Cancer Survivors, Fighters Unite at Cycle for Survival

Betty Hosteny and her husband Mark Watka love the outdoors. With friends, the couple has hiked in locations around the world, including Mount Kilimanjaro in 2006. Such a task naturally included both good and bad moments, but when Hosteny became tired, Watka reminded her to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. That advice took on added significance for Hosteny shortly after the trip.
Hosteny received her first cancer diagnosis shortly after returning from Mount Kilimanjaro but recovered after treatment and continued on with her active lifestyle until receiving another cancer diagnosis, this time for soft tissue sarcoma, after hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
“It kind of made me feel like I was on a mountain again,” Hosteny says of her experience with soft tissue sarcoma. “I’m climbing and it gets really hard and you just feel like you’re not going to make it, and then you get some hope and a breath of fresh air and new energy.”
As a rare cancer, soft tissue sarcoma is just one of many forms of cancer Cycle for Survival, a two-day cycling event hosted locally by Equinox in the Loop, aims to fight. The event, launched in New York City in 2007 and brought to Chicago in 2010, raises funds for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and all of the money raised goes directly to research. The event’s commitment to using all of its money to help conduct clinical research studies on rare cancers drew Hosteny to the event in 2012.
“Rare cancers unfortunately are very prevalent in my family,” Hosteny says. “It started with my dad with a rare brain tumor. My mom had a rare type of melanoma, uveal melanoma, which is in your eye. Another brother had that as well, and then me. I thought, ‘Enough. I’ve had enough of this.’”
While approximately half of all cancer patients have a type of rare cancer, the fact that so many different types of rare cancers exist makes it difficult to channel funding into major studies. The clinical studies and trials that Cycle for Survival helps fund, however, give patients like Hosteny a way of feeling like they’re fighting back against their diagnosis.
After receiving treatment for her first experience with soft tissue sarcoma, Hosteny learned that her cancer had metastasized to her knee. With a cancer as persistent as soft tissue sarcoma, Hosteny worried about the likelihood of the disease returning after enduring radiation and recovery from the cancer in her knee when she found out that she could participate in a clinical trial organized by Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“It gave me hope and it gave me a feeling of actively doing something to try and beat and fight my cancer, which is so important,” Hosteny says of her experience in the clinical trial. “I felt like I needed to actively fight this instead of waiting for it to come back, so I was really invigorated when I had the opportunity to participate in the clinical trial, thinking at least I’m doing something proactive. Even if it won’t help me, it will still help the research community learn about ways to treat cancer, especially this rare type of cancer.”
Hosteny has now gone three years without cancer appearing on a CAT scan and has ridden in Cycle for Survival every year since 2012. Though the event clearly involves physical activity, Hosteny emphasizes that anyone, regardless of skill level, can and does participate.
“The phrase we always say is, ‘You can pedal hard or you can hardly pedal,’” Hosteny says. “You get all levels of athleticism in the room. It’s so fun and inspirational. Just the energy in the room: everybody’s laughing and biking as hard as they can. A lot of us as cancer survivors stand up and give remarks on how it’s made a difference in our lives. It empowers me.”
The Chicago Cycle for Survival will take place on Feb. 21 and 22 at Equinox in the Loop, 200 W. Monroe. Space still remains for riders on the Sunday morning shift from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., and you can also donate to the event without riding.