Former PMC Pedal Partner Inspires Current Jimmy Fund Clinic Patients and PMC Cyclists

Bill Alfano's picture
Bill Alfano

Former PMC Pedal Partner Inspires Current Jimmy Fund Clinic Patients and PMC Cyclists

As a high school sophomore, Ashley Cunningham’s focus went from surviving the academic and social qualms that come with being a teenager to undergoing one year of multiple spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations and chemotherapy treatments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund Clinic for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On May 10, the 19-year-old freshman at Boston University, who has been in remission for two years, will share her story of resilience and recovery in front of current pediatric cancer patients and their families during the annual Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) Pedal Partner Party at Fenway Park. 

For two years, the Middleton, Mass. resident experienced a number of joint-related health issues and underwent surgery to alleviate pain. At the time, doctors couldn’t explain why the otherwise healthy and active young girl was experiencing these problems. It wasn’t until she broke her arm in 2011, that she was brought to Children’s Hospital and underwent two more surgeries. During the second procedure, doctors from Dana-Farber took a sample of her bone marrow and determined she had cancer. She immediately began treatment at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. 

“When I was told I had cancer, I felt relieved that doctors had finally figured out what was wrong with me,” says Cunningham. “I was ready to start treatments at the Jimmy Fund Clinic and hopefully get better.”  

During that time, Cunningham sought comfort from Team Bain Capital, a group of PMC cyclists who developed a relationship with her family through the PMC Pedal Partner Program and rode in the annual bike-a-thon in her honor. The PMC Pedal Partner Program, now in its 14th year, matches Jimmy Fund Clinic patients, ranging in age from infants to teenagers, with teams of PMC cyclists. For the children, being a designated PMC Pedal Partner is an exciting experience, as they become part of a large group of people committed to helping fight cancer. PMC cyclists offer friendship and support to the children and their families while gaining personal inspiration to train and fundraise.  

“When I was a PMC Pedal Partner, I remember meeting one of the cyclists from Team Bain at the PMC Pedal Partner Party and she was incredible,” says Cunningham. “Then, a handful of cyclists from the team were able to meet me at the PMC Pedal Partner Tent in Lakeville during PMC weekend. Just last week, I had lunch with Heidi Flood, the initial cyclist I had met who also came to my high school graduation party. It is so amazing to know that complete strangers had my back throughout treatments and are continuing to support me as a survivor.” 

 

From left to right: Four-time PMC cyclist Heidi Flood with her team’s former PMC Pedal Partner Ashley Cunningham, a cancer survivor and PMC volunteer.

The PMC Pedal Partner program offers an inspiring opportunity for PMC cyclists to connect with pediatric cancer patients. For the children, being designated a PMC Pedal Partner is an exciting experience that can be a distraction from their cancer treatments. More often than not, PMC cyclists and PMC Pedal Partner families form long-lasting friendships that extend beyond the PMC. While riding on PMC weekend, cyclists are greeted by poster-sized photographs of the PMC Pedal Partners, displayed along the route as inspiration to get them through the challenging ride. 

On Saturday, Aug. 2, PMC Pedal Partners and their families will gather at a water stop on the PMC route in Lakeville to cheer on their teams. Cunningham and her mother, Fran, 48, will be among the volunteers who will entertain the young cancer patients as they anxiously await the arrival of their teams who stop to spend time with them before getting back on the road. The mother-daughter duo will assist for the second consecutive year with manning the temporary tattoo station to ensure that all PMC Pedal Partners have playful accessories to wear. For riders and families, this meet up is an emotional and meaningful experience.  

“Doctors at Dana-Farber helped to save my life,” says Cunningham. “I continue to volunteer for the PMC at the Lakeville PMC Pedal Partner tent and share my story as a way to help other families going through similar experiences who may or may not need a friend in their time of need.”  

Meanwhile, Cunningham’s father, John, 59, will be among more than 5,800 cyclists who will ride up to 190 miles in the 35th annual event to raise $40 million. He will pedal for the second time as a member of Team Bain Capital, the very group that rode for his daughter years ago, in honor of a new PMC Pedal Partner. He looks forward to giving back to the organization that gave so much hope and support to his family. 

To register to volunteer alongside Ashley Cunningham in the 35th annual Pan-Mass Challenge, which is set for Aug. 2 and 3, or to support John Cunningham or another PMC cyclist, visit www.pmc.org

From left to right: Former PMC Pedal Partner turned PMC volunteer Ashley Cunningham, her father, John Cunningham, a veteran PMC cyclist, and her mother, Fran Cunningham, a PMC volunteer.


Post coutesy of Allison from Teak Media + Communication