By Deb Silverthorn
The wheels of planning and registration are already spinning for Be The Difference Foundation’s (BTDF) Wheel to Survive (WTS). Spokes will be turning for the 11th annual ride from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Venue Forty|50 in Addison. The event is open to the public. The ride was featured on WFAA’s “Good Morning Texas” on Friday morning, Sept. 1.
“We give hope. The riders who join us, the donors behind us all year and the people we are connected to in every way, it’s all about hope,” said Jon Mize, BTDF executive director, “and hope keeps us all going.”
Be The Difference Foundation and the Wheel to Survive were founded in 2012 by ovarian cancer survivors Jill Bach, the late Helen Gardner, Lynn Lentscher and Julie Shrell. Since its inception, more than $3.2 million has been given to organizations from coast to coast supporting research, education and support for ovarian cancer patients and their loved ones.
Be The Difference Foundation has a vision of a world without ovarian cancer and a mission to create awareness and improve the lives of all people affected by ovarian cancer through education, support and research.
The efforts of BTDF are as important and timely as ever. One in 40 Ashkenazic Jews has a BRCA mutation (10 times other populations); the American Cancer Society estimates that, this year alone, about 19,710 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 13,270 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States.
“The day of the ride, you can’t help but look out and find a sea of smiling (and sometimes sweating) faces and there’s a most fulfilling spirit that fills the room. It comes from everyone and it surrounds everyone. We take that dedication and use it to fuel our most important mission all year long,” said Mize.
Wheel To Survive, moving to a new location this year, will have 75 bikes on-site and will, again, host a virtual ride with participants connected by Zoom, with riders signing on from around the world. Sponsors of the 2023 ride include Crow Holdings, Texas Oncology and lead sponsor White Rhino Coffee, who will provide coffee and snacks at Venue Forty|50. There will be children’s activities including face painting and bracelet making.
During the month of August, Lockwood Distilling Company’s “Cocktail for a Cause” events donated $1 for every “Bee The Difference” cocktail sold and the first 50 riders to raise $750 or more will receive an In The Pool Marble Big O Key Ring from Oventure.
Co-chair honors of the 2023 ride are shared by twin sisters Marissa Shrell Kaufman and Simone Shrell Noble and sisters by choice Lauren Lattman Holtzman and Lauren Hirsch Shecht.
“I’m so happy to be co-chairing Wheel to Survive this year alongside my sister and “the Laurens.’ They are all amazing women and together we’re getting ready for a great event,” said Simone Shrell Noble.
In the midst of readying, Noble — a “previvor,” or one who has tested positive for the BRCA1 gene and is at greater risk for ovarian or breast cancer — is recuperating from a recent prophylactic double mastectomy. Her decision to have the surgery decreases her risk of breast cancer from 80% to 4%.
“The ride certainly means more to me the older I get and I want to share the resources, the support, the education — all that is the Be The Difference Foundation,” said Noble. “With the example set by my Mom and at the side of my sister and for our whole family, we’ve all been through so much. We know what having a community beside you means and you take control of your own life however you can.”
Marissa Shrell Kaufman — who, like her sister, is also BRCA1 positive — was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 through routine BRCA1 screening. After seven months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, Kaufman is thankful to be cleared of the disease.
“I’m grateful to know my genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. Without my Mom sharing her story and learning how to screen, I wouldn’t have known about my tumor until it was a lot worse,” Kaufman said. She emphasized that her story illustrates for young women the real risks associated with the BRCA1 mutation.
Shecht’s mother, Donna Hirsch, and aunt, Janet Schmidt, were diagnosed with breast cancer, and tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Her mother survived; her aunt, of blessed memory, did not. When the young mother of two also tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation 10 years ago, she soon afterward had an elective double mastectomy.
“I knew I was at high risk,” said Shecht; three years later, in 2016, she developed symptoms of ovarian cancer. “After months of telling my OB/GYN and not getting answers, I saw a gastrointestinal doctor who immediately wanted me to have a CT scan. That’s where they saw something alarming.” Shecht was ultimately diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Stage 3C, during a hysterectomy surgery by her gynecological oncologist.
She prevailed, received treatment and has survived a recurrence. Her Wheel to Survive “L Team” has raised more than $9,400 to date.
Shecht said that Be The Difference Foundation has been everything to her besides family and friends. She said, “It introduced me to a community of people to be here for me when I was in need. They are a group that is inspirational and influential and has truly ‘been the difference.’”
If one “Lauren” means business, then two can only help push things along. Holtzman, a cousin of the Shrells and longtime friend of the Shechts, is as always by their side. Before co-chairing, she served on the Wheel to Survive committee for six years.
Holtzman explained why she got involved. “Ovarian cancer has hit too close to too many people I care about. Be The Difference Foundation and Wheel to Survive is a hands-on, pedals-down way to do something when you can’t figure out how to help,” she said.
In the last 11 years, BTDF has provided nearly $3 million to the Clarity Foundation, Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center, Lazarex Cancer Foundation, Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Moon Shots Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center, NYU Langone Medical Center–Pearlmutter Cancer Center, Prisma Health, University of Pennsylvania and UT Southwestern Medical Center. BTDF, with the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, also hosts Survivors Teaching Students, through which survivors share their experiences with future health care providers.
“This organization provides so much help in so many ways. I want everyone to know about it,” Holtzman said.
TJP readers receive a 50% discount for registration with the promo code TJP. Visit tinyurl.com/23-BTDF-Wheel-to-Survive to register for the September ride and bethedifferencefoundation.org for organization information and resources.