Steve Miner heard the news in 2009 that cyclist Lance Armstrong was riding to Athens for an event called Pelotonia. He had no idea what Pelotonia was or what the word even meant, but he showed up to see him. Lance rode into town that weekend of August 7 and Steve took photos. When he asked what was going on, people told him Pelotonia was raising money for the OSUCCC-James. He instantly had a connection to Pelotonia and the cause through friends of his who had been treated at The James.
He also had another deeply personal connection to cancer: his mother, who passed away in 1995. Steve had raised money for cancer research in various ways before and thought this bike ride was something he could do, as well. It helped that he had been an avid cyclist since the 1970’s. Having been born without most of his left lung, he took up cycling as a way to keep healthy and maximize what lung power he had.
The following year, Steve signed up for 100 miles. And the experience changed his life.
“You're struck, if you're a Rider, by all the people who are lining the streets holding up signs or talking about their relatives who survived or have been treated, or just encouraging you to ride,” Steve recalls. “And I hadn't expected that. I hadn't expected the sheep bells and this sort of things. And I was hooked… I've been hooked ever since.”
A neck issue kept Steve off the bike for 4 years, but it didn’t stop his passion for the cause. In 2017, one of his friends who was a two-time cancer Survivor shared that her son now had cancer. He knew that he had to get back in the game and ride again.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to write him a card. I don’t want to say, “I'll do anything for you, just let me know.”’ I thought that the best thing I could do was ride and raise money. And so I fixed the bike a bit. I put the stem up. I practiced and practiced and practiced, and I rode again.”
Along Steve’s Pelotonia journey, he started his own Peloton called Team Tea Ladies. The team is named after his wife’s friend group that meets weekly called the Tea Ladies. Three of the women in the group are Survivors and two of them have had two cancer diagnoses. Depending on the year, the team includes 2-3 Riders and typically 7 Volunteers.
Steve has been a devoted Pelotonia participant for years, celebrating each achievement, including the establishment of the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology. Little did he know, though, that this Institute would become such an important part of his story.
On January 8th, Steve was diagnosed with cancer. In the fall of 2019, he had a persistent cough that just wouldn't go away. With his lung problems, however, coughing was not unusual for him. The doctors thought it was pneumonia, but the problem wasn’t going away. Steve started getting weaker, to the point where he had trouble even walking up the hill that he lived on without becoming sick.
He went to see his doctor and they did an x-ray of his chest. He describes the image of his x-ray as “like I'd been hit by buckshot in my lungs.” The primary tumor was on his kidney and it had spread to his lungs. It was stage four cancer, and he knew that the odds of surviving were not strong. After glancing at his x-rays, he felt the odds decrease even more.
“I kind of expected this to happen at some point in my life,” he says. “My mom died at this age and so I was in a sense mentally prepared for it. You can't entirely be, of course, but I was not bowled off my feet by it.”
Steve says that he always partook in Pelotonia in some way, even touring The James at one point, but he never expected himself to become a “customer.” In January, he started undergoing treatments at that very facility he had raised money for all those years. One of his treatments was an immunotherapy that was developed in 2018. He expected the drugs to prolong his life, but not save it.
He’s glad that he was wrong.
By the end of May, the scans showed that the cancer nodules were completely gone from his lungs. For perspective, the original amount of nodules on his x-rays were too many to count. And even better news? The primary tumor they found in his kidney had shrunk by 85-90%. All of this happening in a miraculous five months.
One of his doctors said to him, “If you'd gotten this diagnosis in 2015, I'd have told you to go home and arrange your affairs."
Steve remarks, “It was like a new lease on life. It's corny, but true, that you start noticing things like birds. And I went for a cycle ride and I noticed that there was a dust cloud following a plow that was working in the field. And you start seeing these flash images and think, ‘I've missed a lot of these things because I was thinking of the next thing.’”
This year, Steve said the work at the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology will be front and center in his fundraising letters.