Cycle for Survival Returns to Equinox Saturday and Sunday

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For 16 hours this weekend, Equinox The Loop will transform from a gym to a cancer-fighting hotbed, when Cycle for Survival makes its annual Chicago stop.

Cycle for Survival serves as a fundraiser for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with every dollar raised going directly to rare cancer research. Chicago riders alone have already raised over $1.1 million for the cause, and one rider in particular knows the exact impact those funds can have on lives.

Jeff Samuels of Deerfield found himself struggling with sudden, intense fatigue in August of 2014 that took him from playing with his young children over the weekend to being so tired he could barely get out of bed four days later. He noticed an odd bruise at the same time, and scheduled an appointment with his internist on a Thursday. The following morning, Aug. 15, he received a phone call from the doctor letting him know they had noticed abnormalities in his blood.

Near the end of the workday on a Friday, Samuels and his wife met with a hematologist, whose tests led him to believe Samuels had acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of leukemia that results from a breakdown of two chromosomes, allowing immature blood cells to enter the bloodstream.

“I was admitted to the hospital that night, and didn’t set foot outside the hospital until Sept. 15,” Samuels says.

Samuels qualified for a clinical trial study organized by Memorial Sloan Kettering and received 135 treatments over nine months. Though the full study lasts five years for each patient, Samuels finished his treatment cycle on April 17, 2015 and has been in remission since around Christmas of 2014. On his most recent follow-up appointment in January, he showed no signs of leukemia.

“As quickly as it started, that’s how quickly it went away because [the doctors] at Memorial Sloan Kettering know that it works,” Samuels says.

While Samuels fought APL, he had familiar company at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University: his youngest sister, Abbey, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.

“For three months we were simultaneously treated at Lurie,” Samuels says. “There were, in those three months, a handful of days when we were getting our infusions at the same time.”

Though Samuels’s personal experience with rare cancers began a couple years ago, he and his family have been involved with Cycle for Survival for the better portion of a decade. Samuels grew up with David Linn, one of the founders of Cycle for Survival, and his middle sister has organized a team for the event for the past six years, well before either of her siblings dealt with cancer.

“I have a completely vested interest in this foundation now,” Samuels says. “It changes you. It changes your outlook on everything, and to know not just a portion but 100 percent of the funds being raised through all the events go to support the research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, that helped me and my fellow patients through a very dark period of our lives.”

Samuels and many others will participate in Cycle for Survival as part of the Remedy Riders team, who will ride in memory of his sister Abbey, who passed away on Nov. 23, 2014, and others who have been touched by cancer.

Participant slots have filled for Chicago’s Cycle for Survival, though you can still donate to the fundraising or put sign up for the event’s wait list.