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Fitness Health + Wellness

Cycle for Survival: A Q&A with Kristen Soltesz

January 24, 2020

Cycle for Survival, a fundraiser dedicated to fighting cancer, hits Equinox in Bloomfield Hills on January 25th. One local mom reveals why she’ll be riding

Photos courtesy of Kristen Soltesz

By Arianna Endicott

On Saturday, January 25th, Kristen Soltesz will be riding a stationary bike at Equinox in Bloomfield Hills, but the Huron Township mom, who’s in her mid-30s, isn’t taking your average spin class: She’ll be biking with Cycle for Survival, a fundraiser dedicated to fighting rare cancers. Started in 2007 and run by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cycle for Survival, which hosts events across the country, is coming to Michigan for the first time this year. In the first three months of 2020, more than 37,500 riders and over 250,000 donors will participate.

Soltesz is the kind of person Cycle for Survival truly benefits — and not just because her ride will torch major calories. Last July, Soltesz was diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, a rare cancer of the head and neck. In October, she finished 33 rounds of radiation. SEEN caught up with her to talk about her diagnosis, how she’s able to stay positive and why she’s so excited to participate in this year’s Cycle for Survival event.

Kristen Soltesz

Introduce yourself: what do you want our readers to know? I am a mom of two little ones: a one-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. My husband and I live in Huron Township. I’ve always been a passionate person, and my passions have shifted from one thing to the next. I was a marathon runner and lived in New York City for a bit. Recently, my passion has shifted to surviving cancer. I am very passionate about my family; they’re the most important thing to me, so that’s why it’s so important to me to stay healthy and be here for a long time to be with them.

What type of cancer do you have? It’s Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma; it’s a head and neck cancer, specifically a salivary cancer.

How did you find out you were sick? I found a small lump behind my ear at the beginning of last year. I originally thought, and was told, it was a swollen lymph node. I was treated for that, and then I ended up going to see an ENT [Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist] and he thought it was my parotid gland. I ended up having a fairly deep tumor within my parotid gland.

Kristen Soltesz

What kind of treatments have you done, and how has it been going through them? Adenoid Cystic is diagnosed when you actually go in to have surgery, so they had done a biopsy, and it came back that it might be the possibility of cancer. In July, I had an eight-hour surgery, which confirmed that it was cancer. The first step was surgery, where they actually removed the entire gland along with the facial nerve, because the cancer had already spread to my facial nerve. That also included reanimation on my face, so that was step one. About 6 weeks after that, in September, I started 33 rounds of radiation. I finished that at the end of October, so now I’ve just kind of been healing.

On the 12th, I hit my 6 month mark since diagnosis, and this coming Friday [January 24] – the day before the event – I will go for my follow up MRI to hopefully confirm that the cancer is all gone, so I will get those results on the 27th. It’s all kind of perfect timing.

How do you balance everything throughout all of this? My support system is my family, and my husband has been wonderful. After surgery, it took quite a while to feel back to normal. I can call my in-laws, or my parents, or anyone in my family and they would be there to help me in a heartbeat. I’m lucky enough to work for a wonderful company, I work for General Motors, in Marketing specifically, and they kind of just let me do what I needed to do. I ended up working from home for a significant amount of time just so I could be at radiation and doctors’ appointments. The support system has been such a huge help to me.

On top of that, exercise has been the other part of it. I am an avid runner and indoor cyclist, so I do stay active all the time, and that has really kept me going. Exercise really does make a huge improvement in your life and cancer-wise, it’s the same story. My doctor basically gave me the go-ahead fairly soon after surgery, as long as I was feeling okay, to exercise, and I did and it really does help your body, your head, every single process.

How do you stay emotionally strong while going through all this? Just talking about it and being open with my husband. When I’m having a bad day, I’m making sure he knows, or if I can’t handle the kids at the moment. Asking for help is really key.

Kristen Soltesz

Why is it important for you to participate in Cycle for Survival? My husband actually found Cycle for Survival, and this particular event, maybe a week after my surgery, and it was just perfect. I’ve always said since the beginning of my diagnosis that this wouldn’t define me. A lot of people think that cancer is the end, but in all honesty, I’ve been telling myself that it’s really the beginning.

I really want to do anything that I can do to help fight this cancer. Rare cancers are not funded the same way that many others are, with research the backing and everything that goes into it. Cycle for Survival is the perfect opportunity for me and my family, especially since 100% of all donations go to rare cancer research, led by Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Is there anything else you want to add? The fact that 100% of the donations go to rare cancer research is so important. Rare cancer does not get the attention that it should. I think it’s like 50% of people diagnosed with cancer are actually diagnosed with a rare cancer, so I think just bringing the awareness to these different rare cancers is so important.

Cycle for Survival will be held Saturday, January 25, 10 a.m.—2 p.m. at Equinox Bloomfield Hills, 4065 W Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills. Although registration for this Saturday’s race has ended, anyone is welcome to attend the event in support of the participants. Donate to Kristen’s team here, or donate directly to the Cycle for Survival program. All donations go to funding for rare cancer research. Visit cycleforsurvival.org to learn more.

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