When Jennifer Linn was diagnosed with sarcoma in 2004, she became a member of a distinct group. Roughly half of all cases of cancer in the United States share a certain quality—they are all classified as “rare.” Unfortunately, since they have been labeled as rare, these types of cancers have been historically understudied and underfunded—even though they account for a large portion of cancer-affected Americans.
As Linn battled the rare disease, she and her husband, Dave Linn, sought to centralize and strengthen efforts to find cures for rare cancers. Capitalizing on the spinning trend that was circulating throughout the U.S., the Linns founded Cycle for Survival in 2007—an indoor cycling event based in New York that is designed to fundraise, generate awareness, and create a community for those affected by rare cancers.
Linn, who was a patient at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, partnered with the organization and allocated 100 percent of funds raised by Cycle for Survival to Memorial Sloan Kettering for rare cancer research and clinical trials. Founded in 1884, Memorial Sloan Kettering is the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center, and was named number one in the United States for cancer treatment by U.S. News & World Report in 2014.
Although Jennifer lost her battle to cancer in 2011, Memorial Sloan Kettering continues to receive 100 percent of funds raised by Cycle for Survival, and is working continuously to find cures to a variety of rare cancers.
“There’s probably in total about 400 types of cancer, and many of them are not very common, but for each patient that’s the most important cancer—the one they have,” said Dr. David Solit, director of the Center for Molecular Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “So we need to figure out for all of these cancers, even if they’re rare, what is the biologic basis, and what is the best treatment.”
Solit, who first got involved with Cycle for Survival in memory of his sister-in-law, Cheryl, has gone on to participate in a number of events across the country over the past four years, often acting as a representative for MSK. This past weekend, Solit participated in his first Boston-based event at Equinox—Cycle for Survival’s founding partner—and described it as something you have to experience in order to understand fully its impact.
“It’s a real high energy event, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and I think that becomes a little bit infectious,” Solit said. “People really appreciate that common goal of trying to get money raised for studying these cancer types.”
Cycle for Survival’s journey to Boston was catalyzed by the work of the Gallups, Lisa and Barry Jr., who were friends of the Linns and saw the demand for an event in Boston when Lisa was diagnosed with a rare cancer and realized that she had a lot of friends and family back home in the area who were eager to get involved. The pair—who are the children of Boston College associate athletics director Barry Gallup—started the team “FabuLisa,” which received donations from over one thousand individual donors and became the highest fundraising team for the event.
Although most events take place in Equinox centers when groups are too large or cannot make it to centers, Cycle for Survival will organize “Satellite Events.” At BC, an annual Satellite Event organized by Women’s Field Hockey Coach Ainslee Lamb aims to carry on the legacy of Lisa Gallup, who was a survivor until 2012. All varsity sports teams participate, and classes are taught by student instructors.
“It was definitely the best teaching experience of my life,” said Consuelo Garcia-Garcia, a spin instructor at BC. “It’s hard to describe, there’s just so much energy, not a silent moment in the class, and everyone was singing along.”
The BC community has provided “overwhelming” support for this cause, according to Gallup.
One of the elements that gives Cycle for Survival a personal touch is its practice of inviting speakers to come talk to cyclists in between classes. Representatives from Equinox, members of Cycle for Survival, doctors from MSK, and people shared their personal stories of cancer’s impact on lives.
“When you’re there and you listen to those speeches, you realize that everyone unfortunately is connected one way or another to cancer, and everyone has their own personal story,” Gallup said. “It can feel like a very lonely thing when you are going through it, but you realize there’s a whole community that’s also suffering, which in turn provides a lot of support.”
Featured Image Courtesy Of Cycle For Survival