A Bike Ride for Cancer Awareness

photo2_2-51bb86607c263Suzanne Tobias’ intent is to ride her bicycle three hundred miles to help prevent cancer.

Tobias set her intent in memory of her best friend, Aileen O’Brien Graf, who passed away from cancer at the age of forty-seven. A mother of two daughters, Aileen loved life and had everything to live for, says Tobias, who had never before been close to anyone who suffered from cancer.

“It was devastating,” Tobias recalls. “Aileen and I used to ride our bikes together as kids. I am doing the bike ride both to remember her and to draw attention to the need to prevent cancer, through constructive health and policy approaches.”

Based on the theme of the Alicia Keys song “Girl on Fire,” Suzi and her friend, Martha Fruehauf formed ‘Team Girls on Fire’ to raise awareness and support for the organization Less Cancer, a project of the Next Generation Choices Foundation. They charted a 300-mile onshore bicycle course for Suzi’s ride. Beginning on July 20th, she will ride all the way from Port Huron, Michigan’s Bayview Yacht Club, to Mackinac Island. The bike route starts and ends at the same locations as the famed Bayview Yacht Club sailboat race. Aileen’s brother, one time CNN anchor and journalist Miles O’Brien, will be riding too, while others will cheer them along the way. Their intention is to complete the ride in two to two and a half days, beginning July 20th.

Team Girls on Fire is just one team in the Less Cancer Challenge 300 taking place throughout the month of July. The intent of the Challenge is to focus concern on initiatives that prevent cancer and to raise funds to support such efforts. To participate, supporters set the intention to do any activity in multiples of 300 – from walking for three hundred minutes (ten minutes a day with one day off) to biking for three hundred miles, like Tobias’ team, to doing 30 minutes of yoga stretching 2-3 times per week in the month of July.

People can participate in any locale and do any single or combination of activities, measuring by minutes, miles, or meters. The event both gets people moving, (a good way to help prevent this disease), and it’s also a way to contribute to the cause of lessening the incidence of cancer. People can go to Crowdrise.com to join a team, or create a team, as well as contribute to the cause.

Although death rates due to cancer have fallen, the incidence of cancer continues to climb.  According to the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, “Between 1975 and 2004, among children age fourteen and younger, primary brain cancer increased by forty percent and leukemia by over sixty percent,” making cancer the second leading cause of death for children.

That’s why Less Cancer founder Bill Couzens says it’s vital to make a distinction between early detection (such as mammograms or other screening measures) and prevention, specific actions and policies that can reduce the likelihood of getting the disease.

Both lifestyle factors like obesity, tanning bed use, inactivity (and toxic exposures) play an indisputable role in cancer incidence. Targeting prevention has been shown to make a great difference. For example, when smoking was identified as a high risk factor, programs promoting smoking cessation were successful in lowering the rates of cancer incidence. Nevertheless, the vast majority of cancer dollars are currently spent finding a cure, (or on early diagnosis) with little funding deployed to explore and promote the range of preventative lifestyle choices, like eating a healthier diet, using sunscreen, getting regular dermatological exams and others. Along with social policy measures, like regulating toxic chemicals, these chances can really make a difference.

“My intention is to create a funding model for prevention,” says Couzens, who was inspired to found the member organization in 2004 after the death of several close family members due to cancer. “Of course I wish there was a cure, I wish there was this magic bullet to save the people I love. But my intention is help people focus on not getting to that place.”

“We’ve gotten to the point where cancer is an expected phase of the human life cycle,” says Couzens. “Two thirds of all cancers are preventable. We need to get a better handle on all the reasons that is happening and prevent it. With terminal melanoma on the rise, there are still 30 million users of tanning beds. More people need to be educated to sunscreen use, and skin cancer screening.”

Couzens sees these gaps as opportunities for media and community outreach to raise awareness. Less Cancer was among the Founders of National Cancer Prevention Day, signed into law on February 4, 2013. “It’s all about education to risk factors in schools, in communities and in the media. I feel confident we can have less cancer when we focus on prevention.”

Photo credit: Team Girls on Fire