Celia “CC” Schieffelin did not like to talk about her mother’s battle with cancer.
Barbara Burg, Schieffelin’s mother, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in April 2010. And for three years, Schieffelin has kept quiet about her mom’s diagnoses — which spread to her lungs, liver and then brain — because she didn’t want her family to be defined by it.
But nearly two months ago, just after leaving her home in Irvington, N.Y., for college in South Florida, Schieffelin discovered the Dolphins Cycling Challenge and chose to share her mom’s story to fundraise for the type of research that has kept her alive.
“I don’t want people to feel bad or sorry,” said the 18-year-old freshman at the University of Miami. “The biggest mistake people make is thinking this is a sad story, but it’s not. It’s been amazing to see what she can do.”
She joined the UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center team, and in a matter of weeks raised $10,000. Now Schieffelin has raised more than $24,000, placing her second amongst team members, who include CEOs and doctors. She trails Joseph Natoli, UM’s senior vice president for business and finance, for first place.
“I really didn’t do much,” said Schieffelin, who signed up to indoor cycle for the DCC, a tri-county charity cycling event that began in 2010 and is dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and awareness. “I got the email ‘Do you know someone affected by cancer?’ and I just kind of joined. I sent it to the people who would have known initially and then it just got forwarded.”
Lisa Worley, spokeswoman for UM’s Miller School of Medicine, said Schieffelin’s fundraising success is an anomaly.
“Usually, the top three are leaders at UM or the Medical School, not students,” Worley said. “The leading student in last year’s spin-a-thon raised $1,000 and the most a team raised, again for the spin-a-thon, was $2,200 by the UM Cheerleaders.”
Schieffelin started the challenge with a goal of $500 and modestly raised it to $2,000 after one friend donated $1,000.
On her team member profile, her goal remains listed as $2,000, but the figure continues to climb. More than 100 people have donated, including members of her high school soccer team, who held a 24-hour bake sale and raised more than $2,000.
On Wednesday, Schieffelin will act on her donations and cycle alongside others for a spin-a-thon that will take place in front of the student activities center at the UM campus in Coral Gables from 6 to 10 p.m.
“When I spin, I just kind of think that the reason I’m on this bike is for my mom,” she said. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s my next step to making a change.”
And her mother couldn’t be any prouder.
“She’s always been a leader in sports, but she’s never been very vocal about my illness,” said Burg, 50, who is a vice president head of global communications for the Reuters news service and has continued working full-time since diagnosed at 47. “It’s given her, for the first time, the feeling that she could do something to help.”
Until now, Burg also was quiet about her illness. But when Schieffelin asked if she could share her story to help others in their situation, she agreed because research is what has allowed her more time with her family.
“We believe in research because for people like me research is hope,” said Burg. “It’s not just me, I didn’t just get cancer; my family got cancer.”
Burg survived the spread of cancer to her liver because of an internal liver pump that was invented at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where she is treated.
After it metastasized to her brain, Burg qualified for gamma knife surgery, a focused radiation treatment that targets specific lesions in the brain.
Schieffelin did not expect her mother to be at her high school graduation this past summer. She credits technology that evolved from research for the extra time she’s been given with her mom, and she hopes her contribution to the DCC will help fund the next big breakthrough in the fight against cancer.
“This is about helping people in similar positions who do need that little drop of hope that we, luckily, have a whole glass of,” said Schieffelin.
Burg said although her daughter has yet to choose a major, she hopes Schieffelin will continue on a path in science because she sees the courage she has to tackle big issues like cancer.
“We really had a choice to live with it or die with it,” said Burg. “And we all decided we were going to live.”