When Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his mother, Lydia, to colon cancer in 2009, he was distraught to learn from her doctors that she could have prevented the disease through screening or perhaps survived it by seeking help earlier. Instead, she waited a year after having symptoms before seeing a doctor. By then, her disease had advanced to stage IV.
“It all starts with awareness and prevention,” he says, noting that standard medical advice is to have a colonoscopy at age 50. “If you have regular testing, like a colonoscopy, you can catch cancer in stage I or II. If you get the right care, you can overcome it. My mom, who was a nurse, was at stage IV because she missed that colonoscopy. She was 53.”
Soon after his mother passed away, Ryan and his wife, Beccy, residents of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, established Racing for Cancer, a nonprofit organization focusing on education, prevention and detection.
“The first step is being proactive,” Mr. Hunter-Reay says. “People make time to get their cars serviced, and they should also get their doctor appointments.”
Recently, Racing for Cancer joined with AutoNation, America’s largest automotive retailer, in making a $2.5 million gift to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s new Maroone Cancer Center.
Both organizations initially gave $1 million; however, AutoNation then pledged another $500,000 – amounting to $1,000 for each lap that Mr. Hunter-Reay made in winning the Indianapolis 500 in May 2014.
“The real reason for our support is that Cleveland Clinic Florida has all of the services under one roof,” Mr. Hunter-Reay says. “That was a big challenge with my mom. It essentially was a black hole for us because we had no idea where to go or who to talk to. We drove all over south Florida for her chemotherapy and other care. Cleveland Clinic would have solved that problem because their specialists are all within the same facility.”
In addition, he says, “The Maroone Cancer Center is a brand-new, world-class facility with the latest and greatest technology, and the design is really based around the comfort of the patient.”
He lauds Maroone Cancer Center Director Steven Roshon, MD, for his role in planning the center and Cleveland Clinic Florida Capital Campaign Co-Chair Mike Maroone, who “really looks after the community. When he told me about the plans for the center, I thought that any project Mike Maroone is high on, I want to get on board. We haven’t looked back.”
The lobby of the new Egil and Pauline Braathen Center has been named in honor of Mr. Hunter-Reay’s mother.
“I think that when she passed away, I knew that one day, I wanted something named after her,” he says.
“This is the perfect way to do it. Her name is the first thing that greets you when you enter this beautiful building, and it really hits home for me because the system that Cleveland Clinic Florida put into place fixes so many of the issues she went through. Having her name there is not just a stamp. There is so much more that goes into it, and that’s what I’m proud of.”