Dad's diagnosis made Pelotonia personal for New Albany's Joshua Reams

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
New Albany resident Joshua Reams (right) is participating in Pelotonia in honor of his father, Vernon Reams (left), who was diagnosed with stage 4 large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma more than a decade ago. Vernon Reams has been treated and declared free of cancer. The pair are shown July 16 in Joshua Reams' New Albany neighborhood.

Joshua Reams admits his initial approach to Pelotonia was one likely shared by many associated with the annual bicycle-tour fund-raiser dedicated to helping find a cure for cancer.

"I thought, 'Man, that's pretty cool. It's a pretty neat ride. It sounds like it's awesome,' " Reams said of the year he donated $50 to a coworker in the interventional lab at Ohio State University.

Then, thanks largely to Reams' own trained eye, the mission became personal.

Despite bouts with back pain and increasingly regular falls in 2009, Reams' father, Vernon, was given a clean bill of health by doctors near his hometown of Belpre.

His son, a trained radiologist, wasn't so sure.

"I went down to my parents' house, and I asked my mom if she had a CT scan," said Reams, 41, a New Albany resident and a senior coronary clinical specialist for Abbott Laboratories. "I popped (the disc) into my computer, and as I was looking at the images, ... I noticed that he had a couple spots on his liver.

"I knew what I saw, but I wasn't sure. I knew it definitely was not good. I also saw spots on his spleen. Immediately, my heart sank."

A second opinion from a colleague backed up Reams' suspicions, and a visit to an oncologist and a biopsy of Vernon Reams' liver and a colonoscopy confirmed stage 4 large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

On Easter 2010, Reams and his mother, Loretta, drove Vernon Reams to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

"From there on, it was just a miracle," said Vernon Reams, 74, a retired pastor. "I laid in the bed eight weeks, eight whole weeks, every day, pretty much 24 hours per day. I'd have an hour of chemo every day. I was determined to walk out of that hospital. I got my legs back after five weeks or so.

"I'm still here. It's been more than 10 years now."

Vernon Reams' battle pushed his son to ride, something he will do as part of Pelotonia for the fifth consecutive year this weekend.

Joshua Reams plans to ride 50 miles Saturday, Aug. 8, but his course was uncertain, he said.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and a desire to keep participants, volunteers and supporters safe, Pelotonia in May canceled its annual weekend ride and in-person events, which were slated Friday to Sunday, Aug. 7 to 9.

But a reimagined 2020 Pelotonia has been rolling on virtually, with participants setting their own fundraising and activity goals and tracking them through mypelotonia.org to continue the mission of supporting cancer research at Ohio State's James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute.

This year's format includes a unifying event in the spirit of Pelotonia's traditional opening ceremony: a special broadcast called Legends LIVE! that will be streamed on pelotonia.org/rise, Facebook (facebook.com/pelotonia) and YouTube (youtube.com/ridepelotonia) from 7 to 8 p.m. Aug. 7.

"As we've had to pivot away from our traditional mass physical gathering this year, our priority has been to create new opportunities for our community to engage and continue to raise critical funds for cancer research," said Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia. "The My Pelotonia platform and upcoming Legends LIVE! broadcast Friday, Aug. 7, allow anyone, anywhere to play an important role in Pelotonia's mission this year.

"Legends LIVE! will be a celebration of what we've accomplished so far and the important work still to come -- featuring moving and uplifting stories of survival, research successes, musical performances and many special guests."

Although Reams is unsure how much money he has raised in the past five years, he knows he has exceeded his goal every time.

"For me to see my father going through chemo, wanting to give up and not wanting to even take any more medication, that's when I knew I had to do whatever I could to help his cause and find a cure so it's treated like the common cold," Joshua said.

Vernon Reams, a father of five, admitted his relationship with Joshua -- whose given name also is Vernon -- is particularly special.

"I've raised five kids -- three girls and two boys -- but (Joshua) is one of a kind," Vernon said. "I am just a happy man. I look at life and every day completely different from the way I used to look at it.

"I just thank God I am here every day. I am so grateful to have this life and the family I have.

"When I see him standing up with that bicycle and holding up a sign saying 'I ride for my dad,' it makes me so popular in this city of Belpre."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave