Doug Laderer, 58, is always up for a physical challenge. A veteran biker, the Longridge Drive resident completed the Bike MS 150 from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie seven years in a row to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. His eldest daughter Sarah, 26, also loves to cross the finish line. A runner, she finished 36th among women in the 2018 Pittsburgh Marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon next April.
Last fall, however, the father-daughter team took on a five-day challenge that meant much more to them than any past race. They set out to bike 335 miles roundtrip to Washington, D.C., to raise money to fund research into anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) positive non-small cell lung cancer. The reason? Doug’s brother, Greg, is living with this rare type of cancer that typically affects younger non-smokers. Their mother, Shirley Finlay Laderer, also a non-smoker died from non-small cell lung cancer in 2004. (The ALK positive gene had not been discovered.)
Greg is an artist who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, the middle of three brothers, and lived here before moving to Booth Bay, Maine, where he now resides with his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Avery, 25. Doug, the youngest brother, is married to a fellow Mt. Lebanon grad, Tracy Hug Laderer, and they have two other daughters, Maggie, 23, and Christine, 21. Doug and Greg’s older brother, Bob, is a physician in New Orleans.
When Greg was diagnosed 18 months ago, the disease already had spread to his spine, ribs, liver and brain, as is typical with this type of cancer, His cancer currently is suppressed by targeted therapy that inhibits the gene from signaling, but it cannot be cured—at least not yet. It was Greg who suggested his brother and niece ride. “Next time, why not do it to raise money for research on the type of cancer I have,” he asked.
Doug says only 4 to 5 percent of people with non-small cell lung cancer have the ALK gene mutation, a rearrangement of the ALK gene that causes a malfunction in the human body that produces cancerous cells. Four treatments for ALK positive lung cancer currently are available, but they don’t work on everyone and, if they work, it’s only for a period of time, he adds: “The cancer always seems always to figure a way around it.”
More research could change that. “We need earlier detection,” because people don’t find out about it until stage four, when it has spread throughout their bodies,” Greg says, “And we need to open a window of time, where research will figure out something to either cure [the cancer] or put it at bay for longer periods of time”
On the positive side, “extremely fast progress” has been made since their mother died, Doug says. When the ALK positive gene was discovered in 2009, survivors and their caregivers around the world united to provide “information, support and empathy.” They organized ALK Positive as a 501c3 nonprofit (www.alkpositive.org/) and are partnering with LUNGevity to fund research proposals that seek to overcome the resistance to targeted therapies, eventually making ALK positive lung cancer a chronic condition. So far the group has raised close to $600,000 and has recently awarded three major research grants.
Doug and Sarah set out on their cross bikes wearing customized T-shirts that said, “Cycling to Save My Brother,” and “Cycling to Save My Uncle,” and carrying cards imprinted with the donation website. They got lots of questions—and contributions—along the way.
They didn’t reach their original destination—heavy rain had flooded out the old canal towpath along the Potomac River en route to the nation’s capital. But they did complete the promised 335 miles. “We rode to Cumberland—150 miles away—and back and biked the extra miles around Pittsburgh,” Doug says.
They arrived home in Pittsburgh on September 24, Greg’s 61st birthday, and were thrilled to find he had made a surprise visit to Mt. Lebanon from Maine so they could celebrate together.
Doug and Sarah’s race was not just for money but for time—more time with their loved one, more time for others who will receive this earth-shattering diagnosis in the future. Their original goal was to raise $10,000. They reached that in eight days and by November 1 had raised more than $30,000, which they hope to double.
“Greg is really overwhelmed by what we did and by the generous outpouring of donations that have come from it” says Doug. Many donations came from Mt. Lebanon friends and the fraternity brothers (years 1975-85) of Penn State’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter, where both Doug and Greg were members.