Brain cancer hit very close to home for the Gibbs family. Bob was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor on May 16, 2004. Bob did not qualify for the clinical trial vaccine at UCLA that could save his life until 2008 after his second brain surgery when the cancer advanced to a Stage III. Seven years, three brain surgeries, and numerous rounds of chemotherapy, Bob was left with only partial vision in his right eye (Bob was born blind in his left eye).
Driven by the need to do something, Bob and his wife, Barb, organized the Miles For Hope charity bike ride in September 2008. Proceeds would go to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) brain tumor research program. However, most of the donation checks were made out to Miles For Hope instead of UCLA. Instead of calling donors to correct the error, Bob and Barb decided to start the non-profit organization, Miles For Hope.
What makes Miles For Hope different from most brain tumor organizations is its focus on funding vaccine treatments. “Conventional treatments (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy) over the last two decades have only been able to extend the median survival rate by approximately two weeks,” says Bob. “For that reason, we felt compelled to increase awareness and raise funds for brain cancer vaccines so that others will have access to the same treatment that saved my life. Most organizations in the country focus on chemotherapy and radiation which, in my opinion, do not yield the same effectiveness as I am seeing with the addition of the vaccine.”
Miles for Hope raises most of its money to fund cutting-edge brain tumor research through its Moving Towards a Cure® 5K series. This series, which only had three races in 2010, expanded to 11 races this year. “Through our Moving Towards a Cure® events, we can ensure more people have access to these life-saving treatments,” says Gibbs. “Our 5K events are also a way to involve communities in promoting brain tumor awareness. One person is diagnosed with a brain tumor every three minutes, but you don’t hear about it as much as other diseases. This is our way of bringing to the forefront.” Cities where the Moving Towards a Cure® 5K Run/Walks are held are: Orlando, FL; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Atlanta, GA; Nashville, TN; Grand Rapids, MI; Clearwater, FL; Raleigh, NC; and Tampa, FL.
For such a young organization, Miles For Hope has accomplished a great deal. In July 2011, Miles For Hope presented UCLA’s brain tumor research program with a $100,000 check to start the low-grade vaccine clinical trial so that other brain cancer patients will not have to wait until the cancer’s more advanced stages to receive treatment, resulting in potential additional deficits.
Miles for Hope was also the first organization to assist patients in the process of storing their cancer tissue, just like umbilical cord blood. Until May 2010, this option was only available for patients in other countries. Miles for Hope provides patients access to a private storage facility, where they have access to their tumor tissue for future use and testing. “We were pleased to be the first organization in the country to help patients use this option, but it’s only a start,” said Gibbs. “As the focus of cancer treatment in the United States changes towards a more personalized approach with the advancement of cancer vaccines, it is critical that patients start saving their tumor tissue”
The next goal for Miles For Hope is to fund a pediatric vaccine trial. Gibbs is hopeful that the trial can be fully funded by the end of the year. “It’s a great accomplishment to completely fund a trial. However, we cannot stop with just one clinical trial,” says Gibbs. “With the help of our supporters throughout the country, I have no doubt we will have that pediatric trial funded. I truly believe that.”