Dave Mittelman spent 28 consecutive summers training and participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) bike-a-thon. As the co-founder of an ever-growing group of family and friends on Team Lizard, he rode in support of research and care at Dana-Farber until the very thing he was pedaling to stop—cancer—made the task impossible.
What the disease didn’t halt, however, was Team Lizard’s determination. After Mittelman died in May 2017 from brain cancer at age 62, the team—which includes his wife, Michele, a 21-year PMC veteran—took part in the 2017 PMC just a few months later. Come Aug. 4 and 5, Team Lizard will be at it again, riding to honor Dave and the many other close friends and family members who have dealt with cancer.
“Dave is still riding with us, and he always will be,” says Michele Mittelman. “The PMC has been great for us in so many ways: It’s about teamwork, love, health, hope, and being part of something greater than yourself. The ride takes on new meaning each year, but at our core we ride because we believe in a future without cancer.”
Michele says her and Dave’s children, Andy, Jamie and Melissa, began fundraising for the PMC when the kids were far too young to ride. She helped them run a lemonade stand on their street during the summers to fight the disease that had already claimed several close family members.
“Then Dave and I decided we wanted to ride together, hoping that one day it would become a family affair,” explains Michele Mittelman. “It took a couple years, but we got there.”
Now adults, their children have volunteered, ridden, and fundraised for the PMC for a combined 58 years. Their dad’s passing has only strengthened their passion and commitment.
Long before cancer impacted their family, Dave and Michele were committed to supporting research and patient care beyond their PMC fundraising. Since 2001, the family has established fellowships at Dana-Farber in clinical nursing education, integrative oncology, medical oncology, and research. Dave Mittelman was a Dana-Farber Trustee in 2004-05, and there are two endowments and three current-use funds that were created by the family, including support for the Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services at Dana-Farber.
Michele credits Team Lizard, which Dave started with his friends Mike Lorig and Greg Shoukimas, for getting her family through its darkest days. The trio’s PMC history extends back to 1989, when they first completed the ride together. They formed Team Lizard a few years later, and today its nearly 30 members include Michele, the three Mittelman children, and spouses, nieces, nephews, and close friends.
“It is an honor to ride, not only in David’s memory, but also on behalf of all the patients for whom I’ve had the privilege to care,” says Donna Berry, PhD, RN, director of the Cantor Center and a five-year Team Lizard rider.
All told, more than 700 teams are participating in the 2018 PMC. With more than 6,000 cyclists traveling up to 192 miles on 12 different routes, the event has grown into the largest athletic fundraiser in the country.
The PMC made a gift of $51 million to Dana-Farber in 2017, bringing its cumulative total to $598 million since the bike-a-thon’s 1980 inception. Dana-Farber staff are among those riding or serving as one of the event’s 4,000-plus volunteers, and more than 850 riders or volunteers are active cancer patients or survivors.
This year’s ride in many ways will be bittersweet again for the Mittelmans and all of Team Lizard, but it will also still be fun —and very powerful.