UI physician teams up with local cyclist to raise money for sarcoma research and activism

Funding for sarcoma research can be limited. Cyclist Ashish Mishra and UIHC oncologist Varun Monga are raising money and advocating for sarcoma patients through cycling.

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UI physician teams up with local cyclist to raise money for sarcoma research and activism

Ashish Mishra and Varun Monga pose for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Thursday. The pair met through cycling when Mitra biked 1,000 miles across Iowa to raise money for sarcoma.

Ashish Mishra and Varun Monga pose for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Thursday. The pair met through cycling when Mitra biked 1,000 miles across Iowa to raise money for sarcoma.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Ashish Mishra and Varun Monga pose for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Thursday. The pair met through cycling when Mitra biked 1,000 miles across Iowa to raise money for sarcoma.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Wyatt Dlouhy

Ashish Mishra and Varun Monga pose for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Thursday. The pair met through cycling when Mitra biked 1,000 miles across Iowa to raise money for sarcoma.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

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Houston native Ashish Mishra began biking as a way to make friends around Iowa City after arriving to campus. What started as a hobby was given greater purpose as Mishra traveled 1,000 miles across Iowa to raise money for sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Mishra met Varun Monga, an oncologist who researches sarcoma at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, by biking. Through that interaction, Mishra said, he decided to do something to make a difference in sarcoma research. 

“I’ve seen these doctors work, and I’ve seen how hard they work,” said Mishra, who’s been bicycling for two years. “This is something I can identify with… It’s a cause that resonates with me.” 

Mishra said he completed RAGBRAI, a popular weeklong ride across Iowa, this summer and participates in the annual Courage Ride, which also raises money for sarcoma research. He said his latest ride stemmed from his wanting to try something outlandish. 

“Outlandish is relative, because it’s not uncommon for people to ride a few thousand miles living in Iowa, but it is outlandish for me because I’m a new rider,” he said. 

Sarcoma is a rare cancer, with 1 in 100 adult-cancer diagnoses and 15 in 100 pediatric-cancer diagnoses. With the rarity of the cancer, Monga said, funding for research can be difficult to secure. 

“We have to think differently [about] how to treat this cancer. We have different ideas that we want to explore, which typically would start in a lab and then move to clinical trials,” he said. “So, the challenges are the lack of funding in this particular area of research. Because this cancer is rare, patients are rare, so accruing patients on clinical trials can be a challenge.”

RELATED: UI researcher identifies potential treatment for deadly pediatric cancer

Benjamin Miller, a UIHC surgeon who treats sarcoma patients, said the hospital typically sees between 50 and 70 sarcoma cases each year. 

“Because of the rarity of public-health interest or enthusiasm behind it, just because it’s not as common as things like breast cancer or lung cancer, it’s viewed as kind of an orphan disease,” Miller said. “When we can’t count on the big national funding, some of the smaller efforts become that much more important.”

Mishra and Monga said they hope to eventually start a podcast telling the stories of sarcoma patients and their loved ones who are affected by the disease. 

The idea for the podcast came about when Mishra was searching for a more tangible contribution to make to sarcoma patients, he said. 

“We’ve had a very modest goal to begin with, so it’s not going to change the world tomorrow morning,” he said. “We’ve talked about what that might look like for us — how do we take this forward — the stories of the raw courage and the raw fight of the people fighting this battle day in and day out.”  

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Mishra said he hopes to push himself to a larger goal of riding 2,000 miles sometime in the near future. 

“I consider myself fit,” Mishra said, “and I just am amazed at how much more there is [to do] from a progression and training standpoint.” 

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