Jennifer Goodman Linn You Fearless

Has it Really Been that Long?

I was able to attend both my 20th high school reunion and my 10th business school reunion in the past month. 

Although I was still fairly fragile at my high school reunion, I was able to connect with so many old friends and family.  I was amazed at how supportive all of my high school peers were about my recent surgery and the battle I have been fighting over the past 4.5 years.

One of my friends encouraged people in our class to donate small prizes that could be raffled off that night to benefit Cycle for Survival.

I was touched that about 20 of my classmates donated everything from a case of wine to a personal training session to a beach house at the New Jersey Shore.  We raised almost $2000 for Cycle for Survival!

It was so nice of my classmates to do this. 

I also loved that I was able to reconnect with so many old friends and hear what is going on in their lives.   I felt that with many of my peers, we were able to pick up right where we left off.  I also found that there were some fun surprises in store.

Who knew that “that guy” would now be distributing porn?  Who knew that the kid who failed phys ed would now be a personal trainer to the stars?  Who knew that a friend who loved to write short stories is now a lead writer at the San Francisco Chronicle?

The only somewhat awkward moment was that my high school boyfriend didn’t recognize me at all and had to look at my name tag (we dated for over 2 years!).  I guess not everyone can actually look YOUNGER AND BETTER at their 20th reunion!

On the heels of the 20th high school reunion, Dave and I headed to Boston for my 10th business school reunion.  Whereas many people from high school fundamentally looked very different to me, it seemed like everyone that I graduated with from business school looked EXACTLY the same!  In fact, some people even looked younger than theydid 10 years ago!  It was an amazing weekend reminding me not only of how much I loved the learning aspect of business school but also how much I love and admire so many of my classmates.

The highlight of the weekend for me was, by far, the Cycle for Survival case (I have included it below so folks can read it if they are interested).  It is a HUGE honor to have a case written about you in business school and the 10th reunion committee decided that they wanted to write a case about me and Dave and the development of our baby, Cycle for Survival. 

There are so many business issues that need to be figured out as we expand and it was truly an honor and a privilege to have my brilliant classmates contribute their thinking to our cause. We had over 250 people attend the session andtheir insights were so helpful.  We also were able to recruit a lot more advocates for the 2010 event!    My favorite comment by far was my friend Paul who, when asked if he thought that my persona/story was “big” enough to go national, he answered “You are as scalable as Jesus!”

I have since received so many emails from classmates telling me that it was the “highlight” of their weekend.  It was the highlight of mine too!  Someone said to me “it was like It’s a Wonderful Life but you don’t need to die to see how many people love you!”  I couldn’t agree more.

On the Sunday of the weekend, Dave and I were able to visit a few of his college fraternity brothers and their families.

These are tried and true friends who we have known for years. They have been so supportive of us through thick and thin. Although diapers and distances keep us from seeing each other as much as we would like, we picked up right where we left off and had a great time.

I am blessed to have so much love in my life.

Cycle for Survival: Keeping the Wheels Turning 

Cancer has not forced me to change my life.  The irony is that cancer has been one of the best things that ever happened to me. 

- Jennifer Goodman Linn

January 25, 2009 represented a landmark day in the fight against cancer.  The third annual indoor spinning event, Cycle for Survival, featured 1,500 participants, collected donations from over 10,000 individuals, and generated over $1,200,000 amidst the most challenging economic climate in decades.  

Founded in 2007 by Jen Goodman Linn (HBS ‘99 G) and her husband, Dave Linn (HBS ’00 E), Cycle for Survival had staged three, single-day events that generated a total of $2 million for rare cancer research.  These funds directly improved patient treatment and enhanced patient care.  Jen was diagnosed with sarcoma in 2004, which began a continuing fight against the disease.  Her commitment to herself and other patients in her predicament provided the motivation to create and produce these events.

Just days after that magical Sunday in New York City, however, Jen and Dave knew the stakes were still high.  Jen’s cancer recently had returned for the fourth time, and she would once again visit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) for treatment.   

The charity events had gained valuable momentum and reached a key inflection point.  Jen and Dave had an opportunity to foster meaningful growth, which would translate directly into more money for rare cancer research.  But they wrestled with identifying the best way to expand Cycle for Survival.  As they combed through press clippings, event photos, inspirational emails, and congratulatory letters, Jen and Dave turned their attention towards the future – of the event and of their lives.

Jen’s Story

I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.

- Jennifer Goodman Linn

In November 2004 at age 33, and just a few months after attending her 5-year HBS reunion, Jen Goodman Linn started experiencing night sweats, stomach pain, and a persistent low-grade fever.  Tests revealed MFH Sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer that affects a small percentage of all cancer patients.  Jen’s treatment at MSKCC involved twenty-six months of chemotherapy treatments and four surgeries, the first of which removed a football-sized tumor from her abdomen.  During her regular hospital visits, Jen developed strong bonds with her fellow patients and caregivers at MSKCC. 

Jen often said that MSKCC treated her body, and the Equinox Fitness Center in Columbus Circle treated her soul. Finding special meaning in the gym’s tagline, It’s not Fitness, It’s Life, Jen found a community and support system at Equinox.  While undergoing her first round of treatment, Jen derived true empowerment from her indoor cycling sessions.  She regularly attended spinning classes, regardless of how she felt after chemotherapy treatments.  Cycling was the one thing that made her feel in control, alive, and enabled her to keep fighting against the disease.  She likened the hill segments of each spin session to a metaphor for her next battle.  Jen recalled, “I found the cycling program and many of the instructors so inspiring.  It may sound a bit extreme, but I believe that spinning saved my life.”  She vowed to do something not only to express her gratitude to both MSKCC and Equinox, but also to raise awareness and much-needed funds for those battling rare forms of cancer. 

A Worthy Cause

In 2006, after overcoming two relapses and once again entering a period of remission, Jen was determined to use her passion for spinning as a vehicle to raise money for sarcoma research.  Sarcoma fell into the category of rare cancers, often referred to as Orphan Cancers, which were comprised of hundreds of different cancers that affected millions of people.  These cancers were difficult to diagnose and deadly if treatment was delayed.  Together, Orphan Cancers represented 35% of all cancer deaths annually.  Due to their disperse nature, however, Orphan Cancers received less attention and funding than more common cancers.  Without well-researched treatment protocol, few therapeutic options existed beyond trial and error. 

Jen’s Cycle for Survival became the only national foundation or charity that directly benefitted rare forms of cancer.  The proceeds from Jen’s efforts helped underwrite clinical trials to study new chemotherapy regimens that may be more effective at shrinking tumors in patients with some forms of rare cancer.  One of her physicians at MSKCC, Dr. Robert Maki, a world-renowned expert in the field contended that “the standard drugs we have used for the first fifty years of the history of medical oncology are toxic and not always particularly effective.  By gaining a better understanding of the basic biology of these types of cancers, we hope to develop more precise treatments that focus on specific targets in the cancer cell.”<s