I couldn’t decide what to call this post, so I called it everything that I want, since I’m the boss. I spent the last few days in Wilmington, North Carolina to do some outreach, internal reach, and race part of an Ironman (natch) for PPD. PPD is a clinical trials development company that I’ve raced for and worked with on and off for about 5 years. I always got and appreciated what the company does and the platform it gave me to talk about the patient side of clinical trials, but this year, I got several “Aha!” moments as well. I love when a good mission comes full circle, especially when it’s kind of a surprise.
For the last 5 years, PPD has been the title sponsor for the Beach to Battleship iron and half-iron distance triathlon. This race is iconic and one of the few iron distance races in the world without an M-dot that sell out regularly. The course is fast, Wilmington is great, the race is well-organized and well-supported, and the swim is unbelievably fast (more on that later, but let’s just say Best. 2.4-mile Swim. Ever). Every year, PPD picks a few Clinical Trial Heroes that come to race and share their stories of how trials have made their lives better, or saved their lives in some cases. It’s a pretty great weekend that I’m humbled and excited to be a part of, three times now.
Mary and I got to talk about cancer survivorship to a Livestrong at the Y(MCA) program. It’s an exercise program for cancer survivors, supported by Livestrong and the YMCA. I’ve heard about this program for years from Livestrong, but this day, I got to see it in action, making a difference, improving people’s lives. So cool. And the participants were VERY excited to hear that last weekend’s Livestrong Ride for the Roses/Challenge raised nearly a half-million dollars for programs like theirs. I should mention, too, that PPD’s major beneficiary is this Y and programs it offers, like the Livestrong program. We are all on the same mission.
We told our stories twice internally, first to a group of PPD up-and-comers from around the globe–folks who will eventually drive the company forward, but probably not be hands-on at the patient level. Then, we talked to staff who come to work every day to develop drugs and therapies that save and improve lives, but again, probably not hands-on at the patient level. That’s where we come in. I talked about how a clinical trial 13 years ago helped me beat breast cancer and how I used the second chance that gave me to do 6 Ironmans, 26 half-ironman races, climb Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Fuji, travel all over the world, quit my job on tv, and move to one of the greatest places on earth. I also talked about being diagnosed last year with Thymic Carcinoma and only being able to find what were basically end-of-life trials and having to choose standard of care, which you may remember, doesn’t exist for TC. And I talked about being rediagnosed and discovering that, in just the last year, several clinical trials for Thymic Carcinoma now exist… trials that should at the very least, extend my life, and possibly cure my cancer. Everyone likes being thanked for coming to work every day, but not everyone gets to see directly how their work is actually saving lives. This is a message I deliver gratefully.
And then, there’s Carlo.
As in Dr. Carlo Russo, Senior Vice President and head of rare diseases research and development at GlaxoSmithKline. He’s a brilliant man who is developing lifesaving drugs, at 30,000 feet. He, too, heard our messages from the patient side. I got to bend his ear a bit about Livestrong’s push for patient-centered care; involving the patient at every level of treatment, since after all, it IS all about us. I could see the light go on in his massive brain. He told a story about running a clinical trial that involved 7,000 patients over 7 years and not being able to name a single patient or recall a single face. He (and countless other researchers, doctors, hospitals) has worked so hard on the science that it was separated from the patient. Now, he says he’ll go about his large-brain activities differently, with the patient in mind. I loved him for that. And for the fact that he has six bikes with a pair of cycling shoes for every bike. And that he relayed the bike leg of his GSK Iron distance relay team in 5:20.
So, on to the race itself. I was the swimmer for one of our Hero teams, the only team relaying the Iron distance. I have wanted to just swim this race for years (I was supposed to come last year but decided to get radiation and chemo instead). It’s down the channel with the current and it’s very, very fast. In fact, the race is timed to maximize current speed for the Iron distance swim. Race morning dawned COLD as usual, but the water was about 69 degrees, which is comfortable. Off we went, 700 of us in the long race, at 7:30. I mostly didn’t feel that the current was making me swim any faster…. until I saw the halfway turn buoy come up within about 20 minutes. I got out of the water at 48:45 (I crossed the timing mat at 50:01). My fastest Ironman swim til now was 1:08, so this was 20 minutes faster than that. AND I didn’t have to ride 112 miles OR run 26.2. All of that led to this:
But wait, there’s more! Triathlon icon Michellie Jones, whom I’ve loved since I heard her speak at a pro triathlete forum at Oceanside 70.3 at least a decade ago was there. She is an Olympic silver medalist, won 2 ITU world championships, AND Kona in 2006. She was the Ambassador (or Guest Poobah, or whatever it was) for B2B this year, and I got to chat with her for a bit. I told her that I have used one of the race tips that she shared at that forum a few times. (Swimming with arm warmers or a rash guard under your wetsuit on a freezing race day, so you don’t have to struggle putting on those things after the swim when you’re wet. Duh.)
We finished up the day giving medals to racers in the finish chute for a few hours. If you’ve never done that, I highly recommend it. You do have to get past getting touched by sweaty, salty, wobbly triathletes, but it’s still really fun. And people are HILARIOUS (unintentionally, probably) when they’ve been racing for 10 hours or more. One guy stopped right at the line and asked, “Where’s my race shirt?” Another crossed the line and just said, “Ow.” And another started wandering around looking for his girlfriend. When she appeared, he got on one knee and proposed to her. He’d apparently done the entire race with the ring in a pocket somewhere. She said yes, by the way. So it was a great day for him, too.
I stayed at the finish line til Mary, the runner for team Mary-Chris-Wendy (seriously. We meant to get a better name, but….. didn’t) came across with a fast 3:30 marathon time. PPD called all of us heroes for being in clinical trials and advocating for clinical trials, but really, right back at them. Without the heroes that work in research, we might not be here at all. Unity is strength