2011-05-19 / Health & Wellness

Breakaway from Cancer champion was given five months to live

By Jessica Chadbourn
Special to the Acorn

Reine Wiley Reine Wiley Cyclist Reine Wiley rides about 10,000 miles a year. At age 66, she refuses to let cancer slow her down.

As part of the weeklong Amgen Tour of California ending in Thousand Oaks on Sunday, Wiley is one of five Californians who’ve been named Breakaway from Cancer champions this year.

Wiley will lead about 150 cancer survivors, patients and supporters in the Breakaway Mile walk held before the world-class cyclists cross the finish line in Thousand Oaks. Launched in 2005, the walk is held in the tour’s five finish cities to raise awareness about support and resources available to people affected by cancer.

Until recently, Wiley didn’t think that would apply to her.

But in the summer of 2009, Wiley felt “tinges” of pain in her stomach. Nevertheless, she embarked on a cross-country tour, taking Advil to ease the pain. But the pain didn’t go away, and in April 2010 she decided to get a checkup.

“The doctor came in and threw the chart down and said, ‘Why did you wait so long? Your liver is full of cancer,’” said Wiley, who’s lived in Thousand Oaks for 39 years.

“It turns out I had carcinoid cancer, which, if you catch it right away is a good cancer to have. If you catch it late, it’s not a good cancer to have. The doctor said he could keep me comfortable and that I could live for five months.”

Wiley went to see a carcinoid cancer specialist, who’s been treating her since last May. Because the cancer was so advanced, conventional treatments were not an option, so Wiley is undergoing trial treatments, with surgeries to remove large tumors every six weeks. She said she’s responding to the treatments and the doctors are optimistic.

“ They are clapping their hands,” she said. “And even though I have a year’s worth of surgery in front of me, they gave me hope.” And hope is what Wiley wants to give others dealing with similar experiences.

“People feel alone, but they aren’t alone,” she continued. “They can reach out for each other and put on a smile. I’m not happy that I have to fight for my life, and I put on the boxing gloves every day. But I put on a smile and grin through the pain, because that’s what people will mirror back to you.”

Since her diagnosis, Wiley has endured several serious procedures, including open-heart surgery.

An avid cyclist, Wiley is committed to good health through exercise, which includes frequent rides with the Conejo Valley Cyclists club. When she’s not up for a ride, she’ll force herself to go for a walk.

Dr. Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of research and development at Amgen, walks in the Breakaway Mile each year. He said that a positive attitude is “supremely important” in a patient’s fight with cancer.

“I’ve been able to talk to cancer survivors, hear their stories and take that back to the scientists in the laboratory to convey the significance of what they’re doing,” Miletich said. “And while we are working to develop new drugs to help people with cancer, nothing is more important than the spirit that people with cancer bring to the fight. With cancer, you often feel like you’ve lost control. These champions refuse to accept that.”

Volunteers from the Wellness Community in Westlake Village will help provide information at Sunday’s event.

“The walk is a great way for cancer survivors and their family members to learn about the resources that are available for them,” said Suzanne Drace, president of the Wellness Community Valley/Ventura, a not-for-profit affiliate of the Cancer Support Community. “And it gives people hope and inspiration to be with other survivors that day.”

Wiley’s mother died of cancer when Wiley was 16, and Wiley’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age 44 but is now cancer-free. Wiley sees the Breakaway Mile as an opportunity to help and inspire others who face similar battles.

“If you have the power to lift up their chin and look in their eyes and smile, well, then that gives them hope for living,” Wiley said. “You live life with a smile.”

The Breakaway Mile will start at 1:15 p.m. Sun., May 22 at Los Feliz Drive and city hall at 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

It will end at about 1:45 pm at the race finish line on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

Information about Breakaway from Cancer can be found at www.breakawayfromcancer.com.

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