By Carol Gelman
Ovarian Cycle started in 2004 as a way for Bethany Diamond to honor her friend Debbie Green Flamm, who died of ovarian cancer, and to raise money for research into the disease under the slogan “Join a community that rides to remember those lost, honor those still affected, and celebrate making an impact in the fight against ovarian cancer.”
The annual stationary bike ride, which returns Sunday, March 20, remains a powerful way for community members touched by ovarian cancer to take action in response.
According to the American Cancer Society, 22,280 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and 14,240 women will die from the disease in 2016. Because of genetic factors, ovarian cancer strikes one in 40 Ashkenazi women in their lifetime, compared with one in 71 for the general American population.
One of the Jewish faces represented by those statistics is Gay Lenner, who was diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2011. She and her family became deeply involved in Ovarian Cycle the next year, and Lenner became a dedicated advocate for ovarian cancer awareness and research.
Her husband, Rick Lenner, said Gay never let her illness dampen her spirit; she mentored newly diagnosed women and spent hours counseling survivors. She was on a mission to inform as many women as she could about this terrible illness; for example, almost 400 women attended a program on genetics and ovarian cancer that she led at Temple Sinai.
“When she finally lost her battle to this deadly disease in 2015, there was a vast hole left in the hearts of not only her family, but the entire community,” Rick Lenner said.
But the efforts of the Lenner family and others at Ovarian Cycle have made a difference.
In 2012, Benedict Benigno, Lenner’s gynecological oncologist, spoke to ride participants to let them know that their efforts and money raised would be used to collaborate with other oncologists and researchers at Georgia Tech to perfect an early detection test.
In 2015, the Ovarian Cancer Institute, in partnership with Georgia Tech, developed a method to detect ovarian cancer that is highly accurate in patients with the disease at Stage 1. That is significant because the survival rate for a Stage 1 diagnosis is close to 95 percent.
Ovarian cancer typically has been diagnosed late, with low survival rates, and has been known as a silent killer because its symptoms are so nonspecific that they are often dismissed by patients and doctors alike. They include suffering abdominal bloating, pressure and pain, feeling abnormally full after eating, experiencing increased urination, and feeling back pain.
It’s not uncommon that the earliest symptom is “My jeans are getting tight, but I am not gaining weight.”
This year’s ride will pay tribute to Gay Lenner and her efforts since 2011. Ovarian Cycle will spin to her memory and carry her fundraising torch. Rick Lenner has a fundraising goal of $10,000, and the Lenner Spinners team is trying to raise $50,000 toward the event’s $200,000 target (matching what the Lenner team alone has collected the past four years).
Ovarian Cycle, a signature event series of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund since 2012, has raised nearly $2.1 million overall.
The event will feature an empty bike that represents ovarian cancer patients who are going through treatment or have died. You can donate to the empty bike or riders such as the Lenners, or you can participate as a fundraising rider, either alone or as part of a team. You even can be a virtual rider if you want to raise money but can’t attend the ride.
What: Ovarian Ride
Where: Life Time Athletic Atlanta, 5580 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, March 20
Information: www.ocrf.org/news/events/ocrfs-ovarian-cycle-ride-atlanta-ga or firstname.lastname@example.org