Miles for Hope: Cancer Survivor Works to Raise Awareness and Funding for Brain Tumor Research

Ed Rabinowitz
Published: Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011
Bob and Barb Gibbs, founders of the nonprofit Miles for HopeBob Gibbs knows the importance of cancer research and the life-saving therapies it creates. The 40-year-old husband and father of 4 would not be alive today without these new discoveries and innovations.

In May 2004, Gibbs was diagnosed with an oligoastrocytoma in his right occipital lobe. Given the low grade of his tumor (grade II), he did not qualify for a clinical trial on a groundbreaking cancer vaccine. His only options were surgery, chemotherapy, and the hope that the tumor would not become more aggressive.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

Gibbs had an initial surgery for removal of a primary brain tumor in 2005, and at that time elected to have only 70% of the tumor removed.

“I wanted to save my vision,” Gibbs recalled. “I wanted to be able to continue to work and provide for my family.” His surgeon did not agree with the plan to partially remove the tumor because he felt that it would just continue to grow. Undeterred, Gibbs’ primary motivation was to provide for his family, so risking potential blindness was not an option for him. Gibbs said, “I felt that if I could get another five years…to earn income to try to get things paid down, it would set my family up” so that they would be financially secure in the event that he did not survive.

So, Gibbs had the surgery to debulk the tumor. Then he and his wife, Barb, spent countless hours researching every possible option and every possible treatment, no matter how early in the clinical trial stage it was. Their research led them to UCLA Medical Center, in Los Angeles, California, where researchers were conducting a phase I clinical trial for DCVax (Northwest Biotherapeutics, Inc, Bethesda, MD), an experimental autologous cellular therapy designed to create a specific immune response against a patient’s cancer cells. The problem was that, given the low grade of his tumor, Gibbs did not yet qualify for the trial.

UNEXPECTED SETBACKS

Making matters worse, 1 year after Gibbs’ initial diagnosis, his 13-year old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “We were hit within 363 days of each other,” Gibbs said. “The challenge went from saving my life to trying to save my life and the life of my oldest son.”

Fortunately, his son’s tumor was a vascular type of malformation in the brain and was not cancerous. However, Gibbs’ tumor continued to grow and had progressed into a grade III tumor. This was both bad and good. The advanced tumor stage meant the disease was progressing, however, the grade III tumor had qualified him for the DCVax clinical trial at UCLA.

Both Gibbs and his wife felt that it was ridiculous that patients with brain tumors had to wait for cancer to become more aggressive—to the point at which it could potentially shorten their lives—before qualifying for cutting-edge treatments. “If the vaccine had been available to me…following the first surgery [in 2004], things could have turned out so much differently,” Gibbs said.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Four years later, Gibbs and his wife were at their home in Clearwater, Florida. At the time, Gibbs was recovering from his second surgery in 3 years for removal of the brain tumor. Born blind in his left eye, the second surgery left him with only partial vision in his right eye. “I can’t drive, and I’m unable to work,” Gibbs complained. He was outwardly frustrated and depressed.

“This negativity is [getting me] nowhere,” Gibbs said to Barb. “I’ve got to do something.” That drive helped Gibbs and his wife establish Miles for Hope, a nonprofit organization to raise national awareness and funding for cutting-edge cancer research. Getting to that point, however, was no easy ride.

Not wanting to see other patients with brain tumors be denied access to treatments that could make a difference in combating their disease, Gibbs and his wife were determined to bring about a change. They organized the Miles for Hope charity bicycle ride in September 2008. Gibbs noted that, with the exception of their wedding, he and Barb had never organized anything on the scale of this bike ride. Afterward, as they went through the donations, they noticed that several of the checks were made out to Miles for Hope, the name of the event, instead of the research center, UCLA. They were left with two choices: contact the dozens of people who had written the checks or start a nonprofit organization called Miles for Hope. Naturally, they opted for the latter.


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