One year ago this month, Jamie Weiss of Muttontown found out her 10-month-old daughter, Sawyer, had cancer. Today, tests show Sawyer is cancer-free, but her ordeal inspired Weiss to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research, to find a cure so other children don't suffer.
On Saturday, she and hundreds of others pedaled on stationary bikes at a Woodbury gym as part of a nationwide Cycle for Survival fundraiser for cancer research. By the afternoon, Weiss’ team had raised nearly $400,000 – the second-highest amount of any team in the country, according to organizers.
“From the moment she was diagnosed, I promised myself her suffering would not be in vain,” said Weiss, who rode in last year’s Cycle for Survival in honor of a close friend who died of cancer and on the day of her daughter’s diagnosis vowed to ride again this year. “Until there’s a cure for cancer, we’ll be riding.”
About 1,300 people — 87 with Weiss’ team — were expected to ride for several teams this weekend at the Woodbury Equinox, one of 23 sites nationwide participating in the 13th annual Cycle for Survival, which runs through March 10. Last year’s fundraisers yielded $39 million for research into rare cancers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where Sawyer underwent seven months of treatment.
Weiss, 35, said more than half the money her team raised is from her 95-year-old grandfather, Sydney Engel, a developer who lives in Hewlett. Much of the rest is from people she’s never met, who found out about the fundraiser through social media and word of mouth.
As she was pedaling at the Woodbury Equinox Saturday morning, Carolina Bermudez was thinking of her childhood best friend from Ohio, Emily Ricotti, who died of sarcoma cancer at age 14.
“I told her family I was riding for her,” she said.
Bermudez, 40, of Brookville, a friend of Weiss and a co-host on WKTU-FM’s morning show, said Emily’s brother, a physician, told her that Emily probably would have lived if she had been diagnosed today, because of improvements in treatment.
“The more money we raise… the more kids who will survive,” she said.
Riders Saturday pedaled in hourlong shifts to upbeat dance music as a disco ball swirled and Equinox employees rode bikes on platforms and urged participants on.
“When cancer affects a child, it takes on more meaning, and you want to do anything you can to help,” said participant Melanie Eisenberg, 39, of Woodbury, also a friend of Weiss.
Weiss said that after Sawyer was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer she and her husband rented an apartment in Manhattan, with one of them staying at their Long Island home with their other two daughters and the other staying in Manhattan to take Sawyer to her chemotherapy and other medical appointments.
Weiss said it was “excruciating” to watch Sawyer suffer through the nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other effects of chemotherapy.
Scans since October have shown that Sawyer, who turns 2 in May, has been clear of cancer, but “for the next five years we will be living scan to scan” to make sure it doesn’t return, Weiss said.
No matter what, Weiss said, she is committed to raising as much money as she can so that other children don’t endure what her daughter did, and so that one day all cancer is curable.
“Life will never go back to normal,” she said. “I don’t want it to go back to normal.”