Cycling for a cause with local support
Pictured are Debbie’s Warriors from their 2018 New York City Cycle for Survival ride. Amy Tangel, whose mother, Debbie Tangel, died from bone cancer, is second from left. On the cover: Amy Tangel (left) and her mother Debbie (right) were great friends. Tangel said that her greatest memories with her mother were when she listened to her sing and play the guitar.

Courtesy photos

Cycling for a cause with local support

Story By: RANDALL WASZYNSKI
2/7/2019


 

Amy Tangel is a Medford resident and mother who writes children’s books. She grew as a writer in many trades, including journalism, and just began dabbling in poetry.

But Cycle for Survival through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center became an integral part of her life in 2016, when her mother Debbie was battling for her life with myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow cancer. Tangel formed a team called Debbie’s Warriors, and they have cycled every year in New York, just blocks away from MSKCC.

This year, though, Tangel has enrolled her team to participate in the cause’s Long Island event on March 2 in Woodbury. Her team has also scheduled another event on Feb. 15.

When Debbie was sick, her daughter was her primary caregiver.

“She was my best friend on top of [being] my mother,” Tangel said. “We were lucky to have the relationship that we did.”

Debbie moved down from the Albany area to Medford with Amy in September 2015 to begin treatment at Sloan Kettering. She went into the hospital Dec. 17 and received a bone marrow transplant from Amy’s aunt. But the disease had run its course and had done considerable damage despite a successful transplant. She was 57 when she passed away and spent her last four months at MSKCC.

One day while her mother was staying at the center, Tangel took the train to New York instead of driving in. As she approached the front entrance to Sloan Kettering in a cab, her eyes caught a large banner that read: Cycle for Survival.

“It was like a light hit me,” Tangel said. “I looked at it and said, ‘I need to do that.’”

Tangel had a registered team of eight within days of seeing the banner, with the help of some friends. The overarching goal, Tangel said, was not about raising funds.

“The real goal was to rally support for my mother.”

Debbie’s Warriors pedaled their first ride just blocks away from MSKCC on March 13, 2016. The day afterwards, Debbie had her bone marrow transplant administered.

“The first ride was really just a rally to support her and lift her spirits,” Tangel said. “She was so happy to hear about Cycle for Survival.”

One month later, on April 13, Debbie passed away. That is when she knew that Debbie’s Warriors would be her ultimate tribute to her mother — a mission to raise awareness. Tangel has gained a connection with many being treated at MSKCC, whether it is in New York, Commack, or other branches.

“I can’t tell you how many people I know who receive treatment at Sloan Kettering,” she said.

One-hundred percent of the funds raised through Cycle for Survival goes directly to treatments and relevant equipment.

“It literally directly helped keep my mom alive as long as she could be,” Tangel said. “Without Sloan Kettering, she would not have lived as long as she did, because she had trial treatments that were available to her that you could not get in any other hospital.”

These trials were directly funded by Cycle for Survival. On a national scale, Cycle for Survival raised $39 million in 2018. Since its inception in 2016, Tangel’s team has raised over $14,000. This will be the team’s first year riding on Long Island.

“It’s exciting,” Tangel said. “I’ve always done the ride in the city, just because that’s where I started, and it made me feel closer to mom. It was kind of like my one [time each] year that I would go in there where she took her last breath and pay tribute to her in that way.”

In the team’s second year, 16 members participated. But the following year, eight members participated and actually raised more than the previous. This year, six members will be riding on Long Island.

Tangel said that it started to get challenging for her team to trek to New York City for the ride since they all have families and children. Tangel also said that she was at a crossroads of whether to go forth with the ride this year.

“It emotionally takes a lot out of me [with] so much focus on helping sick people and feeling so much pressure wanting to do it,” she said. “It is a challenge to raise the funds, and everyone’s schedules are so busy on top of that — leading other people. I thought, I don’t know if I have it in me anymore. Maybe I’ll find a different way to tribute my mother, or join someone else’s bike, maybe.”

But once last fall came around, when the planning would need to commence for the March ride, Tangel’s team members began reaching out to her, asking about the upcoming ride. These inquiries served as a motivation for Tangel to start it up again, but move it to Long Island, in Woodbury.

“I think it’s the answer,” Tangel said. “Bring it back here, back home, where I can have more support from my local community.”

Tangel said that almost every person on her team has had a close family member who has fought a rare cancer, and many were treated at MSKCC.

“It was too many people, too many familiar faces at one hospital from [the Patchogue-Medford area] at the same time. For me, I feel like it is not just about my mother — it is about everybody that I love who is being supported, and people I don’t even know. The event is so great because it brings people together who you have never met, who are going through the same thing you have gone through.”

Mr. D’s Ultimate Fitness in Patchogue is hosting an upcoming fundraising event for Debbie’s Warriors on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m., in which all the proceeds will go to Cycle for Survival through Debbie’s Warriors. Victoria Phillips, a team member who joined in the second year, is a spinning instructor there, and they’ll be hosting a 90-minute spin ride.

Phillips said that Tangel approached her about joining the team knowing that she is a spin instructor and has also had people close to her affected by rare cancers.

“I’ve had more than a few members over the years who have come into class and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer...’ Thankfully, every last one of them has come out the other side,” Phillips said.

She said that they were all treated by doctors at MSKCC.

“They are the reason that my friends are still here today.”

The owner of the gym has also donated a three-month gym membership to the raffle that will take place at the event. Debbie’s Warriors has received contributions from several other local businesses: The Colony Shop has donated gift certificates to the raffle; Fry Daddy’s has donated all the water for the spin ride event. Cycle for Survival has donated a raffle basket for the event as well.

“As of the other day, [Phillips] hadn’t even advertised yet and we had six of 21 bikes filled,” Tangel said. “It’s going to be a really great event, and we’re really hoping to gain some support from the community for this. It is a chance to really bring people who normally couldn’t come out for us, and it is a convenient way at home to support the mission and the cause.”