Fifth-annual BTDF Wheel to Survive raising funds against ovarian cancer
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
Tina Turner may sing about the “big wheel keep on turnin,’ ” but she had no idea how many wheels, and how much spinning, support the increase in chances for the survival of ovarian cancer patients.
The fifth Be The Difference Foundation’s (BTDF) Wheel To Survive in Dallas, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, will have riders of all ages cycling at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center to raise money to support the awareness of, and hopeful cure for, ovarian cancer.
At press time, with dollars pledged increasing, 181 riders have raised $85,827 toward this year’s goal of 300 riders and $300,000. This year, BTDF will cross the $2 million mark in donations over the last five years, to support programs dedicated to research toward the cure of ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancerous deaths.
“Survive More Than Five is our theme this year. Only 50 percent of women make it past five years and, here we are, hosting our fifth Dallas ride, and the organization is growing beyond our imagination. Our passion will always continue with more events, more money to donate, and more support to women fighting ovarian cancer,” said a healthy Julie Shrell, who recently marked six years since her diagnosis. Shrell co-founded the organization with Jill Bach, Helen Gardner of blessed memory, and Lynn Lentscher.
BTDF’s board of directors includes the founders as well as Gary Gardner, Darren Fishman, Lisa Hurst and Sheryl Yonack. Director of Wheel to Survive is Jon Mize.
Wheel to Survive is sponsored by many, with the Aaron Family JCC, Medical City, My Fabric Designs, Friedman & Feiger Attorneys at Law, MetroTex Association of Realtors, North Texas Gynecologic Oncology, The Bloom Medical Spa/Genecov Plastic Surgery Group, Mona Lisa Partners, Lewisville Autoplex, McKool Smith, Women’s Council of Realtors, Richardson Bike Mart, Athleta, and Whole Foods Preston Forest among this year’s leaders.
“We’re glad to host the meaningful activism that Wheel to Survive brings to our community,” said Artie Allen, chief executive officer of the Aaron Family JCC. “I hope desperately that a cure comes soon, and that there won’t be a need for this event, but we’re here for the long haul.”
Free practice rides for registered participants are being held at the JCC at noon on Jan. 29 and Feb. 12; at Zyn22 Park Lane at 1 p.m. on Feb. 5; and at Cyclebar Preston Forest at noon on Feb. 19. At the first practice Jan. 15 directed by Simone Shrell, riders shared their reasons for riding — friends and family who survived and those who didn’t — and survivors cheered their now good health that allows them to spin and support.
Bach, diagnosed in 2007 and now healthy, says, “Be The Difference Foundation was founded by survivors to support survivors and their families and the external love that comes together is the definition of community. That people have come out in the hundreds each of the last five years — in Dallas and around the country — allows us to help those searching for a cure, and those living with the disease, to move forward,” said Bach. “We’ve provided for a lot of research and support but the numbers haven’t changed much in terms of survival and that has to change.”
Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecologic cancer, affecting one in 70 women. Today, more than 70 percent of ovarian cancer patients will die of their disease. When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, the five year survival rate is greater than 92 percent but, as symptoms are vague and subtle, most patients are diagnosed at later stages.
While both men and women can carry an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (not the only genes that cause hereditary cancers), inherited alterations in these genes make female carriers more susceptible, accounting for between five and 10 percent of all breast cancer and ovarian cancer cases. While not every person in such families carries an alteration in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, the likelihood that breast cancer and ovarian cancer are associated with these genes is highest in families with histories of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, families where one or more family members have two primary cancers, ovarian cancer at any age, or families of Ashkenazi Jewish background.
The goal of the Moon Shots Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is to dramatically reduce the incidence and mortality of cancer so that the disease is preventable, detectable and treatable. The program brings together faculty from throughout the institution to make a big and immediate impact on a specific cancer; 13 cancers are included in the program.
“Philanthropy is key, not only determining what possible clinical solutions we can explore, but also accelerating how quickly we can move those therapeutic ideas from the laboratory to patients. As our faculty and patients point to the many successes of the Moon Shots Program, they do so only thanks to the generosity of many individuals and foundations that have joined MD Anderson on our mission of Making Cancer History®,” said Dr. Anil Sood, professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “I’ve been fortunate to watch many women leave our hospital with a healthy path ahead. It’s the reason we become physicians in the first place. Survivors are a living testament to our progress, and the Be The Difference Foundation is a shining example of the difference these women are making in the fight.”
Physicians and researchers participating in MD Anderson’s Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot program have prioritized key projects according to the potential for short-term impact, within three to five years, in the clinical setting. Long-term impacts, five to 10 years, dealing with prevention, early detection and survivorship are also part of the strategy. Immediate goals — some of which will directly be impacted by the funds received by BTDF — include rapid development, testing and deployment of targeted therapies for high-grade serous ovarian cancer, the discovery and implementation of effective drug combinations, and improvement of treatment options for recurrent and metastatic disease. The approach is comprehensive across the full spectrum of cancer care, but the quickest results will come from many active clinical trials that already have shown promise in patients.
“We are building a program that allows a doctor to be with their patient through care, surgery, chemotherapy, and/or whatever treatments rather than to have to begin again with a new team in every aspect. We want to manage our patients in one center,” said Dr. Doug Levine, director of gynecologic oncology, head of the Gynecology Research Lab at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, and a professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. BTDF’s commitment followed Levine to NYU, previously supporting his work at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“Our experience at Memorial was wonderful, but now, having moved to NYU, we are looking forward to interaction with scientists outside the field of cancer who have many fresh ideas,” said Levine, “and on the clinical side we now have, on-site, vascular surgeons and a world-class rehabilitation center should specific needs arise.
“We are generating data on drug combinations that can extend the impact of PARP inhibitors beyond the BRCA population so that more women can benefit from these remarkable drugs. Having our work supported by both our world class institution and Be The Difference Foundation allows us to pursue the highest quality research,” said Levine. “The women behind the Foundation know the struggle firsthand. Science is fascinating to me but equally rewarding is direct contact with patients and survivors that inspires me every day so that we can create a world with more ovarian cancer cures.”
Additional 2016 beneficiaries are the Clearity Foundation’s patient support help which allows women to make informed treatment decisions, the Lazarex Cancer Foundation’s patient travel cost assistance program, the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center’s innovative clinical trials, and the Ovarian Cancer Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s innovative research efforts led by Dr. Janos Tanyi.
The Dallas ride on Feb. 26 is one of six in 2017 including rides in Austin (April 23), South Florida (April 30) and later in the year in Houston, Lubbock, and the Bay Area of Northern California. At the Dallas ride, there will be a vendor-hosted gift market, a raffle, and individual and team recognition to those raising the most money.
“We started with three women, an idea and a bike,” said Bach. “Hitting the $2 million mark of donations and the lives that are changing and will change because of our work is amazing and a great feeling of accomplishment.”
Registration for Wheel to Survive is $50 with a $250 minimum pledge and $25/student with a $100 minimum pledge. Survivors ride (no registration fee) and are invited to be honored (riding or not) onstage during the last hour, the Hero Hour of the ride. Visit wheeltosurvive.org for donations, registration and information.