Steve Thornton, lead bike, second from the right begins the Poker Ride organized in his honor.
Steve Thornton, at left, talks to friends before the ride.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, motorcycle riders rolled through Central Utah for the Third Annual Deer Creek Coal Miners Poker Run, a benefit run for a member of the Castle Country community facing serious medical challenges. The miners and fellow supporters decided this year that they were riding for Steve Thornton of Orangeville, who co-founded the event with Wade Hansen in 2011 and who was recently diagnosed with a rare and advanced cancer.
The event began in September 2011 as a benefit ride for Kaylee Edgehouse Van Wagoner, the daughter of Joe and Kim Edgehouse, whose body rejected a kidney and later had to be put on expensive long-term dialysis. The second run benefited Jacee Day, who has been living with a rare and incurable autoimmune disorder called Wegener's Granulomatosis, a chronic systemic vasculitis affecting small and medium-sized blood vessels.
Steve Thornton's story began with chest pain and a suspicion of a heart attack on May 6. He and Debbie, his wife, called the ambulance. The crew headed for the emergency room at Castleview Hospital. Through the tenacity of Dr. Glori M. Allen, they discovered a serious problem with Steve's liver. A CT scan showed innumerable spots.
Over the next several days, the doctors learned through a biopsy and a later PET scan that Steve had a rare type of cancer: a neuroendocrine carcinoma. It is a cancer that invades cells that produce hormones.
The cancer started in Steve's cecum, which is located at the beginning of the large intestine. It was initially slow growing, but eventually switched to a fast-growing form that metastasized, spreading into his liver. His symptoms from the now stage IV cancer rapidly advanced. In only a few weeks, with a buildup of toxins in his blood due to impaired liver function, Steve's skin and eyes turned yellow from jaundice. He had difficulty moving and suffered from extreme fatigue. His condition was alarming to every doctor he visited.
The doctors put Steve on a regimen of strong chemotherapy once every three weeks. He also has to take regular shots to regulate some of the hormones that are erratically produced in his body. His situation has improved with each of the four treatments he has undergone, and as the toxin levels come down the doctors anticipate that he might be able to start a new type of chemo, which is processed in the liver, that will attack the original tumor.
The chemo has the cancer on the run, and the miners dedicated this year's ride to Steve to help continue his strides forward. The doctors do not yet know how many more chemo treatments will be required, but it appears that treatments will be a part of Steve's life for now. The doctors will continue to monitor his blood work and scans to adjust the treatments. For now, he experiences two weeks of fatigue and chemo-related problems after each treatment, followed generally by one week of feeling great.
Steve and his family wanted to convey how much they appreciate the love and outreach. They are humbled by the showing of support from their friends and everyone in the community, especially to all the riders who rolled through Emery County last weekend.
The riders gathered at the Energy West Mining building and were given their first card to build their poker hand. Debbie said she received her five year's free of cancer at her check-up in May and Steve was diagnosed in June. She is grateful for the support they've received. Steve said, "This is a humbling experience. It's been a hard lesson letting others support you. Thanks for the support you've given me during this time. It's been a gift to get to here. We've had help from people daily. I'm still alive."
Steve and Debbie Thornton led the motorcycles as they gathered together on Huntington Main Street. From there they went to Gilly's in Ferron to pick another card. The next stop was the Ghost Rocks view area. Ray's Tavern in Green River was the lunch stop and then the riders continued onto Price where the ride concluded at the Wave Pool park. Riders also bought raffle tickets for a gun and other prizes.
The raffle will be held on Sept. 30. You can buy tickets at the Energy West office on Main Street in Huntington and at the Hair Clinic in Castle Dale. Everyone is encouraged to buy some tickets to help support this Emery County Veteran in his time of need. Steve is an Iraq war veteran and is the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Utah State Representative.
Steve was able to complete the Poker Run as he had the strength to ride from Huntington around the loop and back to Price.