In 2007, rare-cancer patient Jennifer Goodman Linn held a small cycling event with a few friends at an Equinox club in New York City, hoping to raise $10,000 for research into rare cancers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). Jen had been diagnosed with sarcoma, a soft tissue cancer, a few years earlier, and she and her husband, Dave, were surprised to learn that research into rare cancers is often underfunded, leaving patients with limited treatment options – even though they account for more than half of all cancer diagnoses and are well-recognized by name. In fact, leukemia, lymphoma, brain, pancreatic, ovarian and all pediatric cancers are considered rare forms of the disease.
What started out as a small event among friends quickly grew into a national movement called Cycle for Survival. In just five years, Cycle for Survival has raised more than $12 million to fund more than 25 clinical trials and research studies led by MSK. What sets Cycle apart is that within six months of the events, every dollar raised is allocated to research projects led by MSK. This means patients quickly see the benefits of donations in the form of new clinical trials and investigational treatment options.
Sadly, Jen passed away in July 2011, but thousands of Cycle for Survival participants are carrying on Jen’s vision in her honor. This year, Cycle for Survival will be held at Equinox clubs (the event’s founding sponsor) in New York City, Long Island, Washington D.C., Chicago and San Francisco – and on Feb. 4 in Los Angeles.
Keith Ayers, a 31-year-old immigration lawyer and writer from Brentwood, will be riding in the L.A. event and told us a bit about his connection to Cycle for Survival.
What is your personal experience with rare cancer and your connection with the cause?
I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, when I was 22. My diagnosis came two weeks before finals during my first year of law school in 2002. In the middle of treatment my friend from high school, Alan, who was also 22, was also diagnosed with a rare sarcoma and also underwent his treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).
I have been cancer free for over nine years now. Unfortunately, Alan’s cancer came back and he passed away in 2004. It was a tough couple of years with treatment and its aftermath, with Alan’s passing and the constant fear of the cancer coming back. But what got me through it was focusing on others. I realized that I had to pay it forward to patients and families who were in the same position Alan and I were in. My sister befriended the founder of Cycle For Survival, and once we heard about their cause and how it targeted rare cancers specifically, we were all in.
What is your involvement this year? Describe your team and what you hope to raise.
We have a bike in NYC and L.A. this year and I will be riding with friends and family from both coasts. Our team goal is to raise $10,000 this year and we’re very close to reaching it. I invite everyone that I know to come out and ride the day of cycle.
Why do you think it is important for people in L.A. to get involved with Cycle For Survival?
Cancer touches every family and I think it empowers people when you let them get involved in events and fundraisers that make such a difference like Cycle. MSKCC is one of the top cancer hospitals in the world, especially when it comes to rare cancers. When I was in treatment, there were kids from all over the country and world being flown in to get treatment there. When MSKCC makes a breakthrough and comes up with more effective ways to treat cancer, that knowledge spreads to hospitals throughout the country. The drugs and treatments have already improved since I ended my treatment in 2003. It’s great way to get involved and make a difference.
What makes the Feb. 4 ride fun?
The energy and passion in the room is exhilarating. It’s a great place to meet people, get a good workout, meet with friends and family, share war stories, cope and inspire. There is something for everyone and it’s a great atmosphere.
What does the event offer for families?
While cyclists participating in the event must be 18 to ride, there will be kids’ activities on-site (and kids can cheer on their parents or teenage siblings too!). Plus, many parents/families ride to raise funds for kids with cancer. In fact, pediatric cancers are all rare cancers.
Cycle for Survival teams register to ride for a four-hour shift, with a maximum of eight riders per bike. Teams may register multiple bikes. The event also features complimentary yoga classes, massage therapy and children’s activities.
Cycle for Survival, 8 a.m.-noon Feb. 4, Equinox Westwood, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; www.cycleforsurvival.org.