Finding cures for children's genetic diseases


Great Cycle Challenge changing lives

The Great Cycle Challenge may be a big test of strength, endurance and resilience for your average bike rider – but it’s nothing like the challenge that kids with cancer like four-year-old Sophie face every day of their little lives.

Every October, tens of thousands of Australians take to their bikes to raise money for the ground-breaking cancer research being done in the labs at Children’s Medical Research Institute. In the eight years since the challenge started, the riders have raised more than $20 million.

Everyone knows someone with cancer and as Sophie’s mum Amanda Wigman knows too well, “this could happen to anyone – it’s a club that no one wants to be in’’.

Back in March when the world was focused on a new pandemic, Amanda was keenly aware that her beautiful little girl was not herself. She experienced several days of high temperatures and being lethargic. A GP recommended Amanda take Sophie to emergency. She arrived at lunch time and had been diagnosed with cancer the next day.

“The doctor sat down on the bed next to me and gently put his hand on my leg,’’ Amanda said. “That was the moment I knew it wasn’t going to be a standard ‘it’s the flu’ kind of response.

“He said that her blood count is extremely low which falls in line with leukemia. He said there is a glimmer of hope it could just be an infection but it’s unlikely. I started shaking.’’

Sophie was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, but her body was also going into septic shock.
“I remember thinking she’s going to die right here, and I couldn’t hug her or touch her. She had just shut off from us, she was feeling so sick. She pulled the blanket over her head and would not even look at us.’’

It was a familiar feeling for Amanda. She had fought Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a teenager. She had also lost her mother to cancer.

In the month since diagnosis, she has had multiple bone marrow transplants, lumbar punctures, blood transfusion and been on chemotherapy which will continue for some time.

“I understand exactly how she feels. Because I was a teenager, I remember it all. It’s very hard for people to understand, unless you’ve gone through it yourself and even then – being a parent watching your child go through it, you would do anything to change that.

“If one day there was just one pill and you’re done – how incredible would that be instead of this medication that makes you worse? That’s why fundraising for research is so important. This could happen to anyone. It’s a club that no one wants to be in.’’

Children’s Medical Research Institute’s scientist Dr Tony Cesare studies the causes of cancer from the time that our cells are forming. His lab, and many others at CMRI, are trying to stop cancer in its tracks from the very beginning of life.

He thanked all those who have taken part in Great Cycle Challenge from its inception to today.
“I am enormously thankful for the community fundraising efforts in Australia,’’ Dr Cesare said.
“Every advance in cancer treatment started as a new research project which required funding to make the discoveries that unlocked a medical breakthrough.

“Community efforts, like the Great Cycle Challenge, have provided my laboratory with essential funding for new cutting-edge projects. Without community funding, I worry the well of new ideas can run dry and sacrifice the potential of improved treatments for our older selves and our children. The positive impact of community efforts inspires our work and gives hope to cancer patients.’’

The Great Cycle Challenge can be done anywhere, anytime throughout October! You can hit the road or do it inside on a fixed bike. You choose how many kilometres you want to aim to ride and how much money you’d like to raise – then you just ask your friends to sponsor you.

Learn more and register here: