There was joy and enthusiasm, but also the somber note of reality as scores of indoor cyclists packed Equinox in Coral Gables on Saturday to raise desperately needed research funds by participating in Miami’s Cycle for Survival.
This was Miami’s fourth year participating in the event, which is celebrating its 10th year, and is among the fastest growing such events in the nation. This year, 27,000 riders in cities across the country will participate, hoping to top a $100 million milestone since the event was founded.
Cycle for Survival was founded in 2007 by Jennifer Linn Goodman, 40, who died of sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Goodman was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and was an Equinox member. The event is now operated by the cancer center, with Equinox as the founding sponsor.
Among the participants Saturday was Yami Ruiz, who is a three-time cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) in 2005; aggressive low-grade sarcoma in 2009 and, most recently, thyroid cancer.
The most common forms of cancer – breast, lung, colon and prostate – make up about 50 percent of cancer cases. All of the other types, such as brain, soft-tissue cancers (sarcomas), ovarian, pancreatic, bone and more, along with all pediatric cancers, are categorized as rare cancers.
“Research into rare cancer is grossly underfunded. They don’t get the dollars that the cancers that affect huge numbers of people do,” said Ruiz, adding, “Cycle for Survival is an amazing event because 100 percent of the proceeds go to research into rare cancers. Not even a penny goes for administrative costs. It’s all for research, and it’s all allocated to projects within six months,” she said.
This summer, Ruiz went to New York and met with some of the researchers at MSKCC who are working on projects funded by Cycle for Survival. “I got to meet the researcher who developed the drug I took for GIST. When I thanked him for saving my life, and told him I was honored to meet you, he said to me ‘I’m honored to meet you. We spend all our time in the lab and we don’t get to meet the patients we help,” said Ruiz. “These researchers are all so humble and they work so hard to try and find a cure for cancer,” she added.
Other survivors at the event included Luke Weber, who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, an exceedingly rare cancer when he was three years old. He was treated at MSKCC and now travels to Miami every year to cheer on the riders. But a somber reminder of the reality of rare cancer came when Team Luke, which is Weber’s Cancer for Survival team, won a one-year Equinox membership, and Luke’s uncle, Howard Srebnick, stepped forward to donate it on behalf of Luke’s team to the mother of Adam Fiorello, known as “Adam Strong” in Cycle for Survival circles.
Fiorello, 22, who had appeared at the event in the morning, was diagnosed in 2013 with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, an exceedingly rare cancer that affects children and young people. In July that the cancer had returned and spread, and that right now there are no further treatment options. Recently, the City of Parkland, where Adam lives, proclaimed Jan. 20 to be known as Adam Fiorello Day in honor of his courage.
“Imagine having to tell families there is nothing on the horizon for kids like theirs,” said Leonard H. Wexler, M.D., Adam’s doctor at MSKCC. “We are inspired by kids like Adam, and we are desperate for new treatments,” he added.
More info: Cycle for Survival, Equinox