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11th Dolphins Challenge Cancer Event Raises Millions for Research at Sylvester

Parts of the 11th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC) event on April 10 had to be reimagined to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the enthusiasm and commitment of the thousands of participating supporters of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center – both virtually and in person – could not have been stronger. Cries of “One team, one fight!” could be heard throughout Hard Rock Stadium much of the day as cyclists, walkers, and runners crossed the starting line, their fundraising efforts bringing in a record-breaking $6.3 million.

Dr. Stephen Nimer leads off the Hurricanes Hundred rideSylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., leads off the Hurricanes Hundred ride.

The Miami Dolphins made a $75 million commitment to fund research at Sylvester, part of the University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine, last November. UM President Julio Frenk launched the DCC’s 35-mile ride with a thank you to the Miami Dolphins Foundation for this support, and praise for the participants whose commitment “makes this event an extremely powerful weapon in the fight against cancer.”

“Last year, the DCC was the last major event we held before the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic,” President Frenk said. “Today, it is the first major event as we anticipate an end to the acute health emergency – thanks to the heroic efforts of health care workers and the astounding feat of science that delivered vaccines in less than a year.”

‘You don’t have to have cancer to fight cancer’

Tom Garfinkel, president and chief executive officer of the Miami Dolphins, opened the 15-mile ride, presented by the Harcourt M. & Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation, with expressions of gratitude and pride. “I want to thank everybody for being here for the 11th DCC,” he said, “and I want to remind everybody that you don’t have to have cancer to fight cancer.”

“Through our incredible partnership with the Miami Dolphins, the DCC plays a crucial role in advancing our drive toward more cures and finding better therapies to fight cancer,” Dr. Nimer said. “A day of unparalleled inspiration, the DCC celebrates our survivors and fuels our physicians, researchers, nurses, and support staff as they feel the community’s powerful commitment to our mission firsthand and share the remembrance of the loved ones we have lost to cancer.”

UM President Julio Frenk shows his Team Hurricanes spirit.UM President Julio Frenk shows his Team Hurricanes spirit.
The cancer fighters included University faculty and staff, more than 300 survivors, and teams of community supporters. “We are here to celebrate all that Sylvester represents for our community and the hope that we offer to cancer survivors and their families,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., vice provost for research at UM and associate director of Sylvester. “There are people I work with every single day who I haven’t seen or touched or been in the same room with for a year. I feel so lucky that DCC has given us the opportunity to be together, to be physically present, and to celebrate Sylvester and the Dolphins’ commitment to cancer research.”

“While COVID-19 has certainly affected many aspects of our day-to-day lives, our battle against cancer has continued in full force and the DCC has remained focused on fulfilling our $75 million commitment to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Miami Dolphins Foundation Executive Director Jesse Marks said. “For the 11th year in a row, we are honored to be able to host such an impactful event that raises awareness throughout our South Florida community while also supporting life-saving cancer research. We are beyond grateful for partners, participants, donors and municipalities who are just as committed to challenging cancer as we are.”

A patient praises the team approach to her care

One very grateful participant was Janine Stanwood, who has been treated by Sylvester for two different cancers in the past year. “I have a whole team of doctors now who are looking after me,” she said. After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 2019, “I wanted to get a second opinion. I knew that Sylvester was National Cancer Institute designated, and it was tied to a university, and I liked the things that I had heard.

Enthusiastic DCC riders took over South Florida's highways to raise money for cancer research at Sylvester.Enthusiastic DCC riders took over South Florida's highways to raise money for cancer research at Sylvester.
“When I met with Dr. Susan Kesmodel, the way she spent time with me, the way she drew pictures to show me the cancer, and this is what we’re going to do – it made me feel like I was in good hands,” said Stanwood, who is a news reporter for WPLG Local 10. She had a mastectomy, and two months later she attended DCC X as a spectator. “I heard it was a really powerful movement – so many people gathered together with one mission is a sight to see.”

After a thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment, Stanwood and her husband signed up for this year’s DCC 5K. “I’m participating in the DCC because of the idea that I could do something that really could make a tangible difference,” she said. “People are living longer, better treatments are out there, research helps, and any little bit I can do to raise funds to make people aware of how many people in this community have cancer, I’ll do it.”

Dr. Kobetz and other faculty leaders of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI) were joined by many South Florida firefighters at Hard Rock Stadium. “The Firefighter Cancer Initiative is entering its seventh year, and this work is critically important because firefighters, who are heroes, are at increased risk of developing and dying of cancer,” Dr. Kobetz said. “The work we’re doing at Sylvester is at the forefront of a national conversation about what to do about this disparity.”

‘Every day is an opportunity to reduce the cancer burden’

FCI Co-director Alberto Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., appreciates the annual opportunity to pause and recognize the wide-ranging work of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative. “It’s a special event where we recognize and celebrate the lives of firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. Every day is an opportunity to reduce the cancer burden.”

Brian White, a captain with Hollywood Fire Rescue, participated in the DCC for the third time – but for the first time, he brought along his wife and two children. “We’ve lost too many brothers and sisters in the fight against cancer,” White said. “We’re here to support all the research and all the great things Sylvester and the University of Miami have done.”

There were other first-timers at the event. “This was my first Dolphins Challenge Cancer bike ride, and it was absolutely amazing,” said Mikkael Sekeres, M.D., M.S., who became chief of hematology at Sylvester and the Miller School in January. “The way that researchers, clinicians, and patients came together to fight cancer and one day defeat this terrible disease was absolutely mind-blowing. I rode 50 miles this year, and next year I’m committing to ride 100 miles.”

Equally enthusiastic was W. Jarrard “Jerry” Goodwin, M.D., who has been involved with the DCC since the beginning as the former director of Sylvester and professor of otolaryngology, now a member of the emeritus faculty. “After 11 years, think about all the money that’s been raised, and all the lives that have been saved,” he said. “And there’s no better event; we ride through South Florida, we connect with everybody, and this is just the best day of the year for Sylvester.”