July 28, 2021

Princeton Cardiologist Will Cycle To Help Fund Cures for Cancer

READY TO RIDE: More than 230 Bristol Myers Squibb employees will cycle in sections of Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer, a cross-country trip to raise money for cancer research.

By Anne Levin

Dr. Shalabh Singhal has another six weeks to get ready to ride his bike the 72 miles from Billings, Montana to Sioux Falls, S.D. As part of an effort to raise $1 million for cancer research, the Princeton cardiologist, who is 45, is in intensive training mode, rising at 4 a.m. every third day to put in four hours on the bike.

Like most of the more than 230 employees of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) who are taking part in the annual fundraiser Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer, Singhal has a personal connection to the disease. His 34-year-old cousin died of acute myeloid leukemia, leaving behind his wife, a 1-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

Singhal and his wife, oncologist Shivani Srivstava, were living and practicing in Indianapolis at the time. They were among those treating his cousin as he fought and ultimately lost his battle with the disease.

“It was just a few days after his son was born that he was diagnosed,” Singhal said. “He had a fever that wouldn’t get done. We were part of a health care team — a support group by night and bearer of bad news by day. We did all that we could, but he passed away within a year of diagnosis. I don’t think he was able to hold his son, properly like a father should, because he had all kinds of immune reactions. It really left a mark.”

The death of his cousin was one reason Singhal and Srivstava wanted to be more actively involved in medical research. “We realized how few tools we had to improve the lives of patients,” Singhal said. “We could postpone the inevitable by a few months, but that was all. We wanted to improve that.”

In 2013, they moved to Princeton to work at BMS. Singhal is currently executive director, development program lead for the company; Srivastava is executive director, clinical program lead, oncology.

The annual Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer involves BMS employees who have committed themselves to five months of extensive training for the cross-country trek, which begins September 8 in Cannon Beach, Ore., and ends October 1 at BMS headquarters in Princeton following a stop in Long Branch.

Singhal was aware of the ride, but didn’t consider taking part until COVID turned his regular routine upside down. “I never thought I’d have the physical and
mental strength to do it,” he said. “But in the COVID world, I think I needed some kind of reprieve. I had a lot of down time, and I wanted to do something different. The ride was perfect for me. Also, I hadn’t really dealt with my cousin’s death. So I’m doing it to honor his memory.”

Athletics had never been a big part of Singhal’s life. “I’m a middle-aged man with two sons in middle school, and I drive them to school — that’s my exercise,” he said with a laugh. “But I had a lot of down time during COVID. I began training in February, when I could only ride five miles a day. Now I’m doing 75 miles every third day. My goal is to do 75 four days in a row.”

BMS provides a personal coach to get riders ready. “He beats me up,” Singhal said. “It’s not just the stamina. It’s the way you hold the handle bars, your posture, hydration, nutrition, how to ride up and down a hill — all of that came into it. It’s about how to do it safely, and then we build up mileage. It takes a lot. The hardest part of the journey is not the physical part. It’s the getting up and keeping going.”

There are eight BMS teams of 10 riders each. Each participant does about 75 miles a day, over three days. Since 2014, more than 530 BMS employees have raised more than $7.15 million for cancer research through the rides, specifically for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Eighteen teams are doing this year’s ride.

Since last year’s events were postponed due to the pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 teams will ride concurrently — one on a northern route, the other on a southern route. All will meet in Long Branch at the end. BMS will match money raised, dollar-for-dollar, up to a $500,000 maximum donation.

Singhal is planning to keep cycling once the ride is finished. “It’s addictive,” he said. “You meet people. It’s a community. Everyone waves to you. And the cycle shops in Princeton are amazing. It’s a world you become part of.”

To contribute to the ride, visit cancerbikeride.org.