‘I’ll be able to beat this’ | Health Beat

‘I’ll be able to beat this’ | Health Beat

Gene Barnard has logged thousands of miles since he began bicycling about 35 years ago.

There have been many bumps in the road during his journeys, but nothing quite as challenging as the summer of 2021.

In August that year, doctors diagnosed him with appendix cancer.

That derailed his plans, but only temporarily.

After fighting cancer for about year—and with help from friends, family and the care team at Corewell Health—Barnard is making significant strides toward recovery.

And to celebrate his health journey, he recently embarked on an undertaking well suited to his lifestyle: a 100-mile bike trip.

‘An extraordinary patient’

Doctors had diagnosed Barnard, 51, with a rare type of appendix cancer. It was difficult to identify until it reached an advanced stage, said Mathew Chung, MD, his surgical oncologist at Corewell Health, formerly Spectrum Health.

As part of the treatment, he underwent a state-of-the-art, heated chemotherapy bath, known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion.

Corewell Health Butterworth Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the country to offer it, Dr. Chung said. It’s not a commonly used treatment—it’s used, in select cases, when traditional chemotherapy is ineffective.

Once the patient’s tumor has been removed or taken down to a very small amount, the care team places tubes in the patient’s abdomen and the tubes are connected to a bypass machine. The patient’s abdomen is then filled with IV fluid heated to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, with a chemotherapy agent circulated in for about 60 to 120 minutes.

“Mr. Barnard had it one time for 90 minutes,” Dr. Chung said. “It can be used many times, but usually just once.”

Barnard has been an exceptional patient—brave, smart, inspirational and always positive, Dr. Chung said.

Alongside the aggressive treatment, those qualities can contribute to recovery, Dr. Chung said.

Since Barnard is still at a high risk of the cancer returning, he requires a visit to the doctor every three to four months for the first two years post-surgery. After that, he’ll visit the doctor twice a year, until he reaches the five-year mark.

Dr. Chung isn’t the only care team member who has admired Barnard’s resilience.

Randa Preihs, the nurse practitioner who helps with Barnard’s post-operative care, said he has been a joy to care for.

“We have seen him frequently and monitored his treatment,” Preihs said. “We would check on him every couple weeks.”

Before his diagnosis of cancer, Barnard averaged about 5,000 miles of bike riding each year, which included two or three 100-mile trips.

“He was really in tune with his body and was good about letting us know about symptoms that might have been concerning,” Preihs said. “He was an extraordinary patient about his care and helped us keep a close eye on him.”

‘Really inspiring’

When Barnard set his sights on a 100-mile bike trip to celebrate the one-year mark after surgery, it didn’t come as a spur-of-the-moment decision.

He started training about 10 weeks before the Aug. 26, 2022, trip.

“I went from hardly riding my bike in eight months to going on a 5-mile bike trip,” he said. “I gradually added longer and longer rides, building up to the anniversary ride.”

The Rockford, Michigan, resident said his wife, Cathy, accompanied him on his first bike trip after treatment.

“We didn’t know how well I’d be able to balance on the bike, plus I was still so skinny we worried that the slightest wind might blow me away,” he joked.

As he trained, he would add 10 miles to his longest ride each week.

“After weeks of training, I was ready for my big ride,” he said. “I handpicked some cycling friends to join me and support me along the way.”

He spent a lot of time picking the route. He wanted to begin the day heading west before the wind picked up, and he wanted to use roads that were in good condition. He also wanted a reasonable number of hills for a good challenge, but not so hilly that he’d be suffering all day.

He set a target pace of 14-15 mph.

“I estimated we would finish the 100-mile ride in roughly seven hours,” he said.

End result: He completed the epic journey in 6 hours, 48 minutes, 1 second.

“After a long but enjoyable day, I rolled into my driveway,” Barnard said. “I burned through over 3,700 calories. My muscles were a bit sore, as to be expected. But mentally and emotionally I was elated.”

His care team has been impressed at his accomplishments.

“For him to go on a 100-mile bike ride a year later is really inspiring,” Dr. Chung said.

And riding a bike can only be helpful in Barnard’s battle with cancer, he said.

“What we do is only part of the solution,” Dr. Chung said. “What’s more important is the patient’s attitude and outlook. Mr. Barnard has a good chance at a complete recovery.”

Barnard is aiming to work his way back to his 5,000-mile-a-year total. He usually rides just for enjoyment, although he has competed in marathon cycling events. He expects to gradually increase the number of rides each year.

“You could now say I am being competitive with cancer,” he said.

He also said he has never felt daunted by the disease.

“For me, even the day I received the news and heard the words, ‘You have cancer,’ as far as I’m concerned, I never felt I wouldn’t be able to beat it,” Barnard said. “I fully believe, with Dr. Chung’s medical support and the support from friends and family, I’ll be able to beat this and lead a normal life. And that’s what I think I’m doing.”

He summed it up nicely in a letter to Dr. Chung: “I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me!”

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