As a physician, it’s always difficult to see families go through hard situations. A diagnosis of pediatric cancer is one of those moments. According to the American Cancer Society, childhood cancers make up less than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed each year, but that does not minimize the devastating effect it has on a family when you must tell them, “Your child has cancer.”
Thanks to advances in treatment resulting from countless hours of research and clinical trials, more than 80 percent of children survive five years or more past their original diagnosis. Although there has been improvement in all cure rates, we are continually faced with devastating relapses of the disease and in need of funds to develop new treatment plans. Children like those being treated at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth — the University of Miami Health System, need your support.
One way you and your kids can become involved in the fight against cancer is through the Dolphins Cancer Challenge (DCC), a charity event that directly funds cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and its pediatric oncology clinic, alex’s place. Since the inaugural ride in 2010, the DCC has raised more than $11 million, donating 100 percent of rider-raised money to Sylvester. In addition, 20 percent of the funds are allocated to pediatric oncology to develop new treatments for the most common childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
This year’s DCC VI will be on Feb. 20, and participants can choose from six different cycling routes, ranging from an easy 13-mile route, up to a challenging 100-mile ride. There are several starting points leaving from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Boca Raton, City Place in West Palm Beach, Esplanade Park in Fort Lauderdale and the Dolphins Training camp in Davie. All rides finish at Sun Life Stadium, where the event wraps up with a celebratory concert headlined by Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge — both superstar singers who have battled breast cancer.
Not into cycling? There is also a 5K run/walk if that is more your style. And while riders for DCC’s road courses are for those over 18, the walk/run welcomes younger participants and that’s where children can take part in fundraising. Post-ride activities included bounce houses, face painting, animal exhibits, food trucks and much more. There will also be a Kid Zone at DCC VI.
Another way you can get your kids involved is to volunteer. An event of this magnitude needs the help of the community. Volunteers can assist with registration, goody bag stuffing, water stops and a variety of other areas, including cheering. If your kids are still young, you can bring them Sun Life Stadium, where they can welcome the cyclists at the finish line. It is a moving sight as cancer fighters and survivors are cheered to victory lane by hundreds of family and friends, one I had the thrill of experiencing last year when I rode in my first DCC as the chief resident of the Pediatrics Residency Program at UHealth.
Last year, I had just taken up cycling as a new hobby, so I joined Team Sylvester and started training. Because I was just starting out, I chose the shortest available route, 12 miles from the Dolphins Training Camp to Sun Life Stadium. The day of the ride was very exciting. Music was blasting and hearts were pumping as we were getting ready. It was an amazing experience to see hundreds of people ride for a cause we can all relate to — whether as someone impacted by cancer or as a doctor treating this devastating disease.
I am very happy to repeat this year at DCC VI, this time as a general pediatric hospitalist with UHealth. I will be challenging myself with the Miami Ride, a 35-mile route starting at my alma mater, the University of Miami. It feels great to be able to give back to families in a different way by being part of the DCC.
If you would like to sign up and become a cancer fighter, visit www.dolphinscancerchallenge.com. If you are interested in volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. No matter how you participate, the patients, physicians and researchers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and alex’s place thank you for your commitment to tackling cancer.
Patricia Alvarez M.D. is a general pediatrics hospitalist at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.