Miles 2 Give Stops in Pittsburgh to Raise Sarcoma Cancer Awareness

By: Alexandra Salerno

United by a common cause of raising money and awareness for sarcoma cancer, members of Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma and the cross-country running team of Miles 2 Give met for the first time on Friday at the Hillman Cancer Center.

Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma is comprised of a group of sarcoma patients, caregivers and members of the UPMC CancerCenter who raise funds to support sarcoma research. The group’s 3rd annual Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5K Walk/Run takes place July 13. Last year’s event was the largest sarcoma fundraiser in the country, attracting 1,500 participants and raising more than $120,000.
Miles 2 Give is comprised of three men journeying 3,000 miles across America to raise funds and draw attention to sarcoma research. The team of Ryan Priest, Landon Cooper and John McKay began their trek Feb. 14 in San Francisco and will end in Ocean City, Md., on July 20. The group averages approximately 28 miles per day while stopping at various events throughout the country including two days in Pittsburgh to meet with Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma and visit patients at the Hillman Cancer Center.
Cancerous tumors called sarcoma originate in the connective tissue of the body to attack fat, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, deep skin tissues and cartilage. Sarcoma is rare, making up less than 5 percent of all cancers. Because of that, research-funding lags behind other more common cancers and, sarcoma is often referred to as the forgotten cancer.
For McKay, visiting hospitals and meeting with patients is the best part of being in Miles 2 Give. McKay and his teammates met with patients and doctors at the Hillman Cancer Center and toured the hospital with members of Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma.
“When I get to come to a hospital and talk to patients, I love seeing the smiles on their faces because it makes me feel like a part of a family and something larger than myself,” said McKay. “I love running and being on the road, but it is the times when we get to sit and talk to patients, doctors and researchers that really make a difference to me.”
For Priest, who has traveled all over the world, this trip brings a greater purpose.
 “I’ve done a lot of backpacking through Asia, Central America and Australia and that is all traveling for me,” Priest said. “(Miles 2 Give) is an opportunity for me to travel and bring awareness to a cancer that should not be here – sarcoma cancer. It is a lot more meaningful because I’m meeting a lot of people along the way that are affected so deeply by this cancer.”
The night before visiting the Hillman, the trio attended an Independence Day barbeque at the home of a family from Cranberry who had been following the group’s journey on Facebook. “It is amazing to be taken in by some families who want to spend time with us,” said Priest. “We exchange stories from the road and they exchange stories about how they are affected by cancer.”
Bill Suit, Pitsburgh Cure Sarcoma’s race director, is currently battling sarcoma and being treated at the Hillman Center. He is one of many cancer survivors who signed their name to the Miles 2 Give RV. The trio’s RV is filled with signatures garnered throughout their journey across the country. Anyone can sign the RV, but the group dedicated the ceiling to cancer survivors.
Cooper, Miles 2 Give’s founder, fondly refers to the vehicle as a museum. “It’s not about us three,” said Cooper. “It is about the true warriors who are fighting sarcoma that we are highlighting.  To be engulfed daily and nightly with the energy radiating inside this museum on wheels keeps you very on course with putting others consistently first.”
Doctors at the UPMC Cancer Center, partner with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, are appreciative of the work done by grassroots groups like Miles 2 Give. Hussein Tawbi, M.D., a medical oncologist at the UPMC CancerCenter, said every little bit helps to educate people about sarcoma.
“We’ve been working very hard to raise awareness for this rare cancer across the city, region and country,” said Tawbi, who is currently working towards a clinical trial that may reverse sarcoma’s resistance to chemotherapy. “We’ve elevated the cause of sarcoma, hoping to give it a national platform.”