- Rachel Bigio wanted to celebrate her mom’s being one year cancer free.
- When she heard about Cycle for Survival, she knew she and her family had to sign up.
- Cycle for Survival’s indoor cycling events raise money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
- In their first year, Rachel and her team raised $30,000 for the cause.
- Rachel has ridden every year since, and in four years, her team has raised $750,000.
In fewer than 140 characters, late-night host Seth Meyers forever changed legal assistant Rachel Bigio’s life.
“I saw him tweet about Cycle for Survival and thought, We have to be a part of this,” says the 25-year-old from Manhattan.
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cycle for Survival holds indoor team cycling events that raise money for rare cancer research. Starting a team in 2013 seemed like the perfect way for Rachel to celebrate the fact that her mother, Barbara, had been cancer free for one year. Barbara had been treated for a rare brain tumor at MSK, and a clinical trial — which offers patients new treatments before they’re widely available — was keeping her disease in check.
Help for Rare Cancer Research
Rare cancers are unusual — but they’re actually more common than one might think. Taken together, almost 50% of people with cancer are battling a rare form of the disease. Included in that category are ovarian cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and all pediatric cancers. Each year, MSK treats more than 400 subtypes of cancer, many of which are considered rare.
Unfortunately, research for many rare cancers is lacking, which can leave patients with limited treatment options. Cycle for Survival aims to change that: 100% of every penny raised by participants goes directly to MSK labs for research into rare cancers. The results are tangible: In March 2016, MSK researchers were able to link a genetic mutation to a rare form of bladder cancer thanks to money raised by Cycle for Survival. That’s only one example of the impact.
In just 11 years, Cycle for Survival events have expanded to 16 cities and raised a whopping $140,000,000 for rare cancer research.
Despite their serious purpose, Cycle for Survival events are a joyous celebration of life, hope, and the future. Pom-poms, sunglasses, colorful team shirts, and feel-good music are staples at the four-hour rides, which are led by cycling instructors from Equinox, Cycle for Survival’s founding partner. Participants are encouraged to “pedal hard or hardly pedal” — it all counts as support for the cause.
Pedal to the Metal
When Rachel and her family signed up for their first New York City event, they chose the team name BBBattlers in honor of Barbara’s initials and quickly got going on fundraising. In just over one week, the group raised an astonishing $30,000. Their excitement was palpable when it came time to get on the bike.
“The feeling was electric,” Rachel recalls. “It’s so triumphant and joyful, even though it’s so sad. The feeling of community working toward a better solution, and other people’s strength, was so big and vibrant.”
Rachel recalls that her mom, who was able to attend the event, was moved to see “all these people sharing our goal.”
Sadly, after that first ride, Rachel’s mom passed away in December 2013. But Rachel keeps her memory alive by participating in annual Cycle for Survival rides on Team BBBattlers. Last year, she shared her story with the crowd at a New York City ride.
Rewriting the Story
That first ride “changed the narrative” for her family, Rachel recalls. During what had been a very difficult time, the Cycle for Survival event served as a bright spot.
“Cycle for Survival gave us a way to feel like we were doing something positive, so that the legacy wasn’t just tremendous heaviness,” she adds. “In some ways, it was taking the attention off our experience and putting it toward other families in the future.”
In four years, the BBBattlers have expanded into other cities and raised $750,000 for rare cancer research. It’s one way Rachel can thank those who cared for her mom, she says.
“We really felt that the people at MSK who took care of her were so attentive and so thoughtful, and even though we were in a difficult situation, the idea that we could continue to support the work they’re doing was so important to us,” she says.
Though it can be challenging at times, Rachel says she keeps riding because it will help others.
“What it always comes back to is the generosity of spirit our mom always had,” she says. “If we can take this experience and make it into something better for someone else, it helps us find some peace.”