Cancer often leaves those it touches consumed with a feeling of hopelessness. But sometimes that feeling can motivate clinicians, patients, and supporters alike to turn soul-crushing moments into positive change.
Dave Linn and Jennifer Goodman Linn used their experience with cancer as inspiration to create Cycle for Survival, a powerful fundraising phenomenon with the goal to beat rare cancers. Every dollar raised goes directly to supporting pioneering research and lifesaving clinical trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Now approaching its 16th anniversary, it is MSK’s largest fundraising event of the year.
Medical oncologist Diane Reidy-Lagunes, the host of Cancer Straight Talk from MSK, a podcast for people with cancer and their loved ones, sat down with cofounder of Cycle for Survival Dave Linn, as well as Ethan Zohn, winner of CBS’ Survivor: Africa, whose ultimate survivor challenge was a cancer diagnosis. Now some of the event’s biggest cheerleaders, Dave and Ethan discuss their personal cancer stories and the power of Cycle for Survival.
Every year, tens of thousands of people across the country hop on stationary bikes to raise money for rare cancer research through Cycle for Survival, MSK’s largest fundraising event of the year.
How It Started
When Jen, Dave’s late wife, was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer — malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH), a type of soft tissue sarcoma — they both decided to do anything they could do help other cancer patients. Even through the toughest periods of her chemotherapy treatment, Jen was a regular attendee of indoor cycling classes at Equinox (Cycle for Survival’s founding partner).
Cycle for Survival focuses on research for rare cancers because Jen’s treatment options at the time were limited. “About fifty percent of all people who are diagnosed with cancer are facing a rare type of the disease,” says Dave. “And these are cancer types we’ve all heard of — brain cancers, pancreatic cancers, ovarian cancer, the various types of leukemia and lymphoma, and all pediatric cancers.”
Ethan’s involvement in Cycle for Survival began in 2009 when Jen reached out to him after he was also diagnosed with a rare cancer — CD20-positive Hodgkin lymphoma. Ethan says: “No one’s ever heard of it, including me. So for me to walk into that room and see hundreds of people, all riding a bike, sacrificing their time and energy and sweat to raise money for cancer research that [ultimately] funded a drug that saved my life — to me, that’s inspiring.”
The Secret to Success
Cycle for Survival has raised nearly $300 million in just 15 years and has so far funded advancements such as the development of MSK-IMPACT™ — a test that looks for 500 genes linked to cancer so patients can be treated with precisely the right drug. Cycle for Survival also funded the development of larotrectinib, the first FDA drug to treat patients with a TRK fusion genetic mutation.
“I think when a friend or family member gets diagnosed with cancer, it’s a helpless feeling,” says Dave. “Cycle for Survival provides an easy way for people to fight back and to show their love for their friend or family member going through treatment.”
A drug funded by Cycle for Survival saved Ethan’s life, but the treatment was brutal. He endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and two transplants. While he was scared and angry at times, he says he was also inspired to share his experience. “It was an easy decision for me to be public with that story, with that journey,” he says, “because the details of my life can help other people out there.”
Dave says, “One of the things that I have learned on this journey is that getting involved in something that’s bigger than yourself is one of the best things that you can do to bring meaning and purpose to your life.”