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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Student Activist Spotlight: Perry Zimmerman ‘23 has raised millions toward a cancer-free future

Perry Zimmerman ’23 works with Cycle for Survival to benefit rare cancer research. (Photo courtesy of Perry Zimmerman ’23)

Not many people can say that they’ve raised over four million dollars for rare cancer research or that they’ve survived cancer four times. Perry Zimmerman ‘23 has done both.

The most recent addition to her donation was raised on April 23 when Zimmerman brought her Cycling for Survival fundraiser, a biking event that raises money for cancer research, to Lafayette.

“It’s definitely a little weird,” Zimmerman said of her experiences with cancer. “I’m definitely not normal in that sense. I keep it on the down-low, but when it comes out I get really excited and passionate about it.”

“[Activism] gives you a purpose in life and kind of keeps you going,” she continued. “Rare cancer has affected my whole life so I want to help people who the treatments have failed. It keeps me going.”

Zimmerman was diagnosed with genetic retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, before she was born. At the age of two, doctors discovered she had a brain tumor. After this was treated, she was then cancer-free until age 11 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in her leg and again at 18 in her shoulder. Additionally, she had surgery to remove a tumor that was thought to be benign in her thyroid but was actually cancerous. 

“I say I’m a four and a half time cancer survivor because I don’t really count my thyroid as a cancer, but it was a cancer,” Zimmerman explained.

Over 21 years, she has undergone several surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Her experiences have ultimately inspired her to give back. 

“I think just going through it at various points of my life has let me see different angles of what pediatric cancer patients go through every day,” Zimmerman said. “Now that I’m older and can remember and comprehend more of it, I’m like, ‘Oh wow, this really did suck. How can I make it easier on the next generation and when will there not be a next generation that I have to worry about?’”

Zimmerman participated in her first Cycle for Survival in February 2009. 

“My mom’s an avid bike rider, and she was the one who found out about [Cycle for Survival],” Zimmerman said. “My mom saw a flyer for it at her gym and she was like, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’”

The message of Cycle for Survival resonated with Zimmerman. She has participated every year since and has raised over four million dollars.

“Jennifer Goodman Linn, the founder of Cycle for Survival who has since passed, always said her goal was to be able to shut Cycle for Survival down because we don’t need it anymore. That mindset has kept me involved, and every year I hope we’re getting closer to that day,” Zimmerman wrote in an email.

“I hope Cycle for Survival funds enough research to find treatments for some of the tougher cancers to finally put an end to deaths from cancer. It’s all about finding these easier treatments, and it’s not over until we do,” Zimmerman continued.

“This year I was finally able to pull it together,” Zimmerman said. “It was a long road, but we finally got here and I was really happy with it.”

The cyclist surpassed her fundraising goal of $5,000 by raising over $14,000 for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, a cancer treatment and research center in Manhattan, in addition to the $81,000 she has already raised this year. 

“It was really exciting and heartwarming to see people kind of rallying behind it,” she said. “It just made it that much more powerful to have people behind it.”

Zimmerman believes that anyone can become involved in activism if they discover their passion and run with it. 

“You need to find a problem and then figure out how to attack it. For me, through Cycle for Survival, I was handed my ‘why’ and, in a way, I was handed my ‘how,’ so bringing it to Lafayette this year was amazing,” Zimmerman wrote. “There are also so many opportunities for activism on campus through clubs, so just find the issue and figure out how to target it.”

Zimmerman is still accepting donations, which can be made through her team page on the Cycle for Survival website

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About the Contributor
Isabella Gaglione
Isabella Gaglione, Culture Editor
Isabella Gaglione (she/her) is a junior English and Film & Media Studies double major from Long Island, New York. The Lafayette's resident Taylor Swift Reporter. 

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  • K

    Kate EganMay 13, 2023 at 9:53 pm

    Way to go, Perry! You are a true inspiration to everyone.