Dolphins Cancer Challenge Attracts Thousands to Ride, Run, and Walk to Support Sylvester
For Sandy Grossman, cancer runs in the family — and so does supporting cancer research. It’s the kind of story that could be told by many families among the thousands who turned out on April 6 to support Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Dolphins Cancer Challenge IX at Hard Rock Stadium.
DCC, as it is known, is an annual partnership between Sylvester, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and the Miami Dolphins pro football team. The event consists of several bike rides of different lengths and a 5K run/walk. All of the money raised goes to support cancer research at Sylvester.
This year’s DCC attracted 5,000 participants, 965 of whom represented Team Hurricanes — an 18 percent increase over DCC VIII in 2018. All together, they rode, ran and walked 62,136 miles to beat cancer.
Sandy Grossman’s sister, Felicia, is a breast cancer survivor, and her husband, Richard Berkowitz, a lung cancer survivor, has been raising funds for cancer research for 35 years and is a founding board member of DCC. This year, 85 employees from his firm, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants, participated in DCC events. And Grossman’s goddaughter, Amanda Chase, is director of business operations for the Miami Dolphins Foundation and one of the event’s organizers.
Sandy, who usually rides in the DCC, switched to the 5K this year so she could walk with Felicia, who came down from Orlando for the event.
“Both of them are doing amazingly well, thanks in large part to research that’s been done at Sylvester,” Sandy said. “It’s great to see that more and more people are participating in DCC. There are more ways to participate now, and it has really become a family event.”
Another among the thousands of South Florida survivors, family members, friends, and supporters who turned out to cheer on participants and remember loved ones during the DCC IX celebration was Tikia Hodge, who is being treated for pancreatic cancer by Peter J. Hosein, M.D., co-leader of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Site Disease Group at Sylvester. She brought a dozen close family members.
“Dr. Hosein is the best,” Hodge said. “My first oncologist told me there was nothing more they could do, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not the way this story’s going to end,’ so I came over to Sylvester and it was the best thing ever. I really wish I had started with Dr. Hosein, but the Lord puts you in the right place at the right time so here I am now.”
Ally Rahn and a dozen other Dolphins cheerleaders also took part in DCC IX. Ally walked the 5K in support of her mother, Lori, who is being treated for a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“My mom just finished her eighth session of chemo, so I’m here because of her,” said Rahn, a broadcast journalism student who hopes to become a sports reporter. “She’ll be waiting for me at the finish line.”
Daniela George, a native of Frankfurt, Germany who has lived in Miami for the past 25 years, developed breast cancer nine years ago and was treated by Joyce M. Slingerland, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute and associate director for translational research at Sylvester. Although her breast cancer is in remission, George later developed brain cancer and was treated by Ricardo J. Komotar, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Sylvester.
“I’m here today because I’m a cancer survivor and I want to help support Sylvester,” said George. “I’m participating in the 5K walk, while my husband, Malcolm, is doing the 25-mile ride.”
Tom Annear, senior vice president of sales for the Miami Open, the tennis tournament that just debuted at its new site at Hard Rock Stadium last month, is also a cancer survivor. In 2014, Tom suffered a major seizure triggered by a malignant brain tumor. He was successfully treated at Sylvester by neurosurgeon Jacques J. Morcos, M.D., and neuro-oncologist Deborah Olin Heros, M.D. This year, he participated in his first DCC, completing the 51-mile Boca Ride with his brother, Bill.
“I’m a survivor. I feel great!” Tom Annear said.
Annear’s brother Bill, who has participated in many fundraising rides over the years, said the DCC event was amazing.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of fundraising events, but nothing that approaches this effort,” Bill Annear said. “DCC just takes it to another level.”
Since the Miami Dolphins Foundation teamed up with the University of Miami to launch the annual fundraising event in 2010, the Dolphins Cancer Challenge has raised more than $27.5 million for Sylvester’s programs. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds goes to Sylvester’s innovative cancer research.
Sylvester, the only academic-based cancer center in South Florida, serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. Sylvester now has more than 300 cancer-focused physicians and researchers, including more than 100 experts recruited from the nation’s top cancer institutions during the past three years.
Firefighter Cancer Initiative
One of DCC IX’s biggest draws came from Sylvester’s four-year-old Firefighter Cancer Initiative.
“I DCC because as the associate director of Sylvester I see firsthand how the contribution of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge accelerates our ability to fulfill our mission,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., “and I DCC with firefighters because I believe some of the most important work that Sylvester does is determining why firefighters are at increased risk of developing and dying of cancer. Our partnership with the Dolphins allows us to pursue that kind of innovative research that has a real impact on getting us closer to a cancer-free tomorrow.”
Sam Eaton, the battalion chief from Palm Beach Fire Rescue, discussed the partnership in saving firefighters’ lives.
“We’re here today to support Sylvester because they have become a partner for the fire service,” he said. “They are helping us figure out what is causing the immense number of cancer cases in the fire service. Many people don’t know that firefighters are two to three more times likely to get cancer than the general population. In fact, it’s the number one killer of firefighters … sometimes in retirement, but a lot of times when they’re younger. Sylvester has created a multidisciplinary cancer-prevention approach, as well as a research approach, and from that they’re helping us understand how to protect ourselves.”
Teaching firefighters decontamination processes that protect them is an important approach to the problem, said Alberto Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., co-director of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative.
“Our efforts to understand how we can control cancer in firefighters and how we can prevent cancer in the workplace are now moving statewide,” he said.
At the end of the 5K, the firefighters presented special awards to Dr. Kobetz and the Sylvester team.
“We thank the Miami Dolphins 100 percent for this opportunity,” Eaton said. “We want to support Sylvester, and this is a fantastic way to do it. We have a special presentation for Dr. Kobetz: This is a fire ax — in the fire service, the fire ax is used to force entry and save lives.”
Eaton read the inscription: “For helping the fire service break through the cancer stronghold, with the power of science, innovation, prevention and education, to save the lives of our firefighters, we thank you, Dr. Erin Kobetz.” Two more axes were presented to Dr. Caban-Martinez and Natasha Solle, Ph.D.
“These three have been a godsend to the fire service,” said Eaton. “They have worked to create cancer research at an epic level — 14 studies in the state of Florida, and this has now become a national study. This is the least we can do to give back to you.”
A Cancer-Fighting Partnership
Fresh off the Hurricane Hundred bike ride, Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., took to the stage Saturday afternoon with Miami Dolphins owner Steven Ross, Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel, and new head coach Brian Flores, along with Stuart Miller, chairman of Lennar and a University of Miami trustee, and other DCC supporters. Nimer thanked the crowd for participating in the event, which is expected to raise some $6 million this year alone — all of which goes directly to support cancer research at Sylvester.
“It is unbelievable to see the support of so many people for Sylvester’s cancer research programs,” Dr. Nimer said. “I can’t tell you the number of cancer survivors who’ve come up to me since I crossed the finish line to tell me their stories. Each and every person has a story to tell, of how the work we do at Sylvester impacts people’s lives. Thanks to the DCC, and all of your efforts, people now have more hope, and they don’t have to leave South Florida to get world-class cancer care.”
“DCC is the number one fundraiser in the NFL,” Garfinkel said. “We hope to raise more than $6 million this year alone, bringing the nine-year total to more than $32 million.”
Advancing Cancer Research and Care
Sylvester’s researchers and patient caregivers explained the importance of DCC’s financial contributions to their work.
“The Dolphins Cancer Challenge funds all of our early-stage research, including global oncology research, through which we are trying to improve cancer care around the world,” said Gilberto Lopes, M.D., M.B.A. “This is one of our most important days of the whole year, and that’s how we keep our mission going.
“We do this for our patients, we do this for our community, we do this for all of those who have been affected by cancer in any way — not just in Miami but South Florida and around the world, including our areas that we serve in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. That’s one of the main areas of my research — trying to improve cancer control and cancer care in areas that have limited resources.”
“This is a great day,” said Brian Slomovitz, M.D., director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Sylvester. “We’re here because we understand the importance of raising money for cancer research. We can’t take care of patients in the way we want to take care of them without researching the newer, more novel ways to help them live longer, and research costs money. We’re at the top of the game when it comes to NCI or NIH or other government dollars. But government funding is not enough. Women’s cancer research is underfunded. We know that we need to come up with our own ideas and support our own research to go to the next step. The reason why we’re here is to beat cancer. And everyone stands together, everyone’s raising money for that.”
Craig H. Moscowitz, M.D., physician-in-chief for the oncology service line and a newcomer to Sylvester, discussed his impressions from his first DCC event.
“I’ve been here 10 months, after 26 years at Sloan-Kettering,” he said. “There are a few things I find quite remarkable: No. 1 is that all of the money that’s raised goes directly to cancer research, and we use the money to support both basic science and clinical research. No. 2: The Dolphins are just an unbelievable supporter of the cancer center. They donate more money to cancer research than any other NFL team. For me personally, I do a lot of lymphoma research, I’m a lymphoma physician, our team has raised quite a bit of money, and we’ll use the money that comes in directly for research for these patients. And lastly, it’s an unbelievable thing to see the camaraderie among everyone who works at the cancer center.
A good example is Emily Panzner, M.S.N., A.G.N.P.-B.C., O.C.N., Dr. Moscowitz’s nurse practitioner.
“I take care of lymphoma patients and transplant patients,” she said. “It’s a big interruption in their life, and it comes very quickly. It’s very hard for them to adjust, so our team helps them through this whole adjustment period. I’m here to fight for my patients, to get better research to help cure them. I care deeply for these patients, and I like making them feel better and seeing them get better.”
An Early Start for Cancer Support
The first cyclists at DCC IX got an early start, leaving Hard Rock Stadium at 6 a.m. for the “Hurricane Hundred,” presented by Ultimate Software. That 100-mile ride was followed by the 51-mile Boca Ride, presented by Amgen, which left at 7:30 a.m. from Florida Atlantic University. The 33-mile Miami Ride, presented by Carnival Foundation, left at 8:15 a.m. from the Watsco Center on UM’s Coral Gables campus. The 27.5-mile Fort Lauderdale Ride, presented by AutoNation, left at 9:15 a.m. from Holiday Park. The 14-mile Dolphins Ride, presented by the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation, left at 10 a.m. from Dolphins Training Camp. All rides ended at Hard Rock Stadium. The DCC 5K run/walk, which began and ended at Hard Rock Stadium, started at 10:30 a.m.
W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., chief medical officer at Sylvester, has participated in all nine DCC events.
“It’s a very special event for me, and it has been a huge part of my life,” Dr. Goodwin said. “I participate for the friends and family that we’ve lost to cancer, as well as for my patients and my colleagues. And the Dolphins have been such incredible partners —thanks to them and to all of our sponsors, every nickel raised goes directly to funding research at Sylvester.”
Jennifer Jehn, senior vice president of the Miami Dolphins Foundation and executive director of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, gave the team’s thanks to all who turned out for the big event.
“Our ‘why’ is to raise as much money as we can to find cures for cancer,” she said. “So thank you, cancer fighters! We want to thank all of you and all of our partners who came out to make this event possible. Cancer is a disease that does not discriminate. It affects all of us in one way or another.”
A gallery of photographs from DCC IX can be found here.