In a desire to combine her love for cycling with her love for her husband, T.J., a sarcoma patient, Kathy Coursen will ride 100 miles as part of Team T.J. at the Answer to Cancer Cycling Event and 5K Family Fun Run/Walk on June 10, 2017.
T.J. was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma (ASPS) in 2002, a slow-growth cancer that is typically unresponsive to standard chemotherapy treatment and is more commonly managed with radio-surgical interventions. The diagnosis came as a shock to the happy couple, who had only recently learned that they were expecting their second child.
ASPS is so rare that their community oncologist admitted having no experience treating the disease, which he knew about only through medical journals, and recommended that T.J. find a specialist.
“I was a bit of a wreck,” recalls Kathy, “but luckily my mother-in-law was on it.” T.J.’s mother began researching ASPS-specific oncologists and treatment facilities across the country, and found a top-of-the-list center in their backyard: University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC) in Pittsburgh, PA.
Over the course of T.J.’s 14 years-illness, he has had more than 64 tumors removed across his scalp, brain, lungs, spine, small intestines, and stomach, the majority of which were “zapped” in a 2008 laser-assisted lung resection surgery in Germany.* T.J. has also participated in two Phase I clinical trials—the first, a 2007 docetaxel and ET 743 combination trial at Fox Chase Cancer Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and the second, a 2016 trial with votrient at Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh—but poor results and unpleasant side effects left T.J. wary of enrolling in future trials.
It was during T.J.’s treatment that Kathy discovered her passion for cycling. In 2014, she was convinced by friends to participate in a sprint triathlon, but she didn’t even own a bike. “I actually bought my first bike used on Craigslist,” laughs Kathy, “but really, I was hooked...it’s like my therapy.”
Cycling has since become an indispensable component of Kathy’s life, both recreationally and as a way to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. In addition to riding around her town, Center Hall, PA, or to her daughter’s weekend softball games, Kathy tries to do a physical challenge every year and tie it to something that benefits T.J. After some online research into immunotherapy, Kathy found the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) in 2015. She participated in CRI’s first cycling event that same year with Team T.J., with 6 members raising more than $15,000. The team was unable to ride in the 2016 Answer to Cancer, but two members are pumped about participating this year and have set a fundraising goal of $2,000.
Although T.J. is not currently on treatment, he and his oncologist employ the “cherry pick” method to manage his disease—removing tumors as they become large enough for surgical intervention. In June, T.J. will enroll in his third clinical trial, an immunotherapy trial specifically for ASPS patients using the PD-1 inhibitor atezolizumab at the Hillman Cancer Center, and both he and Kathy are hopeful. “We believe that immunotherapy will eventually lead to an end to this disease, which is why this ride and funding immunotherapy research is important to us.”
Support Kathy and Team T.J. as they ride 100 miles in the Answer to Cancer on June 10, 2017, or register to ride with her!
*Laser-assisted surgery is currently pending FDA-approval in the United States.