“I just want to be the guy who loves to ride bikes, go fishing and garden a little. I do not want to be ‘Gary the cancer guy’.”
Gary Bonacker is co-owner of Sunnyside Sports in Bend, Oregon and is so much more than the guy who loves to ride bikes or the “cancer guy.” He is a soft-spoken, unpretentious man who carries a very large message.
Gary was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2003 and in 2005 he founded Tour des Chutes, an annual bicycling event that has raised over $330,000 for the Livestrong Foundation and the St. Charles Cancer Survivorship Program.
In 2010 the Tour des Chutes attracted over 1,000 riders of all levels with rides ranging from 7 to 90 miles. Tour des Chutes is more than a July cycling event, it is a celebration of life, cancer survivorship and remembrance of those who have passed on from this disease.
“Starting this event allowed me to take my focus away from the cancer and permitted me to be the man who does Tour des Chutes,” says Gary. What spurred this idea? “I saw how the Breast Cancer Navigator program helped those cancer patients. It’s so powerful, and it led me to think, ‘Can Central Oregon have a survivorship program for all cancer patients that is modeled after that concept?’ The folks at the Cancer Center were behind the idea but funding was an issue. So, we put together a plan.”
When cancer is diagnosed early it is being managed more as a chronic disease. Because of this we need more support and education for these cancer survivors,” states Gary. “Over 40% of cancer patients suffer from depression and over 50% have other health challenges associated with the cancer,” he says. Gary’s vision for the community will have an impact for the 50% of our population who will develop cancer.
The partnership between Tour des Chutes and the St. Charles Survivorship Program has resulted in new programs for patients and families. In six short months, a Cancer Survivorship Program Coordinator has been hired to develop comprehensive support services for cancer patients and their caregivers, with the goal of creating a national model for survivorship programs in community hospitals.
“Tour des Chutes has a different meaning for the riders. It is more than just another cycling event. The ride gives you time to reflect on where you are in life, the full meaning of being a part of this world and time to reflect on the people you love. People love to stay after the ride for hours, talking with friends, meeting new friends and just enjoying the moment,” says Gary.
Gary wants to grow Tour des Chutes and attract long-term relationships with donors who share his dream of:
- Education, advocacy, public health and research;
- Physical exercise: an essential element in improving the quality of living with cancer;
- Living with, through and beyond cancer with peer and community support;
- Using Tour des Chutes and other local athletic events to promote Central Oregon as an ideal environment for cancer awareness, care and treatment.
Gary has created the Tour des Chutes as a 501 (C)(3) non-profit organization with a well-rounded Board of Directors who share his vision of cancer care in Central Oregon and aspirations to become the model for our nation.
“Our mission is to support cancer care and survivorship in Central Oregon”. I have full confidence that this Board of Directors and event will go on with or without me and continue to grow and prosper into the future. We are making a concentrated effort to communicate our values with others who can help us achieve these goals,” says Gary. “We want our donors to feel the same level of accomplishment and spirit of community as the riders and volunteers experience.”