Be The Difference marks 10th anniversary
By Deb Silverthorn
Ten years, $3 million shared and thousands of lives affected will be celebrated by Be The Difference Foundation (BTDF) at its 10th annual Wheel to Survive ride. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Gilley’s Dallas, the organization hopes to raise $300,000 to continue its efforts. The organization’s mission, “to create awareness and improve the lives of all people affected by ovarian cancer — through education, support and research,” directs BTDF toward its vision of a world without ovarian cancer.
BTDF was founded in 2012 by Jill Bach, Lynn Lentscher, Julie Shrell and the late Helen Gardner. Each set an example of fighting through disease, along with their families, for support, care and standing by with a whole heart and whole spirit.
“We have seen so much change, and we will keep up the fight while we pray toward a horizon,” said Bach, a 15-year survivor of the disease. “We hope in less than another 10 years we won’t be needed for this work anymore, but we’re here as long as we need to be.”
Lentscher, first diagnosed 24 years ago, remains strong and clear of all signs of ovarian cancer. “I started with a ruthless six rounds of chemotherapy, but I survived them and the disease.”
Lentscher added, “We so appreciate every dollar donated; there’s no such thing as a small donation because it all adds up. We haven’t found a cure yet but we’re closer than ever and we’ll never stop pushing.
“In addition to the answers we are seeking, are the connections we make between patients and doctors, trials and myriad resources,” said Lentscher. Those relationships have led to responsiveness when resources are called upon.
Julie Shrell, diagnosed in 2010, is now disease-free. “Building Be The Difference Foundation with these ladies, and now the hundreds, [the] thousands who support us, is beyond our dreams,” she said. “When we look around the room and see the wheels spinning, we know it means things are happening, and a future without ovarian cancer is coming.”
Among the many programs of Be The Difference Foundation is Survivors Teaching Students, a collaboration with the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, through which survivors share their experiences with future health care providers.
In the last 10 years, Be The Difference Foundation 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.
“Last year our relationship with Be The Difference Foundation allowed us to support 28 ovarian cancer patients and now, in just the first half of 2022, we’re helping 23,” said Erin Miller, Lazarex Cancer Foundation Development manager.
In 2003, when Miller’s late husband Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the couple and her sister, Dana Dornsife, searched the globe for options that allowed him to live another 19 months. After he passed away, Dornsife founded Lazarex to support end-stage cancer patients and the cancer community by providing assistance with costs for clinical trial participation, navigation through clinical trial options and community outreach and education.
Since 2007, Lazarex has helped close to 8,000 patients by identifying trial options and providing funds for airfare, parking, tolls, housing and more. Be The Difference has subsidized $207,455 since 2014. This year, requests to Lazarex are up 40%.
“Be The Difference Foundation is great to partner with through their gifts to us and also the resources and information they are able to provide to our patients,” said Miller, who looks forward to hosting a ’23 Wheel to Survive ride in Danville, California, where Lazarex is based. She added, “Together we are able to help patients around the country.”
Since 1997, Mary Crowley Cancer Research, which has partnered with more than 291 pharmaceutical sponsors, has been dedicated to the discovery of potential new therapies, positively impacting cancer patients.
Mary Crowley Cancer Research, which recently was awarded D Magazine CEO’s Nonprofit & Corporate Community Award in the “Innovation in Healthcare” category, has received over $595,000 from Be The Difference Foundation’s events including its Runway for Hope, a partnership of the two organizations.
“To have Julie and Rob Shrell with us as we received the D CEO award meant so much because the help from Be The Difference Foundation has allowed us to open a dozen trials. That’s a tangible impact on not just the individuals, but on our greater community,” said Jon Friedenberg, Mary Crowley Cancer Research CEO.
“There are 18 Food and Drug Administration-approved cancer drugs, tested at Mary Crowley that are now standard across the country and we are sure, with the help of the Be The Difference Foundation, we’ll find numbers 19, 20 and many more,” Friedenberg added.
Wheel to Survive ‘22 chair Atila Ali first connected with Be The Difference Foundation after his cousin Roya Ali passed away in 2016 at the age of 38. Shortly after her passing, Atila was taking a spin class at the Aaron Family JCC when he saw a poster promoting the 2016 Wheel to Survive on the wall opposite him.
“It was definitely a sign (no pun intended) and even though the ride was only a month away I raised $7,000,” he said. “A year later I was asked to join the board, and I have been so impressed by the hands-on teamwork that makes Be The Difference Foundation a success.”
Cheering Ali on as he chairs this year’s event, and as he spins for his Commerce Bank Team, are his wife Dina and children Adam and Sophia. “My family, friends, clients and co-workers have been a great support as I work to honor Roya through Be The Difference Foundation. She was a light who fought ovarian cancer with such bravery.”
Ali joins Bach, Lentscher, Shrell, Linda Bezner, Jennifer Cawlfield, Tom Colven and Charlie Donner on BTDF’s board.
BTDF has always been a very streamlined organization, with only one employee leading the charge. Executive Director Jon Mize, affiliated with BTDF from the start, coordinates the nonprofit’s rides and other events around the country, all of which aim to build awareness, work toward a cure or provide support to patients and their families.
Sponsors (at TJP deadline) of the event include: Alliance Residential, Billingsley Company, Cadence Bank, Commerce Bank, Crow Holdings Development, Genecov Orthodontics, Holland & Knight, Jackson Walker LLP, Lewisville Autoplex, Medical City Dallas, Modern Medical Spa, Niles Holmes P.C., Texas Oncology, Tito’s Homemade Vodka and Wood Partners.
“Everyone who is a part of this organization, those who are hands-on almost daily and those who join us to ride and celebrate, allow us to do what we do and it’s an honor to be a part of making such a difference — truly to be the difference,” said Mize.
Returning to Gilley’s for a third ride, this year’s event will again be held indoors with a virtual option allowing riders to participate from home.
Registration for Wheel to Survive is $40/person at tinyurl.com/2022-Wheel-to-Survive-Dallas. Texas Jewish Post readers can use the code TJP for a 50% discount.