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Getting Fit While Fighting for a Cure

Cycle for Survival Hits LI –

Helps Raise Record Funds

A “getting fit” issue would be remiss if it didn’t mention all the fundraising efforts that involve doing exercise for a good medical cause. Cycle for Survival, an indoor team cycling/spinning event that raises money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is no exception. Cycle just hit Long Island for the first time, and those who came out in Roslyn to support the effort helped raise $4.4 million.

Cycle for Survival began in 2007 as a grassroots fundraiser founded by Jennifer Goodman Linn, and has grown exponentially each year, raising a total of more than $8.9 million to date. So far in 2011, Cycle is on track to surpass the total from the first four years combined. Proceeds benefit research on rare forms of cancer that fail to attract funding sufficient for progress in research and treatment.

The funds are quickly allocated to the most promising research and clinical trials, dramatically reducing the time it takes for donations to lead to research discoveries — and then to better treatments for cancer patients. This acceleration can make a crucial difference for patients battling rare cancers. To date, 13 clinical trials and studies have been funded by event proceeds.

“Last year we made major progress discovering some new genes and proteins that regulate cancer growth and identified drugs that are active in these pathways – in fact these drugs are now being tested for the first time on patients – so in the last eight to twelve months we moved from laboratory research to bedside,” said Dr. Gary Schwartz, chief of the Melanoma and Sarcoma Service at MSKCC. “We’ve formed consortiums so that if you are in Chicago, California, Florida — anywhere in the country — you’ll be able to participate in our clinical trials. And it’s all been made possible thanks to Cycle for Survival.”

Celebrities and star athletes cycled next to top teams and fundraisers in this year’s “ride against cancer.” Comedian Seth Myers, who cycled in New York City, filmed a PSA in support of the event. Other highlights included a streaming Twitter feed, a ceremony featuring remarks from MSKCC physicians, a check presentation, and an inspiring speech by event founder Jennifer Goodman Linn.

“Cycle for Survival may have started with me, but we wouldn’t have gotten this big without you, and on behalf of the millions of people like me with rare cancers, I thank you,” said Linn. “2010 was a tough year for me, but I’m here today because of the skill of my Memorial Sloan-Kettering doctors and because there was another option to try. For those of us with rare cancers, the first thing we wonder when we relapse is whether there’s something new we can try to fight the disease. Cycle for Survival gives so much hope to all of us because we see such amazing progress and know that more options are being developed.”

Participants at the event say the feeling in the room can only be fully understood if you are there in the gym.

“The event is indescribable,” said Linn. “You see hundreds of people riding – the music is pulsing and people are cheering and yelling, and at that moment you feel like we can make anything happen. It’s just a feeling of hope and progress.”

Long Islanders at Cycle for Survival

Rosamaria Falbo, an administrative manager at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, put together a team for this event. She echoed Linn’s sense of the experience.

“You have all these people in this tiny space – between all the cyclists and their friends and families – it was just completely electric,” shared Falbo. “ It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever participated in. This is my day job, I deal with patients, but to see this many people in a room, it was uplifting and emotional. It makes the little bumps on your arms go up, is all I can say.”

A highlight to her was the Internet stream coming in. She said it was fun to watch the big screen and see team photos of the event going up on Facebook in real time, with comments coming back from Twitter.

Another Long Islander, Alyssa Acquafredda, is a 25-year-old cancer survivor and a very active participant in Cycle for Survival. She was excited to see the event come home to Long Island.

At 23, Acquafredda was diagnosed with stage 4 angiosarcoma, a very rare cancer. She has kept her job as a teacher and kept all her dreams alive.

“I have cancer, cancer doesn’t have me,” she said. “I go to work every day. My students have no clue what I have been through. I still have all my hopes and dreams. I want a family. That’s why you keep going. And that is why I am part of Cycle for Survival.”

She said that, at 25 years old, coming up on two years fighting cancer, she never would have expected that her life would involve such health struggles as she has experienced. But, thanks to funds partly raised by Cycle, she was actually able to get on a trial treatment. This gives her hope that a cure is out there, and makes her believe that people with cancer, or who know someone with cancer, should keep hope alive and keep up the fight.

Acquafredda shared something that Linn said to her. “She said, ‘I want to cycle until there is no need.’ I feel the same way. I want to cycle until we don’t need to because we have found a cure. Is it a big dream? Yes. But I tell my students every day to dream big.”

She went on, saying, “I am cycling for those students. I’m cycling for myself. I’m cycling for those battling with me, those who lost, those who will fight. Unfortunately, the statistics are out there. We are all touched by cancer. Everyone is affected themselves or someone close to them is. I cycle for those people and for the hope of a better tomorrow.”