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“A challenge for a challenge”: Meet the cyclists funding our secondary breast cancer research

Christine O’Connell set up the annual fundraising campaign One More City after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her teammates are now cycling to fund a four year PhD at The Institute of Cancer Research.


One More City Christine

Image: Christine O'Connell and One More City cycling team. Credit: Dan Glasser, @danglasser

The wheels were set in motion for a new PhD student to join our division of breast cancer research, when Christine – one of the voices of our recent kick-start fundraising appeal – last week embarked on a 750km cycle across England, along with 15 teammates.

The epic journey was a continuation of One More City’s inaugural cycling event, which sees riders move from city to city, starting where the previous year’s route finished, in order to reflect the ongoing challenge of living with secondary breast cancer.

All the teammates have their own reason for riding, and many have been personally touched by cancer.

Christine started the annual fundraiser in 2017 when she and four friends rode from London to Paris to raise money for breast cancer support services – something she had benefited from following her own diagnosis in 2012.

Just months after the cycle, Christine learned her cancer had returned and had spread to her brain and her bones.

“Giving patients a longer life”

One More City have since focused their efforts on funding innovative research into secondary breast cancer, most recently financing a PhD student at Imperial College London.

Christine said: “I’d always worried my cancer would come back, but I hadn’t really thought about how it would happen. It was hard to accept how one minute you were seemingly cancer-free, and the next you were facing an incurable disease that could progress at any stage.

Following her initial breast cancer diagnosis and successful treatment in 2012, Christine was shocked to discover that her cancer had spread to her brain in 2018. Thanks to palbociclib, Christine is now living well with cancer.

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“The more I learned about secondary breast cancer, the more I realised that this was where our fundraising should be going. In 20-30% of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, the disease later spreads to another part of the body – and my hope is that One More City will help find a way to give patients a longer life.”

This year, the riders are raising money to fund a new PhD which will be led by our scientists in collaboration with Imperial College London.

The aim is to create and develop new treatment options for secondary breast cancer patients by bringing together the best resources and innovative research methods of two of the UK’s leading cancer research centres.

Ground-breaking research requires outstanding researchers, and at the ICR we have an excellent track record in selecting and developing the very best young scientists who have gone on to make some of the most important discoveries in cancer research.

Scientists in our Division of Breast Cancer Research have been involved in some of the most famous discoveries in the history of breast cancer research.

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“The need for new drugs is greater than ever”

To fund the PhD, the One More City riders are hoping to raise an incredible total of £120,000 over the next four years. 

This ambitious fundraising target isn’t the only challenge this year’s team have had to tackle, however.

The outbreak of coronavirus meant that the original cycle from Strasbourg to Salzburg had to be postponed until 2021, and when Christine decided to organise a UK-based event instead, the changing restrictions put more than a few spokes in the wheel, with plans having to be altered up until the last minute to make sure the event stayed safe.

“We did consider cancelling it altogether at one point,” said Christine. “But, if anything, coronavirus actually made me more determined to do something. Like so many cancer patients, I had to shield when the UK first entered lockdown. It was really hard not being able to leave the house, but I was at least able to continue with my treatment as I’m not on traditional chemotherapy but rather the targeted drug palbociclib, and I know that hasn’t been the case for so many over the last few months.

“The backlog brought about by missed diagnoses and delays to treatment is just going to increase the burden on secondary cancer, and the need for new drugs is now greater than ever.” 

Help stop cancer patients being left behind.

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Christine is really excited by the collaboration between the ICR and Imperial College and hopes that the studentship will help to get the best possible drugs to patients as soon as is possible. 

She says: “By funding a PhD, we’re contributing more than just a piece of equipment – we’re helping to give someone a future and that someone will be a long-term asset in our mission to finish cancer.”


One More City and Rachael Natrajan

Image: Dr Rachael Natrajan and One More City cycling team. Credit: Dan Glasser, @danglasser

“We are hoping to find new ways to treat the disease”

Dr Rachael Natrajan, who heads the Breast Cancer Functional Genomics team at the ICR, was at the start line to see each group of riders off. 

She and her team are currently investigating how changes to genes help breast cancer spread and develop resistance to treatment, and she was able to help inspire the teams as they set off on their four day journey.

Rachael said: “Thanks to advances in research, more people with secondary breast cancer are now living longer, and better quality, lives. But the knowledge that cancer can develop resistance to treatment is a constant fear for many. By working to understand the molecular make-up of different subtypes of breast cancer, as well as the genetic diversity of cancer cells in breast tumours that are likely to spread and develop resistance, we are hoping to find new ways to treat the disease.

“We’re really excited to be partnering with One More City – and want to say a massive congratulations to Christine and the team for their epic fundraiser. With their support, we hope to be able to deliver new treatments for secondary breast cancer patients and give them the opportunity to live the lives they want.”

Christine said: “Our rides are a challenge for a challenge. Secondary cancer is unpredictable. It’s common for recurrent breast cancers to develop resistance to drugs, and this narrows down the treatment options that are available for patients. One More City might not have reached any new cities this year but, by partnering with the ICR, we’re funding innovative research, and that’s all that really matters.”

To find out more, visit the One More City website, and you can donate to the campaign here.

The ride was supported by cycling clothing brand Rapha. They produce the kit the One More City riders wear, and will make some of the kit available to purchase later this year in aid in the campaign.

How you can support our research

We are excited about our new partnership with Christine and the One More City team and the hope this brings to people living with breast cancer.  

As well as being a world-leading research institute we are a charity, and we rely on the support of partners, Trusts and Foundations, and individuals to fund our work.

If you would like to get involved and support our cancer research contact Nicola Shaw in the Development Office: [email protected]

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