Oct. 6, 2017 | Carolyn Barber, of El Dorado, waited as six of her loved ones – two daughters, a son, two granddaughters and a great-grandson – each rode 10 miles in the recent UAMS Myeloma Institute’s inaugural Ride for Research across central Arkansas in honor of the 75-year-old’s battle against myeloma.
“It was wonderful,” said Barber. “I just couldn’t believe they all wanted to do this.”
The relatives, hailing from south Arkansas, made the trek to Little Rock to take part in the event in her honor. Barber’s husband, Don, 81, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine years ago and died in July of complications from an infection. Her family hoped participating in the Ride for Research on Sept. 23 would lift her spirits.
The ride, held in conjunction with the Big Dam Bridge 100 cycling tour, included 81 members on the UAMS Myeloma Institute’s team ranging in age from 9 to 80. The riders included patients and family members, sponsors, supporters, and 24 UAMS employees — 13 of them from the UAMS Myeloma Institute. The goal was to bring awareness to and raise money for research of the rare blood and bone disease.
The institute’s director Gareth Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., and deputy director Faith Davies, M.D., led the charge in taking their fight against myeloma out of the clinics and research labs and onto the roadways of central Arkansas on this warm fall day. The institute’s team, riding varying courses ranging from 10 to 100 miles, joined more than 3,200 other riders from 32 states who were participating in the Big Dam Bridge 100. Morgan, Davies and three others from the UAMS Myeloma Institute rode the full 100 miles.
“We heard about the race through my daughter, Casey Wilson, who’s been a registered nurse for the last 10 years and is in her fourth semester of the Family Nurse Practitioner program at UAMS,” said Barber’s eldest daughter, Renee Crawford of El Dorado. “She thought it would be a great way for the family to show support for her grandmother, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the summer of 2016.”
Wilson and her 9-year-old son, Hank, had been looking for a race they could enter together.
“I read him the email stating that the race would be held in September and how it would benefit research for the type of cancer that Mamaw Carolyn has,” said Wilson of the third-grader. “He was eager for us to sign up for our first bike race and glad it would benefit our precious Mamaw.”
The grateful matriarch was at the finish line greeting each one as they came through. In addition to Crawford, they included daughter Pam Wilson and son Bobby “Eddie” Bryan, both of Junction City; granddaughters Miranda Bryan of Jackson City and Casey Wilson of El Dorado; and Hank, Barber’s great-grandson. Barber and Sandra Bryan, her daughter-in-law and caregiver, served as honorary team members.
“She loved having us be ‘Team Mom,’” said Pam Wilson. “And we loved mom being able to be at the finish line for us because we were there for her.”
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to go, but I was,” said Barber of attending the ride. “This was such an excitement and such a thrill.”
Barber has responded well to treatment from her physician Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D. She receives weekly shots close to her home and visits the institute in Little Rock monthly.
Before her illness, Barber was active and vivacious and loved to travel and dance.
“But she suddenly became very easily exhausted and one day passed out,” Crawford recalled. “During a visit to the emergency room, we discovered she had a hemoglobin of seven and after several tests, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.”
Crawford, who’s worked as a nurse for 20 years, and her daughter Casey Wilson immediately began researching myeloma.
“We discovered the UAMS Myeloma Institute was the place to go for cutting-edge treatment. We met Dr. van Rhee and Kristen Carter, A.P.R.N., and were truly amazed at their kindness and commitment to getting Mom back to dancing and traveling.”
She added that the family has met many more dedicated doctors, nurses and helpful staff along the way.
“We are still on this journey and hope to get to remission ultimately,” Crawford said. “We are thankful for all of the wonderful support from UAMS and for also allowing us to be part of this fun event.”
Crawford, her daughter and grandson Hank prepared for the ride by riding a five-mile loop near their homes since July. Crawford also talked her sister Pam, brother Bobby and niece Miranda into joining the ride.
“They all purchased bicycles in July and August and began training,” said Crawford, who received a new Trek bike in July as a birthday present. “We were all pleasantly surprised that we were able to complete the 10-mile course and found we loved the competition. We hope to come back next year and aim for a longer distance.”
If the race is held again next year, Barber feels certain her family will break out their bikes again.
“My great-grandson Hank said next year he wants to ride the 32-mile course.”