Research drives Dublin's Gina Sizemore to Pelotonia goals

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
Gina Sizemore and her husband, Steven, pictured with their 5 year-old daughter, Gabriella, are assistant professors in the department of radiation oncology at the Ohio State University's James Cancer Center and Solove Research. She has has participated in numerous events raising money for cancer research, including Pelotonia. Doing so, she said, helps remind her about the reality of the disease and why what she does every day is so important.

As an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology at the Ohio State University's James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute, thinking about cancer is part of Gina Sizemore's job.

The 38-year-old Dublin resident said she and other researchers have to distance themselves from the emotional part of the disease to carry out their work.

But that distance isn't absolute.

She said it's important to bring herself back to realizing the devastation cancer can cause.

That's why, since starting research in the field in 2003, Sizemore has participated in events raising money for cancer research.

Doing so, she said, helps remind her about the reality of the disease and why doing what she does every day is so important.

"I take that very seriously," she said.

One such event is Pelotonia, the annual central Ohio charity bicycle tour.

She participated in the 2013 ride, took a hiatus after the birth of her first daughter, Gabriella, who now is 5 years old, and cycled again in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Sizemore is participating again this year, but her experience will be a bit different.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a desire to keep participants, volunteers and supporters safe, Pelotonia in May canceled its annual weekend ride and in-person events, which were slated Friday to Sunday, Aug. 7 to 9.

But a reimagined 2020 Pelotonia has been rolling on virtually, with participants setting their own fundraising and activity goals and tracking them through mypelotonia.org to continue the mission of supporting cancer research at the James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute.

This year's format includes a unifying event in the spirit of Pelotonia's traditional opening ceremony: a special broadcast called Legends LIVE! that will be streamed on pelotonia.org/rise, Facebook (facebook.com/pelotonia) and YouTube (youtube.com/ridepelotonia) from 7 to 8 p.m. Aug. 7.

"As we've had to pivot away from our traditional mass physical gathering this year, our priority has been to create new opportunities for our community to engage and continue to raise critical funds for cancer research," said Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia. "The My Pelotonia platform and upcoming Legends LIVE! broadcast on Friday, Aug. 7, allow anyone, anywhere to play an important role in Pelotonia's mission this year.

"Legends LIVE! will be a celebration of what we've accomplished so far and the important work still to come -- featuring moving and uplifting stories of survival, research successes, musical performances and many special guests."

Even though Sizemore can't ride with others this year, she said, she has set goals as a way to participate virtually in Pelotonia.

Sizemore is committing to at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Her other Pelotonia goals have less to do with physical exertion and more with mental prowess.

She said she wants to submit at least three grant applications and one manuscript by the end of the fall.

She already has submitted one of the grant applications -- to research cancer metastasizing to the brain -- and wants to get one of two manuscripts she's working on published.

An interest in science led Sizemore on the path she treads now.

She worked as an undergraduate in a breast-cancer-research lab. Now she focuses on metastatic breast cancer, particularly when cancer spreads from the breast to the brain.

Funds from Pelotonia are helping Sizemore learn more about how cancer grows in the body.

In 2019, Sizemore and co-researcher Jonathan Song received funding in the form of a Pelotonia "idea award" to research how blood vessels affect cancer progression.

And at the beginning of July, Sizemore learned she received another idea award to look into a factor that she thinks promotes breast cancer's spread to the brain.

But if Sizemore ever feels overwhelmed by her research, she doesn't have to look beyond her household to find someone who can empathize.

Her husband, Steven, also is an assistant professor in the same department as Sizemore. The two met in graduate school and have daughters Gabriella and 4-month-old Juliana.

Sizemore said because she and her husband are in the same field, they can help each other a great deal.

Steven Sizemore said he and his wife appreciate the time, dedication and sacrifice required to succeed as cancer researchers and biomedical faculty.

"This provides a level of respect and understanding for each other s career, which would be difficult to achieve if we had dissimilar occupations," he said. "We also have very complementary skill sets, allowing us to collaborate and be more successful together than we could be alone."

Whereas the Sizemores share a career, they also share an appreciation for Pelotonia.

This will be the third year the couple will participate in Pelotonia, Steve Sizemore said.

"I think for many of the researchers and clinicians in the cancer community, Pelotonia is a time for us to recharge our enthusiasm for our work," he said. "For researchers especially, it offers a tangible visual of the many people counting on us to make progress against this horrible disease."

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah