In December 2003, just a year after getting married, my life was turned completely upside down. After weeks of night sweats and fevers, my wife Jen was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. My wife was the picture of good health, always carrying a bag of carrots and a bottle of water on the way to the gym. But as we learned, cancer doesn't discriminate, and it chose Jen.
We started to learn more. Jen had a rare type of cancer called MFH sarcoma, and because research on her type of cancer was underfunded, there was no definitive way to treat it. We relied on our leading-edge team of doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) to create the best plan, but the reality of Jen's limited options was frightening. What if her treatment didn't work? Then what?
We soon learned that Jen's situation was far from unique. I was shocked to learn that half of all cancer diagnoses in the United States are classified as rare forms of the disease. Moveover, research into better understanding cancers such as pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and all pediatric cancers is often underfunded. As Jen always said, when you're diagnosed with cancer you should hopefully be able to ask, "What's my treatment plan?" and not the much scarier question -- "Is there a plan for me?"
After her initial diagnosis and treatment, Jen wanted to give back to her amazing doctors at MSK. Jen had always enjoyed indoor cycling and found it therapeutic during her treatments. We decided to host an indoor, team cycling event at our local Equinox fitness club to raise money for rare cancer research led by MSK. We set (what we thought was) a lofty goal of $10,000 and crossed our fingers that we could make it. Long story short, in that first year, we raised $250,000! And so, Cycle for Survival was born.
The success of Cycle for Survival became Jen's mission and a reality. Cycle is one of the world's fastest-growing athletic fundraising events. Even during a tough economic climate, we have doubled the funds raised every year, with an overall total of more than $10 million and counting! In 2009, Cycle for Survival became an official MSK fundraising event, and Equinox was named the Founding Sponsor. With this support, Cycle for Survival quickly grew from a New York City-based event to a national movement for the rare cancer community. This year, close to 10,000 participants are expected to ride in teams across our six official Cycle event cities nationwide and over 50 satellite events around the world, including in Iceland and Hong Kong.
2012 marks our sixth Cycle for Survival. Very sadly, it will be the first without Jen. After seven years of bravely battling her disease, Jen passed away in July. We are all obviously heartbroken, but whenever I get down, I think about the incredible commitment that Jen made to her fellow rare cancer patients. No matter what happened to her -- even when she was enduring 6 intense surgeries, 20 different types of chemotherapy, and incredible amounts of pain -- Jen was always committed to doing everything she possibly could to help other patients.
As you can tell, Jen was a fighter. And I am committed to continuing to fight for her dream of having effective treatments for all rare cancers. In February, I know Jen's vision and energy for Cycle for Survival will be alive in the thousands of participants who found inspiration in Jen and their own "Jens" and will wear their Cycle shirts proudly during Cycle 2012.
We haven't cured rare cancers, but to date Cycle for Survival has funded more than 25 clinical trials and research studies across various types of rare cancers, including brain cancer, lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer and pediatric cancers. We are making great progress, but this is still only the beginning.
Jen often said, "I may have cancer but cancer doesn't have me." Her fearless attitude has inspired so many people, and we hope you join us as we honor Jen's legacy this February. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit www.cycleforsurvival.org. Register or donate today. No one beats cancer until we all beat cancer.
Dave Linn is the co-founder of Cycle for Survival, a national, indoor team cycling event that funds research led by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer into rare cancers. It is the only fundraising event to benefit all rare cancers. For more information visit www.cycleforsurvival.org.
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