News Release: Winship Cancer Institute

May 26,  2011

Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor to Bike 1,800 Miles for Cancer Research

Ride will raise awareness, funds for research at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

In February 2009 Bob Falkenberg’s life changed—first for the worse, then for the better. A visit to the Emory Johns Creek Hospital emergency room to check a high spike in his blood pressure led to an unusually early diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rapidly progressing blood cancer.

“The prognosis was not good,” says Falkenberg, who had never faced serious illness before. He was referred to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, where he learned that, with just weeks to live, he had to immediately start chemotherapy. Falkenberg started an aggressive course of treatment and during the next six months received eight rounds of chemotherapy.

In July of that year, the search for a bone marrow transplant donor began. Many cancer patients cannot find a match for this risky process. Luckily, several unrelated individuals in the donor pool were a good match for Falkenberg. The transplant process involved a high dose of chemotherapy and whole-body radiation to completely kill his marrow, followed by an infusion of donor bone marrow stem cells in October 2009. Falkenberg credits Winship Cancer Institute and Emory University Hospital for his successful outcome.

Now 54, Falkenberg is cancer free and in better shape than before his diagnosis. To show his gratitude and to help other cancer survivors and their caregivers recognize that there can be life after a cancer diagnosis, Falkenberg has organized the Lifeblood Ride, an 1,800-mile bicycle ride from Beverly Farms, Mass., to Key West, Fla. Funds collected through donations to LifeBlood will go to the Winship Cancer Institute.

Joining Falkenberg on his journey are his daughter, Katie, and his longtime friend, Carl Kooyoomjian. The trio will leave from their starting point north of Boston on June 2 and hope to finish the ride in Key West on June 30. They expect to average about 70 miles per day, rain or shine, and will be carrying all of their equipment on their bikes.

“I knew my treatment was going to be difficult, but I was determined not to let it beat me down. I set goals for myself to keep my strength up throughout my treatment,” says Falkenberg. Between chemotherapy treatments, he was able to attend the wedding of his son and daughter in-law, Brian and Elizabeth, in April 2009, and he walked the Peachtree Road Race in July 2009 with his wife, Karen. “I set goals both small and large that I wanted to accomplish even as I was in my chemo treatments,” he says.

A few months after his bone marrow transplant, Falkenberg convinced Kooyoomjian to train for a 100-mile bike ride in Savannah, Ga., in September 2010. The friends successfully completed that ride, and the idea for the fundraising ride surfaced in January 2011.

“We had discussions a long time ago about a bike ride across the country but were never able to work it out. We were skiing together in January and decided if not now, when?” Falkenberg says.

Falkenberg asked his daughter to put together a website and coordinate social media coverage for the ride. Katie Falkenberg jumped at the opportunity to support her father, both as a participant and as the brains behind the technology to blog from the road during the journey. Falkenberg mapped out the day-to-day route that would take them down the East Coast.

“I feel a strong pull toward doing something to help out the cause. Part of my motivation is to get my life back and part is to provide hope to others going through something similar,” says Falkenberg, who also volunteers with Winship’s Peer Partner Program and assists with fundraising efforts for the Friends of Winship volunteer organization. “I want to show that there is indeed life after cancer. It is not about how long you live, it is about living every day. After having cancer there is always a black cloud hanging around, and for some it can be overwhelming.”

Along the ride, the trio will be joined at different points by family, friends and Winship staff, including oncologist Amy Langston, who is Falkenberg’s doctor; Jessica Thomas; and Hannah Collins.

Falkenberg says Lifeblood was conceived as a way to pay forward to help others and hopes it will be an inspiration to those facing similar circumstances.

“Winship and Emory Hospital have an amazing team. It is truly incredible how many people get involved in your treatment. The process was seamless between the many members of my treatment team, from the doctors, PAs, nurses, and techs to every member of the support team,” he says. “I just can’t say enough about the people involved. The nurses were incredible and always took the time to talk about any issue. I was a person, not a case, and the whole group of health care professionals was focused on more than just taking care of the medical problems. I trusted them completely and never had any doubts whatsoever that I was in the best of hands.”

For more information on the Lifeblood Ride, to follow the daily blog, or to make a donation, please visit www.LifeBloodRide.org. For more information about Winship Cancer Institute, please visit http://winshipcancer.emory.edu

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
Blog: http://emoryhealthblog.com
Twitter: @emoryhealthsci
Web: http://emoryhealthsciences.org

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