Gary Bonacker prefers the term "cancer thriver" to "cancer survivor."
"The second you are diagnosed with cancer you are a survivor until the day you die," says Bonacker, who, along with his wife Sue, owns Sunnyside Sports. "A lot of people think being a survivor means you have beaten cancer."
Diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003, Bonacker has indeed thrived, as has his cancer awareness and fundraising event, the Tour Des Chutes, which celebrates its 11th year on Saturday.
Bonacker jokingly relates the term "survivor" with the '60s sitcom "Gilligan's Island."
"People survive shipwrecks," he laughs. "But there are enough people that use the word that I can't find fault with it."
As much an advocate for a cure as Bonacker is, he remains realistic about the impact he can have on the disease.
"We don't raise money to cure cancer, as the funds we collect are a drop in the bucket compared to the millions raised by much larger organizations," he admitted, referring to the Tour des Chutes' efforts. "But, we can certainly make a difference in people's lives here in Central Oregon."
Having raised well over $700,000 since the first tour in 2004, Bonacker is proud to have added a pediatric foundation to his network. Bonacker admits that he set out to raise funds for adults dealing with cancer until he began to think about the kids—allocating $40,000 of last year's $185,000 raised for pediatric care.
"There are no pediatric cancer centers in Central Oregon," he said. "Families in this community are faced with traveling to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland."
With most families relying on two incomes, Bonacker realized that managing the life of a child with cancer almost always means financial hardship.
"You can't send a kid on a bus or have them drive themselves for treatment," noted Bonacker. "One of the parents typically has to leave their job."
To help out, the Tour's pediatric foundation earmarks funds to help families with gas, lodging, and food cards. If needed, money is also allocated to help with utility bills or new car tires for driving over the pass in winter.
"How can we say 'no' to a kid?" asks Bonacker. "Kids are the future, they are going to take care of us when we get old and run our government. These are the important people in our lives."
Bonacker knows his name is synonymous with the Tour des Chutes, but is quick to note that the event could not happen without tremendous community support.
"We are helping a lot of people and I feel good about that," he says. "But, I do not want to be put up on a soap box. I would simply like my legacy to be that I helped some people out."
While Bonacker strives to thrive while living with cancer, he is honest to admit it isn't always easy.
"There are times when I am less than pleasant about my cancer," he says. "Then I see my beautiful wife and our daughter Frankie, and remind myself that I have a lot going for me. I should focus on those things instead."
As much as he loves the Tour, he remains hopeful that, someday, it wont be needed.
"I can wish all I want but the reality is that people with cancer need our help," he says. "We can at least say that we help from age zero for as long as they live."
Saturday, July 11
Rides range from seven miles to a century, leaving from
High Lakes Elementary School in Northwest Crossing.
There is also a 5k run/walk.