By Dennis Hohenberger
Hartford Courant Community
March 29, 2017, 8:36 AM
Connecticut Sports Foundation Cycles Against Cancer
The Connecticut Sports Foundation hosted 'Cycle Against Cancer,' at the New York Sports Club on March 18.
The CSF offers financial assistance to individuals and families affected by cancer.The foundation was founded in 1987 by John Ellis, a former New York Yankees catcher. The organization has awarded more than $4.5 million in support and $1.8 million for cancer research.
The New York Sports Club was one of four sites hosting cycling events in Connecticut. Allison Terrones, a 12-year-old cancer patient, is this year's West Hartford Donor Ambassador.
The foundation will award the Terrones family a larger grant. The King Philip Middle School student is currently undergoing cancer treatment. Several of her classmates raised money and cycled for an hour each.
Each team was required to raise $1,000. Trouble with Tribbles, a nod to Star Trek, raised more than $4,000.
Foundation Director of Development and Special Events Terri Eickel, a breast cancer survivor, said Cycle Against Cancer began in 2009, in Old Saybrook. The event proved such a success, the foundation decided to hold events at several locales.
"What I love about this event, it gets the community together," Eickel said.
CSF holds an annual fundraiser at Mohegan Sun Casino, which attracts celebrities and sports stars. Cycle Against Cancer works at a grassroots level, she said, as local groups and businesses formed cycling teams.
The foundation helps cancer patients and their families with basic living expenses like rent, mortgage, utilities, or transportation costs, which can add up when work hours are cut because of time-consuming treatments or procedures.
CSF coordinates with social service workers at hospitals across the state to determine the needs of families. Eickel noted that the time the application is received to a family receiving a check is around two weeks.
Despite a small staff, the foundation awarded nearly $450,000 in aid last year.
"We're proud that people don't have to wait. If someone is stressed about their mortgage, utility bill, or how they're going to fill their oil tank, the next time it's due, they could have aid from us," Eickel said.
The average grant is between $600 to $1,200. In 2015, the foundation's board decided to continue the tradition of awarding smaller grants to more people. A number of recipients come from low-income families.
A cancer diagnosis can not only be emotionally devastating, but financially, too. Eickel said rounds of treatments often means lost work days.
"All these expenses pile up and pile up. We want to help as many people as we could," she said.
For families whose child is diagnosed with cancer, the financial strain can be overwhelming, as a parent must decide to greatly reduce work hours or to stop working altogether.
Eickel said pediatric cancer patients undergo longer treatments, suffer from more side effects, and have a higher risk of infections.
The expenses can add up for a family, including eating at the hospital three times a day, hotel bills, and traveling back and forth for treatments and appointments.
Terrones, who stopped by the event, underwent a round of chemotherapy the day before. Eickel wanted Terrones to know that CSF, the volunteers, and spinners were there to support her.
Eickel's sister, Mindy Shilanski, led the King Philip School parents team. Shilanski said genetic testing revealed she was at a high risk of developing breast cancer. As a preventive measure, she underwent a double mastectomy.
Shilanski noted that proceeds from cancer events often go toward research, which she fully supports, but the CSF grants directly help families in need.
"They need help right now and that's what the Connecticut Sports Foundation does so well, because it helps local families," said Shilanski.
She added that pediatric cancer treatment for girls is usually two years and for boys it's three years, which can strain a family's resources.
"When you have financial stress on top of it, that's so tough on the families," she said.
Her sister, besides working for CSF, is an opera singer. Shilanski said her sister had a number of jobs lined up for the upcoming season. Because of the cancer diagnosis, Eickel dropped the scheduled performances and undergo surgery, followed by months of cancer treatment, according to Shilanski.
Eickel did not audition for an entire year, which produced a financial strain.
"She (Eickel) worked part time through her cancer treatment, because she had to," Shilanski said.
Family support helped her sister through some tough months.
Friends of Eickel started a GoFundMe drive, which helped some.
Shilanski was pleased the Terrones family will be eligible for a larger grant.
"There's a lot more cancer patients than we can have spin-offs for," she said.
She wants families to focus on fighting cancer and not worry about bills.
Since her own surgery, Shilanski's anxiety about getting breast cancer has greatly diminished. She suspects the breast cancer gene (Bracket II) runs on her father's side of the family.
Several of Terrones' classmates completed the event's final ride of the day, including Matt.
"This is a very important event to raise money for Allison. It's a great event and great exercise. I'm really happy to do it," he said.
Through emails and Facebook postings, the King Philip Team raised more than $3,000.
"People kept donating," he said. "A lot of families gave generous amounts."
Matt shared a choir class with Allison last year.
He said he gained a better understanding the devastation cancer causes and the financial hardships families undergo.
"It's great that she's getting better," he said.
Fitor Mamudi, a CSF board member, said everyone has been touched by cancer. He lost his mother to cancer and his father is going undergoing chemotherapy twice a week.
"It's really tough. Any little bit can help," he said. "There's a big need here in Connecticut."
Mamudi said families are also saddled with high insurance deductibles and procedures or treatments not covered by insurers.
Besides financial support, Mamudi said a family member stricken with cancer must have emotional support, whether it means getting a ride to appointments or listening to their concerns.
"It's a world of difference knowing they have someone with them, versus a phone call," he said.
Every hospital visit or test can mean either good or bad news for the patient, Mamudi said.