What cancer? Encinitas man bikes hundreds of miles each month despite diagnosis

Robert Duran sits on his trail bike
Robert Duran, who has had pancreatic cancer since 2014, sits on his trail bike as he and friends gather at El Camino Bike Shop in Encinitas to go for a 15-mile ride together on June 9. It’s a tradition after Duran’s weekly chemotherapy treatment.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Robert Duran has stage 4 pancreatic cancer but uses biking as a way to heal, raise awareness


Every Thursday, Robert Duran spends three hours undergoing chemotherapy treatment for his stage 4 pancreatic cancer at UC San Diego.

Then, after a quick bite to eat, he hops on his bike for a 15-mile ride with his cycling crew.

“It keeps my life going,” the 55-year-old Encinitas resident said. “Cycling is my happy place. Everything basically goes away when you’re cycling. It almost takes you back to being a kid because there are no worries.”

Cycling has come to be involved in every aspect of Duran’s life — the good and the bad.

“Cycling is one of the things that I love and enjoy doing most,” Duran said, “but it’s also the thing that actually put me in the hospital where the doctors finally found my cancer.”

After months of feeling increasingly nauseous, unable to keep his food down, Duran decided to go on a bike ride.

Robert Duran rides on a recreation trail in Encinitas with friends after weekly chemo
Duran rides on a recreation trail in Encinitas with friends.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

It was after that 35-mile bike ride when he couldn’t rehydrate himself that Duran went to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014.

“They finally gave me a CT scan, and they said, ‘You’ve got a golf-ball-sized mass in your pancreas,’” he recalled.

Though Duran says his cancer diagnosis felt akin to getting hit with a big-rig truck, he said he immediately knew he needed to fight. And in the eight years since, it’s been cycling that Duran said has helped him do just that.

Through recovery from each chemotherapy treatment and surgery, cycling has helped him to regain his strength and stay healthy.

“It makes me feel normal, it makes me feel rejuvenated,” he said. “It gives me that sense of accomplishment.”

Whether road, mountain or gravel bike, Duran says he clocks between 35 and 85 miles on any given week on one of the six different bikes in his garage.

“Cycling gave me the ability to believe and have hope that I would continue to live a normal life,” he added.

Now, Duran is using cycling to raise funds for cancer research as part of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network community, or PanCAN, a pancreatic cancer patient advocacy organization.

Duran’s struggle to discover what was wrong with him is typical of pancreatic cancer, which is often hard to diagnose. It’s also the reason why he is so passionate about giving back through PanCAN.

Pancreatic cancer is considered the world’s toughest cancer, with few effective treatments and no early detection method, according to PanCAN.

While it is the 11th most commonly diagnosed cancer, it is the third leading cause of cancer death in the nation. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 11 percent.

About 80 percent of all pancreatic cancer research funding comes from the federal government, so when federal funding increases, so does the five-year survival rate, according to PanCAN.

This week is PanCAN’s Action Week, during which advocates from across the country rally to increase the federal investment in funding for pancreatic cancer research.

“You want to be able to survive because everyday researchers and scientists come out with new methods of treatment,” Duran said. “Through the help of PanCAN and the surge in federal funding, it’s finally happening, and I’m so happy to be part of it.”

This year, PanCAN is working to increase investment in the Pancreatic Cancer Research Program at the Department of Defense from $15 million to $20 million and secure $49 billion for the National Institutes of Health base budget, including $7.76 billion for the National Cancer Institute, for pancreatic cancer research.

Robert Duran wearing a bike helmet
Duran says biking has helped get him through cancer and has become a way to raise awareness and money for cancer research.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

It’s survivors like Duran who Anggie Becorest, sponsorship chair of the San Diego affiliate of PanCAN, considers role models to others.

“Having a recurrence four times and each time just putting a smile on his face and having a positive attitude, he’s definitely somebody that I look up to and is very inspirational,” she said.

Becorest, a 25-year pancreatic cancer survivor herself, says what’s most important is letting people know that survivors do exist and there is support out there for them.

Along with pancreatic cancer research, PanCAN funding goes toward various free support programs for patients, like Know Your Tumor, where patients can get molecular profiling of their tumors to help provide insight and treatment options to their health care teams.

Duran says that his pancreatic cancer diagnosis was both one of the worst things that has ever happened to him and one of the best.

“It’s made me who I am today by being able to help the community,” he said. “Without PanCAN, without my cycling and without the community that’s helped me, I really wouldn’t be here right now ... As long as they’re continuing to fight, I will continue to fight. And if I can no longer continue to fight, I know they will continue to fight.”