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A man's battle against bone cancer raises awarness of rare disease

Updated: Monday, March 3 2014, 11:45 PM CST

It started with mild back pain — a seemingly minor issue that David Munczinski chalked up to a recent hiking trip.


That was in the summer of 2011. Munczinski, then a 28-year-old
enrolled in business school at Wharton, expected the discomfort to
subside. But when the pain persisted for several weeks, he made an
appointment with a doctor. That visit led to an X-ray — and that test,
in turn, led to a shock.


The X-ray revealed a baseball-sized tumor near his left shoulder.
Munczinski was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer of the
bones that is most common in children.


“I felt like my blood went cold,” Munczinski recalled. “I started praying. I was so scared to tell my family and my girlfriend.”


By the time fall came, Munczinski had to take a leave of absence from
Wharton to undergo treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,
including six months of chemotherapy and radiation. He re-enrolled in
the spring after scans suggested he was cancer free.  But in January of
2013 the cancer came back, and he had to take a second leave of absence
from school. This time he underwent an open-chest surgery to remove the
cancer.


But treatment did not keep him down. Throughout his battle, he and
his girlfriend, Christina Tafaro, created a team to ride in Cycle for
Survival, an indoor team cycling event that raises money for rare cancer
research.


A “rare cancer” — like the sarcoma that changed Munczinski’s life —
is one that affects fewer than 200,000 individuals, although taken
together they account for half of cancers in the United States.
Currently, Cycle for Survival is the only fundraising event that raises
money solely for rare cancers, and 100 percent of the funds raised at
Cycle for Survival go directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
for rare cancer research.


This money is crucial to develop new treatments, said Dr. Richard
Carvajal, director of developmental therapeutics and a medical
oncologist at the New York City hospital.


“Funding for rare cancers is challenging these days,” Carvajal said.
“Cancers that are more prevalent tend to get a greater amount of
attention, whereas cancers that affect a fewer number of patients tend
to get less attention and funding.”


Since Cycle for Survival’s inception in 2007, the event has raised
over $49 million for rare cancer research and has contributed to 85
clinical trials and research studies. One such study is Carvajal’s
research on another rare cancer known as uveal melanoma, a rare melanoma
arising in the eye. The research eventually gave rise to the first
systemic therapy to treat advanced cases of this disease.


“We brought this therapy to patients, and this wouldn’t have been
possible without funding from Cycle [for Survival],” Carvajal said.


As for Munczinski, two weeks after recurrence was discovered and just
two days before his open-chest surgery, he asked Tafaro to marry him.
She said yes.


And just like the year before, Munczinski captained team Sayonara
Sarcoma in March 2013. The team raised over $20,000 in 2013 — bringing
the two-year total for the team to over $40,000.


This weekend, Munczinski plans to ride again in the eighth Cycle for
Survival. And this time, he will have something extra to celebrate.
Munczinski completed his second course of radiation and chemotherapy by
the summer of 2013. By January 2014, scans indicated that he was
cancer-free.


Now, after a long journey, Munczinski is focused on building a
software start-up in New York City, and planning his wedding to Tafaro
later this year.

A man's battle against bone cancer raises awarness of rare disease


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