Cancer survivor will ride victory mile
S.D. man to take part in bike race tomorrow
By Angela Lau
San Diego Union Tribune
2:00 a.m. February 21, 2009
ESCONDIDO — Gary Miller lost his prostate to cancer a year ago, but he'll enjoy a symbolic mile of glory tomorrow when he crosses the finish line of the Amgen Tour of California's last stage ahead of the professional cyclists.
Miller, 56, a house painter who lives in San Diego's Allied Gardens area, will be the last of four cancer survivors in four California cities riding the last mile in four of the eight stages in the biggest professional bike race in the United States.
Miller will cross the finish line one hour ahead of the pros, who are expected to blast into downtown Escondido around 4 p.m.
The Amgen Tour is an eight-stage, 750-mile race that began in Sacramento on Saturday and will end in downtown Escondido tomorrow afternoon.
The rides by the cancer survivors, who are accompanied on bikes by friends and relatives, are a symbol of their break from the grip of cancer, said Kathryn West, advocacy director for Amgen Oncology.
Organizers hope to use the Breakaway Mile rides to promote the idea that it takes a team to win the battle against cancer and to publicize the resources available to cancer patients.
Although seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who embodies cancer survival, is riding in the race to draw attention to the disease, organizers wanted to amplify the message.
The first cancer survivor to cross a finish line was a man who suffered from neuroblastoma and thyroid cancer. He rode in the first stage, which ended in Santa Rosa on Sunday. The second survivor had tongue and neck cancer, and he rode the last mile of Stage 3 in Modesto.
A woman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor did the third Breakaway Mile in Paso Robles on Thursday.
Miller, now cancer-free, will ride the final Breakaway Mile in downtown Escondido. “I will be riding my victory mile,” he said.
Miller will be accompanied by his own mini-peloton, which will consist of his 28-year-old son, Caley, and three friends from San Diego and Oceanside. An Amgen representative will ride with them.
Miller's wife, Karen, 50, had wanted to be part of the action, but she's sidelined by recent hip surgery. “This ride is very symbolic,” she said. “He is literally getting back on the bike – not just to ride, but to get his life back to normal.”
Tomorrow, cancer support organizations also will be at the finish line, operating booths at a Lifestyle Expo from noon to 6 p.m. in the downtown municipal parking lot on Valley Parkway between Broadway and Escondido Boulevard.
Organizations that will be represented include the Patient Advocate Foundation, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the Prevent Cancer Foundation and The Wellness Community.
They weren't involved in Miller's treatment, but his supporters performed a similar function, giving him hope when he was scared. His father had died of prostate cancer in 2006.
Miller was diagnosed during an annual checkup in January 2007. Fearful of the future, he joined a younger man's prostate cancer support group that met in Mission Valley.
In April, Miller chose to have his prostate removed in a surgery performed by a robotic arm.
His wife, a patient-services coordinator for San Diego Cancer Navigator, a nonprofit organization, became his advocate and contacted the Patient Advocate Foundation for help with insurance issues. The foundation asked her if Miller would like to ride the Breakaway Mile.
To prepare for tomorrow's event, Miller is practicing on his Townie – a cross between a beach cruiser and a street bike – at home.
He's wearing street clothes for now, but he expects to be outfitted with a jersey and bike pants tomorrow. He hasn't seen the clothing yet, and he doesn't know what his route will be, but he doesn't want to know. He wants the thrill of pleasant surprises.
“I'm ready,” Miller said.