Chances are, you know someone affected by cancer. Maybe a parent, a sibling, child, cousin, best friend. Maybe you, yourself. If so, you deeply understand that it’s a battle against a cunning and deadly foe. That said, through a combination of early detection and new and better treatment options, these days it’s a battle people are winning.
But new and better treatment options don’t just happen; they’re based on years of research and development, followed by clinical trials with carefully selected patients. And, yes, all this science comes at a price. While government spending and grants provide some of the necessary funding*, a huge piece of the funding pie comes from individual donations and fundraising. What’s more, government dollars aren’t allocated equally and rare cancers**, in particular, rely heavily on private fund-raising and donations.
Enter Pleasantville resident Justine Fontinell. Together with her husband Tom Becker and their ten-year-old son Hank, she moved to Pleasantville nearly nine years ago and, though a born-and-bred Manhattan girl, Justine shares that she could not be happier.
Among the reasons? “Pleasantville is an amazingly generous town filled with people who go out of their way to help each other.”
Justine first became aware of Cycle for Survival about six years ago. Both her parents are rare cancer survivors, and Cycle for Survival’s founders’ story, mission, and collaboration with top-tier cancer research center Memorial Sloane Kettering (MSK) – along with their commitment to use every dollar for research and allocate every one of those dollars within six months of every event – spoke to Justine’s desire to support others in their respective fights. Coincidentally, Justine discovered that co-founder Jennifer Goodman Linn suffered from the same rare sarcoma as her father. Feeling compelled to join and contribute to this worthy cause, Justine quickly put together her first Sit and Spin team and, in 2013, raised over $8k. Since that first year, Sit and Spin has grown in membership and, importantly, grown exponentially in funds raised. To date, they have raised over $260k, and this year’s goal of at least $40k would bring the grand total to over $300k! As a former non-profit Director of Development, Justine knows that asking for money isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. She further acknowledges that a ‘personal ask’ feels and is different from a ‘corporate ask.’ That said, she points out that the common principle is a simple one: “people won’t give if you don’t ask.” And, in keeping with this philosophy, she asks every team member to remember that they are “giving people an opportunity to invest in lifesaving research, a donation that will have a direct impact on cancer treatments.” Sit and Spin’s success has been recognized for the last three years with a 10K grant from the Crimson Lion Lavine Family Foundation, as a bonus for achievement in recruiting new donors and increased gifts.
However cliché it may sound, giving to others truly does empower the giver. Justine describes every four-hour fundraising spin relay event as nothing short of extraordinary. A simple look at her accompanying photos leaves no doubt that there is fun and laughter, but, as she also shared, then too there are tears. It’s an emotional as well as physical experience; every gym is tightly packed with bikes and riders, riders write and proudly “wear” on their bodies the names of those they’re honoring, speakers share their personal stories between each leg of the ride, and the collective energy of working together for a cause is an overwhelmingly positive experience.
However cliché it may sound, giving to others truly does empower the giver. Justine describes every four-hour fundraising spin relay event as nothing short of extraordinary. “It’s an overwhelmingly positive experience.”
Justine counts old friends (from as far back as High School) as well as many Pleasantville mom friends as regular participants of her annual teams. Karen McCarthy has lived in Pleasantville and known Justine since their two boys were in preschool together. This will be her fourth year with Cycle for Survival. “I ran into Justine and another team member on my Metro North train ride from NYC to P’ville; they were coming back from a pre-event and I had just seen my doctor at MSK for my six month visit. I always donated to the team, but thought my way of giving back would be to join them. In 2015, I had part of my thyroid removed at MSK due to Thyroid Cancer. Thyroid Cancer is a rare cancer without a lot of funding, but, when discovered early, has a very high cure rate. I now get checked once a year to make sure there is no recurrence.”
Adds P’ville teammate and survivor Vanessa Catalano, “I joined Justine’s team three years ago as a way to celebrate the end of my fight with Stage III Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Throughout my operations and treatments I continued to go to my step and spin classes at the gym. It was my part in keeping myself as healthy and strong as possible. When I heard about Cycle for Survival I knew it would be a great match for me.” Thrilled to have celebrated two years in remission this past December, Vanessa, noting that she and her family received tremendous love and support throughout her battle, adds, “part of my survival is remembering that and paying it forward through this event.” To date, Vanessa’s brother is the only male to have joined team Sit and Spin. However, Justine welcomes all who are willing to work hard to join her!
For further Cycle for Survival information, please visit: cycleforsurvival.org
*Current Fiscal Year (FY 2019) Budget: The FY 2019 Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act included $5.74 billion for NCI, a $79 million increase over FY 2018. Source NIH/NCI website
**Described by Cycle for Survival as: brain, pancreatic, ovarian, thyroid, and stomach cancers; leukemia and lymphoma; all pediatric cancers; and many others.