team
Before leaving Atlanta, our team of Puget Sound Riders, 3 cyclists and 2 veteran volunteers, was gifted by a personal tour of Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory, where several of the scientists and researchers funded by your generous donations enthusiastically shared their work. I wish you could experience their gratitude for this annual cycling event. $163,000 is absolutely a drop in the bucket considering the amount of funding required to fight a pandemic but the bucket cannot be filled without that first drop and the seed money supplied by your donations is vital for getting new ideas off the ground and qualified for larger grant funding.

Grad students in Dr. Rama Amara’s lab are finding the pro-biotic benefits of yogurt may make that widely available dairy product a more effective delivery mechanism for HIV drug treatments.
Dr. Rama Amara gives a thumbs up to the AV200!
Dr. Steven Bosinger, gifted HIV scientist and budding cyclist
Dr. Steven Bosinger (who cycled the 2013 AV200) eagerly demonstrated new equipment capable of processing tests and data thousands of times faster than outdated models. Dr. John Altman also thinks so highly of this event that he joined us on the road last year and regretted not having the training time to ride again this May. Alas, we each have gifts to bring to this journey and we assured him that ours were of little use without his time well spent on strengthening T cells.

The Emory Vaccine Center reminds me each May of the interdependent nature of medical research when I hear HIV/AIDS scientists celebrate the defeat of Hepatitis C and share studies of crossover testing of cancer drugs on HIV. This birthday I especially miss the annual call from a dear friend who recently lost his battle to pancreatic cancer and remember what comfort it brought that his cancer doc and HIV doc worked so closely together on his care. It inspires me to stretch my gifts a little wider and find more ways to give. Thank you for joining me on this ride and bringing hope to the journey.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Little Fall of Rain

Every so often I enjoy a little bike ride on a balmy day with the sun on my face and the wind at my back, the company of friends and rural scenery so stunning one can only slow to a coast and marvel at its majesty. Every so often, though not this weekend. Saturday was a rain or shine training day – it rained, I rode. A cold, rainy ride is no one’s idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday and yet it occurred to me while wiping a gloved hand across my dripping face that no one asks why I ride a bike on a sunny day; they ask why I ride in the rain.

Lab assistants pull weekend duty as rest stop angels
The answer is simple. AIDS is not over. Next month I’ll once again haul my bike 3,000 miles to cycle the AIDS Vaccine 200 because there in Atlanta some astounding work is being done by people committed to the reality of a world free of AIDS. Remarkable dedication oozes out of Emory University as another generation of scientists and researchers enthusiastically explore, challenge, experiment, fail, pick back up and try again because they know it’s not a matter of if, but when someone will rein in HIV and stop the scourge of AIDS. 

Dr. Harriet Robinson has an HIV vaccine inhuman trials
Research funded by your past donations to Action Cycling Atlanta’s AIDS Vaccine Ride supported the development of the world’s first AIDS vaccines now in a larger phase of human trials and a separate set of human trials currently testing another vaccine designed to teach the body to manage HIV and keep it from destroying the immune system, leading to an AIDS diagnosis. The aptly named Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center recruits volunteers nationwide who willingly participate in these human trials. 

The commitment of these and every researcher, scientist, doctor, service organization and volunteer you’ve helped support over the last 18 years of my riding in the rain is contagious. It is the inspiration behind these outrageous cycling habits that have given me an avenue for sharing an extraordinary story of declining HIV infection rates and AIDS-related deaths with hundreds of people like you, people willing to invest in this long-haul journey that will certainly lead to a day when bicycle rides are reserved for sunnier days and AIDS is history.

I humbly ask for your fully tax-deductible contribution to my efforts on the AIDS Vaccine 200 and thank you for your support of all kinds, bringing hope and progress to this, my journey.