CHATHAM, NJ - Kelly Leach once ran a marathon with a cancerous tumor in her body without even knowing it.
The Chatham Township mother of two now participates in a "marathon" of fundraising events to fight rare cancer diseases with a nationwide team who "Cycle for Survival," benefiting the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Last year, Leach's spin team "Pedaling Sunshine" raised $257,000 and this year the goal is $198,000, with eight events this month. Her team has raised $161,561 as of Thursday. Leach begins her whirlwind tour to fight rare cancers with a team event in Boston on Friday night and then at Equinox in Summit at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
"The dollars we made last year are already being put to work," Leach said. "They have a drug they're researching right now that attacks cancer cells without harming healthy cells at the same time. That drug is very important to me because if mine comes back, my blood cells can't take the chemo that I had before, so I need something that is going to attack the cancer without attacking my white blood cells."
Team Pedaling Sunshine also has "Cycling for Survival" events scheduled this month in San Francisco, Chicago, Greenwich, Conn., Palo Alto, Calif., Washington, D.C. and Miami. The tour will be capped by the New York event on March 11. Leach plans to attend them all.
"It's so much fun because we get to see all our friends along the way," Leach said.
In 2014, she was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma and went through 12 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. She is now cancer free.
"But, it is the kind of cancer that tends to come back," she said. "It had spread to my lungs. It's very rare in adults. Now I'm sort of paying it forward. I'm providing research money so they can find a cure and I'm hoping that they do it before I get it again because there is a strong chance of it coming back.
"Rare cancers are much more prevalent than you think. They actually account for 50 percent of all cancers. What they're trying to figure out is why you're own immune system isn't attacking cancer cells, so they're trying to find ways to turn on your immune system."
Leach's team name is inspired by her sons, Ryan and Tyler. She sings "You are my Sunshine" to them every night at bedtime.
"When I was going through therapy, I had this blog to update people on what was going on," Leach said. "There were a lot of people asking, 'What can I do to help?' There's not a lot anyone can do to help when you're in treatment. But afterwards, I found this charity and decided to activate to help going forward.
"I really do believe there is going to be a tipping point in cancer research where something big is out there and it's going to tip over and suddenly they are going to find something that works for a lot of people and it may not be based on whether you have breast cancer or lung cancer or Ewing Sarcoma. It may be based on something that turns your body against the cancer. So there is a lot of research out there that is exciting to hear about."