Starting Friday, more than 200 cyclists, including 50 young breast cancer survivors will ride over 200 miles this weekend in the 12th Annual Tour de Pink to raise money and awareness about breast cancer. The Young Survival Coalition specifically works with young women under 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer, an unfortunately growing demographic.
Most women don't think about having a mammogram and the threat of breast cancer until they hit 50, but some are having to face this scary diagnosis a lot earlier. According to the Young Survival Coalition, each year, approximately 70 thousand men and women age 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer in the United States, and every year nearly 1,200 women under the age of 40 die from breast cancer.
The coalition offers support and resources to young women battling breast cancer and focuses on their unique challenges like the possibility of early menopause, fertility issues, as well as body image and the effect on dating and married life.
The three-day journey kicks off from suburban Philadelphia on Friday and heads south traveling through scenic back roads and stopping for an evening celebration at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. The second day will loop through Delaware finishing back at Dover Downs. On Saturday, other riders can also participate just for the day completing the One Day Century loop beginning and ending at Dover Downs. On day three, riders will head to the shore and finish on the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware.
The "Fighting Phillies" is one of the groups undertaking this year's ride. Out of the 35 in the group, 16 of them are breast cancer survivors. Dana Donofree who lives in Queen Village is doing the ride for the first time this year. She was diagnosed in 2010, a day before her 28th birthday and two months before her wedding day. She was in Ohio that weekend with family shopping for clothes for her honeymoon and getting ready to celebrate her bridal shower when she got the call.
"I told my mom, 'We can put these back because I am not going on my honeymoon anymore,'" Donofree described as she remembered that painful phone call.
All of a sudden she had to face questions she hadn't really thought about yet like do you want to have kids and should you preserve your eggs. "It is hard to face when you think you are untouchable," she said.
She underwent a bilateral mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy and just hit her 5 year anniversary of being cancer-free. "There is no evidence of disease right now, but I am still on active treatment," she explained.
Tiffany Nardella of Southy Philly is also riding this year. Also a survivor, this year is her 6th year participating. When talking about the Young Survival Coalition and their support groups, she said, "We do a lot of advocacy for each other, sharing resources and diminishing each other's fears and supporting each other through loss."
"People assume when you are diagnosed early that 'at least it was caught early', but cancer at an earlier age usually means more aggressive treatment and a greater chance that the cancer will metastasize."
Nardella said that the sisterhood formed in the coalition helped save her mental health. "It helps to know that you are not alone," she said.
University City's Kelly De Vose was diagnosed at 32 years of age in 2011 and has just celebrated being four years cancer-free this past September. This is her second year on the ride.
"Young women can and do get breast cancer. There needs to be more attention to this," she said. "When people hear cancer, they always say that you are too young to have cancer, but you are never too young."
On the importance of bringing awareness to the work of the Young Survival Coalition, she said, "This is not the group you want to belong to. You don't really want to say welcome, but it is important to applaud that it is here."
De Vose wants the organization to continue to be a safe haven for young women with breast cancer. "It is a movement not just a bike club. We are doing this so no young woman has to face breast cancer alone."
Interested in getting involved? Learn more at www.YSCTourdePink.org.