Dr. Abonour, IU Simon Cancer Center oncologist, runs, bikes 117 miles Nov. 3-4 to raise funds for multiple myeloma

INDIANAPOLIS -- (Oct. 24, 2007) – Most men in their late 40s don’t typically start running at midnight. And most don’t set out to cover more than 100 miles on foot and bike over a weekend.

Rafat Abonour is not most men. He’s on a mission. He’s passionate about finding a cure for multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable blood cancer.

Day in and day out, Abonour – an oncologist and researcher with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center – sees people with the disease.

But he does more than that. He listens to them. He empathizes with them. He treats them. He searches for a cure.

“They are my friends,” he said. “We become family. We cry together. We laugh together.”

For the past two years, Abonour – an avid amateur marathon runner -- has put his body to the test to raise money for his research devoted to finding a cure for multiple myeloma.

On Nov. 3 and 4, he’ll again run and bike as part of his mission to help his patients. Known as Miles for Myeloma, this year’s event takes him from Indianapolis and Bloomington, Ind., and back. Dubbed the Bloomington Boomerang, this year’s Miles for Myeloma begins at midnight Nov. 3 outside the Indiana Cancer Pavilion in downtown Indianapolis. Twelve hours later, he’ll run through a human tunnel formed by patients, their families and friends, and others during the home football game at the Indiana University Bloomington campus.

The next day, he’ll head back to Indianapolis, biking a different route until he gets back to the Indiana Cancer Pavilion.

In all, his feet and bike tires will touch 117 miles of pavement.

His effort will touch many. Thanks to the fund-raising efforts of his patients, Abonour’s Miles for Myelomais on track toraise at least $250,000 this year.  Patients and others supporting the event solicit the pledges and sponsorships from individuals and corporations.

In 2005, he ran and biked more than 120 miles and raised $130,000. Last year, he ran and biked 140 miles and raised $245,000. All of the funds are used by researchers at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

Why does Abonour push himself physically?

While a fellow at the University of Wisconsin, he followed some myeloma patients and was struck by how they dealt with an incurable disease. “They were able to live with the fact that it’s incurable. They were so faithful to the medical field and the caregiver and giving back more than I was giving them,” he explained.

“I was rewarded by a lot of admiration and respect. Every myeloma patient I have met has been the same. They always give you back more than you give them,” he said.

So, three years ago, the idea was born to run and walk to raise awareness and money to fight myeloma.

A person with myeloma, according to Abonour, is typically in their 60s. The cancer, which strikes about 17,000 people annually, accumulates in bone marrow, weakening the bones and causing osteoporosis, anemia, and kidney failure. Myeloma also leaves people susceptible to infections because their immune system has been weakened.

Thanks to people like Abonour – an impassioned researcher and physician -- myeloma patients can expect to live five to 10 years after an initial diagnosis.

Although Abonour has made a great impact upon his patients and the disease, he almost chose another path in life. “The last thing I wanted to do was to go to medical school,” he said. “I wanted to become a mathematician.”

His mother’s influence led him to medicine, but “I hated it the first couple of years,” he said. “I couldn’t relate to the anatomy, physiology, and memorizing all of those compounds.

“Things changed when I started seeing patients. When I started seeing patients, I started to see that this profession is amazing. You walk into the exam room, shut the door, and it’s just you and them. When I go into that room, I just feel great. It’s rewarding to see the trust they place in me.”

It is his affection for his patients that drives him to make further inroads against the disease.

“We’re still losing patients,” he said. “It’s disheartening that we can’t cure these people. I think the mission is to find out why we can’t cure them.”