By Deb Silverthorn
The only thing vicious about the cycle(s) happening at Wheel to Survive, next Sunday, Feb. 23, is the passion, care and determination to support research and awareness of ovarian cancer. The third annual indoor cycling event, sponsored by the Be The Difference Foundation (BTDF), will ride on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Aaron Family JCC. The six-hour indoor cycling event features instructors cheering and coaching the participants on, as well as a silent auction and vendor fair.
Two years ago, 306 riders raised more than $305,000 in the event’s first ride, while the 2013 event raised $298,000. At press time, 280 participants had already raised $191,360 toward the goal of $300,000 for this year’s event. With administrative costs for BTDF entirely sponsored, 100 percent of the funds raised at Wheel to Survive will be donated to research and support — monies that the founders hope will reach $1 million by the end of 2014.
“When I was diagnosed, all I was, was scared, but as time went on and I did well with my treatments and my CA-125 (cancer marker) stayed low, I realized I needed to do something to help other women and especially to help my children,” said Julie Shrell, who founded BTDF and Wheel to Survive with fellow ovarian cancer survivors Jill Bach, Helen Gardner and Lynn Lentscher, shortly after hosting the 2012 event to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation and the Clearity Foundation. “At first, all I wanted to do was protect them. As I finished chemo, I decided I needed to help raise money for better treatment, effective screening, awareness and a CURE! Through Be the Difference Foundation we’re able to do that year-round — Wheel to Survive is just one of many projects.”
Artie Allen, president of the JCC, is proud of his organization’s role as host sponsor. Allen will even be participating in the event with his son Nace, as they ride with the Hope Cures team.
“Many in our community have been affected by this terrible disease and it’s something we need to be behind, beyond sharing our facility and marketing support,” Allen said. “Wheel to Survive fits the mission of our organization like a glove.”
Dallas, however, is not the only city where Wheel to Survive is taking root. An Austin event will take place March 30 and rides were held last year in San Diego in October, and San Francisco in November — together raising $130,000.
Bach is immensely proud of the success BTDF has enjoyed.
“At my diagnosis all I could think about was surviving. I was concerned about not seeing my daughters graduate college, get married and have their own families. I wanted to cherish every day and hold every friend. It took a few years before I realized that I needed to give back and give a purpose to my illness,” said Bach, who has been in remission for more than six years. “I see the hope that organizations like those we support, give to women in the fight. Hope is so critical when it comes to a disease with such poor statistics for survival.”
The Be The Difference Foundation, created to help women increase their chance of survival of ovarian cancer, focuses on raising awareness and money to fund programs, and to provide research dollars toward a cure.
“The response has blown me away and I feel like we are doing something,” said Shrell, in remission since April 2011. “What frustrates me is that women are still being diagnosed at late stages, doctors don’t suggest BRCA testing, friends have died and statistics haven’t changed.”
Ovarian cancer affects one in 70 women and currently more than 70 percent of ovarian cancer patients will die, with less than 50 percent surviving more than five years after diagnosis. Because symptoms are indistinct and slight, many patients are diagnosed at later stages. While there are mammograms for breast cancer, PSA testing for prostate cancer, colonoscopies for colon cancer, there is no reliable early detection test for ovarian cancer.
The funds raised by the Be the Difference Foundation support The Clearity Foundation, which works with molecular profiling, providing patients, at no cost to them, with information to determine the most appropriate treatment or clinical trial. Donations also support the Ovarian Cancer Research Center Immunotherapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the Gynecology Research Laboratory at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Center focuses on developing therapies which boost the body’s own ability to fight cancer, with research focused on comparing ovarian cancers with T-cells to cases of ovarian cancer without T-cells. The Gynecology Research Laboratory at MSKCC centers on investigating the genomic basis of ovarian and uterine cancers for the purpose of improving prevention and control of these diseases.
“The greatest challenge I ever faced has been the greatest gift I’ve been given. I wish I wouldn’t have had cancer, but 14 years later, I feel blessed to have had a challenge which defines who I am today,” said Lentscher, who was given a less than 40 percent chance of survival at diagnosis. “I had to decide if I wanted to live or die and how I would live until I died. It’s become very transparent that God wanted me to help other people through similar journeys.”
“We love to hear the stories of lives touched by Be the Difference, and it’s very gratifying to be a part of Wheel to Survive,” said Chris Hawes, director of Strategic Communications and Media at Medical City, with Medical City’s Next Chapter the event’s title sponsor.
Diagnosed in 2009, with a life expectancy of five years, Gardner is one of those touched by her organization’s work.
“No matter how difficult this cancer journey has been, there have been many blessings,” Gardner said. “I’m six weeks away from five years, and still the blessing that stands out is how many people have stepped up to help be the difference, and I thank you all for joining me on this journey.”
The journey continues, the finish line sure to be crossed by the women of Be The Difference Foundation and all who support them. Wheel to Survive may be a room filled with bikes that go nowhere fast, but the riders and their hearts, are riding miles down the road to a cure.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit bethedifferencefoundation.org.