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Author's profile photo Christine Donato

Resilience, Love, & Hope: The 2016 Pan-Mass Challenge

When I called Sue Spencer to hear about her 13th ride with the Pan-Mass Challenge, I was expecting to speak with a woman that sounded tired and worn out.

I was way off in my assumption. Her bubbly, energetic, and positive attitude resonated through the phone.

An SAP employee and two-time cancer survivor, Sue told me that she actually planned to go out for a short cycle later that night…barely two days after she completed a 200-mile ride.

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A catalyst for change: the Pan-Mass Challenge

Each year the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) unites roughly six-thousand cyclists, volunteers, donors, and sponsors who share a passion for discovering improved cures for all types of cancer. All money raised by the PMC is donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“Everyone who rides is touched by cancer,” Sue said. “Family members, you yourself, your child, doctors and nurses. Everyone is there for two days of a surreal event with six-thousand people that you have something in common with.”

The race atmosphere is one of abounding love. Sue explained, “No one gets mad when you ask why they are riding. No one is mean. Even if you’re hurting and climbing up a hill, everyone wants to talk. You hear amazing stories.”

People encourage each other, and it helps.  Sue passed many strangers that read her nametag and cheered, “Hey Suzanne! You can do it! You’re doing it.” The feeling is indescribable.

Resilience, Love, & Hope

Days prior to her race, Sue’s neighborhood friend lost a seven-year battle with cancer. This friend was a vibrant, caring, giving woman who fought until the end.

And although Sue was undeniably upset and angry inside, she explained that stories like this give her the fight to keep riding.

She thought to herself, “I can do more. I need to do more. I need to keep riding and keep getting folks to support this cause. We need the funds. We need the research to help find better treatment.”

Personalized Medicine Helped Sue’s Quality of Care

The riders who partake in the PMC are committed. To participate, you must pay a $250 registration fee and raise a minimum of $4,700 for Dana-Farber.

In 2003, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer and worked with oncologists at Dana-Farber to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.  After being in remission for 10 years, she was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of breast cancer, and this time, with the help of personalized medicine, she is managing the disease with antibody therapy, healthy living, and mindfulness.

Medicine has advanced incredibly since her first diagnosis in 2003. Dana-Farber includes genome sequencing as part of patient treatment.

With insight into the genetic makeup of its patients as well as the specific mutations in each case of cancer, the doctors and researchers at Dana-Farber are able to better target treatments for each instance of cancer as well as compare cases against each other to help determine trends, themes, and similarities.

Based on a mutation discovered in Sue’s cancer tumor, her doctors switched her treatment to an antibody research drug that is purposed to target that specific mutation.

Chemotherapy can be abusive, making it hard to function let alone live a normal life.  But with the advanced technology we have today, cancer can be treated with more targeted, alternative therapies like antibody treatment and immunotherapy.

Support from Colleagues

The love and support Sue receives from her SAP team on a daily basis has helped her through months of treatment.  She worked through her chemotherapy when she could, and because SAP offers a flexible work schedule, she can work from home when needed.

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Sue is proud of the impact SAP is making on personalized medicine. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, SAP CEO Bill McDermott explained how high speed data analytics impacts the ability to turn human genome data and cancer research into a comprehensible plan for action.

COPE-ing with Cancer

To ensure that SAP employees have access to advanced treatment options, SAP, in partnership with Molecular Health, is the first employer to offer its employees COPE, or the Corporate Oncology Program for Employees.  COPE is offered to eligible SAP employees, at no cost, who have been diagnosed with a solid tumor cancer (non-leukemic).

Running on the SAP HANA platform, the Molecular Health Guide™ solution is tailored to analyze and interpret solid tumors providing treating physicians an understanding of how a patient’s genetic profile and personal medical history can impact the progression and treatment of cancer. Currently, COPE is available in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Living Life One Foot Forward

sue 5.jpgSince her cancer diagnosis, Sue practices meditation.  She maintains a healthy diet, and she exercises with her dog every day, walking with a group of fellow dog owners.

When returning by ferry from the PMC finish in Provincetown, MA, this year, all of the riders on the ferry were greeted by a large fire boat shooting water into the air, as it docked in Boston.  Majestic whales breached in sight at one point in the ferry ride, stirring strong emotion in participants.

The memory of those who have lost their battle, the persistence of survivors, and the bond that connects the thousands of event participants, inspire riders to keep going, stay positive, and stay hopeful.

“Losing someone to anything is always sad, but to me it’s really striking that in this tragic situation people are resilient. Hope and love together are making people resilient. Let’s work to raise funds and support this research.”  –Sue Spencer

Thank you, Sue, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to share it with my readers.

For more stories, follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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