Who Is Riding: Rafael Bejar, MD, PhD
Dr. Rafael Bejar is a physician-scientist in the Hematology group at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. This means that he divides his time between seeing patients and running a research lab that is working to bridge the gap between discoveries and treatment.
His focus is on a particular kind of blood cancers known as myelodysplastic syndromes, or simply MDS. At Moores Cancer Center, he established our MDS Center of Excellence that combines the clinical skills of his group with expertise in hematopathology, clinical trials, and stem cell transplantation. He gets to help patients through the process of diagnosis and treatment and help them take on this uninvited challenge. In the lab, his research examines the genetic causes of MDS to understand how they can be used to personalize therapy and better care for patients.
Like many who support Pedal the Cause, Dr. Bejar also has experience with cancer that hits closer to home.
While still in medical school, his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His cancer, which was initially believed to be curable, unfortunately returned a few years later. Dr. Bejar’s father discovered a clinical trial offered in Boston that used a vaccine to target the tumor and decided to travel there to receive this experimental treatment. The trial was a success. His cancer, which had shown aggressive features, was now well controlled. This experience highlighted how a cancer diagnosis can completely upend people’s lives and how important research and novel therapies are to improving outcomes.
“I walk through the [Moores] waiting room every day to get to my office.
It’s a powerful reminder of why I’m doing what I do.”
Dr. Bejar completed his fellowship in hematology and oncology in Boston at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where he witnessed how the Pan-Mass Challenge – a two-day charity ride very similar to Pedal the Cause – brought the community together while supporting cancer research. When he heard about Pedal the Cause from Dr. Scott Lippman, director of Moores Cancer Center, Dr. Bejar committed to ride that same day. Dr. Bejar was excited about seeing the same energy he witnessed at the Pan-Mass Challenge in our San Diego community of patients, families, nurses, and physicians.
“Several of the oncologists and nurses I worked with rode the PMC alongside cancer survivors and families of those they had care for,” said Dr. Bejar. “That alone was inspirational, but the ride also enabled Dana-Farber to carry on its dual mission of cutting-edge cancer research and top-notch clinical care.” Dr. Bejar was thrilled to participate in the inaugural Pedal the Cause ride because he believed it would do the same for UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, Salk Cancer Center, and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Center.
While Dr. Bejar knew how amazing the Pan-Mass Challenge was, he never found the time to train and participate as a busy fellow in training. He admits that he wasn’t sure that he could finish the two-day ride to Julian during last year’s Pedal the Cause, but he wanted to challenge himself to see if he could.
His first training ride was 25 miles on a hybrid bike, the most he had ever ridden at one time in his life. But after just a few weeks, he was able to ride 65 miles to Ramona and back, another record! “After training with the Pedal the Cause crew, I was less worried about making it up the mountain and more excited about how much fun it was going to be to ride that day,” said Dr. Bejar. “It was a great experience and one I’m looking forward to doing again.”
Dr. Bejar has dedicated his career to cancer research, focusing on making discoveries that can quickly be turned into better care and more effective therapies for his patients.
“It’s no accident that at Moores Cancer Center the research labs are located behind the clinics. I walk through the waiting room every day to get to my office. It’s a powerful reminder of why I’m doing what I do,” said Dr. Bejar.