Who is Riding: Linda Sorkin, PhD
Having recently participated in San Diego’s inaugural Pedal the Cause, Linda Sorkin was given the privilege of wearing the orange survivor helmet event-weekend alongside other cancer survivors. Linda was diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia ) in the early 80’s when treatment for this cancer was still in its beginning stages.
At that time, Linda was finishing graduate school at the University of Michigan when she was treated with an experimental SWOG protocol. That first year, Linda underwent 7 courses of chemotherapy. She was the first person on the new protocol at this particular test site. There was a 15%, 5-year survival rate with the new protocol. With the previous protocol, it was zero. Linda stayed positive and in between chemotherapy treatments, she wrote and defended her PhD thesis!
Linda is forever grateful to the people who developed the new protocol that saved her life and countless other lives affected by this form of cancer.
Over the years, more people in Linda’s life have been touched by cancer as well. She lost several loved ones while several more received treatment and won, including her husband who had colon cancer 11 years ago. He fought it, and is doing great today.
Then just a few days before Linda saw the Pedal the Cause announcement she found out her older brother, who has had lung cancer, had a new tumor.
When Linda reflects back on her experience with Pedal the Cause, Linda says her most memorable moments for her were at the start of the ride that early foggy morning in San Diego. “Being with a group of people with a common purpose and listening to the speakers, in particular the brother of Duane Roth and the young woman who is a school teacher who is still fighting cancer. Her words made me cry, both for her courage and for the style in which she is determined to live her life. I remember my own struggle,” says Linda. “Treatment and attitudes towards the disease and the people who get it have changed remarkably in the last 30 years.”
Linda went on to have a great experience at Pedal the Cause. She trained with friends, except for one ride, so she did not have much exposure to the group before the actual ride. “In retrospect this was probably a mistake,” said Linda. “Everyone I met while biking and while in Julian were so great and supportive.”
By the time Linda reached Dudley’s she was pretty tired but a much more experienced rider rode with her. He made it his mission to talk her and another woman up the hill. “Even if I could have made it without him, it would not have been nearly that easy or pleasurable. It really made me feel that this was a group effort, and the goal was to get everyone who could, to reach goal,” said Linda.
This entire experience has changed Linda in many ways. “It taught me that people are much more important than fame or traditional markers of success and it also has taught me to value quality of life more than life itself,” said Linda.
In that sense, she has the perfect job. As a professor of anesthesiology at UCSD while examining mechanisms of pain, she has collaborated with Alice Yu in Oncology to help develop the standard of care for treating the pain arising from an immunotherapy, which was developed to treat severe pediatric neuroblastoma. “I don’t extend anyone’s life, but my work helps to improve the life that they have,” says Linda.