How One Cyclist Seeks Adventure in the Face of Cancer
In the middle of winter in Ellicottville, NY, Jane Eshbaugh wakes at the crack of dawn. After a morning cup of coffee, she makes her way to Holiday Valley Ski Resort where she begins her ascent to the top of a nearby slope. At the peak, she’ll pause to take note of the temperature and surrounding conditions to later compile and share in a detailed ski report. In the meantime, she straps on her skis and carves her way down the slope through freshly fallen snow, a smile on her lips.
This daily routine is one of joy for Jane, and one that’s been a near constant in her life for more than four decades.
She’s built her life around skiing and the outdoors, from her career as Holiday Valley’s marketing director to countless ski trips and her marriage to Holiday Valley President and General Manager Dennis Eshbaugh. The couple has two daughters, Kate and Maggie, who both have thriving careers in the ski industry and a deep appreciation for adventure, just like their mom.
“Jane has given our kids the ability to see the world in a bigger manner, to enjoy every experience for the moment, to never lose track of the importance of making the best of what you have in front of you and appreciating what you have,” Dennis says.
Though Jane’s now (semi) retired from her 41-year career as Holiday Valley’s marketing director, she still embraces the ski lifestyle and stays involved in day-to-day operations. When the weather warms up and ski season ends, Jane finds other ways to get active outdoors, including biking, sailing, swimming and running. She’s participated in the Ride for Roswell for close to 20 years and the Empire State Ride, a seven-day adventure across New York State, for almost four years.
For Jane, it all comes down to the wind on her face. There’s just something about that feeling.
“Feeling the wind in my face is a little bit of a theme in my life. I definitely get it when I’m riding or skiing or hiking or doing anything outside. It’s just such a feeling of freedom. The wind in my face represents health, happiness and freedom,” Jane says.
That’s a feeling that Jane continues to chase, even in the face of some of life’s biggest challenges, including the biggest one she’s faced yet.
Jane’s Cancer Diagnosis
One year ago, Jane was training to ride her bike across the U.S. with her friend and fellow ESR rider, Bonnie. But Jane felt off during training. She made an appointment with her doctor and went through an ultrasound and other testing to pinpoint the issue. In early April, Jane received devastating news: She has stage IV pancreatic cancer.
In the wake of Jane’s diagnosis, her family rallied around her, each one taking on a different supporting role.
“When you first hear those words that someone you love has a tumor, has cancer, there is a numbness that overcomes you. There’s a disconnect and potential for despair,” Dennis says. “But very quickly, you make a decision that there’s a job to be done. And I think it is remarkable what we’ve been able to do as a family.”
Their daughter, Kate, became the investigator, diving into Jane’s treatment and prognosis to fully understand Jane’s options. Maggie became the “soul” of the family, nourishing and supporting her loved ones, and Dennis became the facilitator, the one who saw to it that everything that needed to be done got done
That freed up Jane to focus on what matters most: fighting for her life.
Jane’s Journey with Pancreatic Cancer
Jane’s advanced staging made her ineligible for surgery. With guidance from her family and her doctors at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, she decided on an aggressive treatment plan that included chemotherapy. She also had genetic testing of her genes and genetic testing of her tumor, the latter of which showed that she had two actionable mutations that qualified her for immunotherapy.
Once Jane finished chemotherapy, she transitioned to immunotherapy treatments every three weeks. The difference between the two courses of treatment felt like night and day. With immunotherapy, Jane says she feels healthier and stronger overall compared to the highs and lows that come with chemotherapy. She’s able to do the activities that she loves, like training for this year’s Empire State Ride.
“Roswell Park to me means hope,” Jane says. “When I go there, a guy is playing the piano or the accordion or the guitar. People walk in, and they’re scared a lot of times when they come through the door. But then you see them realizing that this place is helping us to get better, especially when you hear them ring the bell.”
According to Dennis, Jane undertook her cancer diagnosis with determination, optimism and a strong will. She’s focused on always having a positive attitude, making the best of life at every step, despite the challenges.
“I have not cried ever since my diagnosis. I didn’t even cry when the doctor told me that I had cancer or when I told Dennis or my kids,” Jane says. “But I’m going to cry when I ring that Victory Bell.”
Setting an Example for Her Kids
When Jane’s mother was battling breast cancer, Jane said she didn’t dwell on her pain but instead focused on being the best she could be. As Jane goes through her own treatment, she’s trying to emulate that mindset and pass it on to her own daughters. Her daughter, Kate, has this message for her mom:
Fundraising to End Cancer
Jane is committed to riding in the Empire State Ride again this year, along with her husband Dennis and a crew of others on Team Holiday Valley. She’s excited for July and says she’s feeling great — so much so that she’s planning to ride the whole week. Last year, during chemotherapy treatments, she tag-teamed the adventure. Dennis drove the van while she rode, and they switched back and forth.
Since Jane’s diagnosis, her team has almost tripled in size, and team donations have continued to roll in. Jane is passionate about continuing to fundraise for cancer research so that one day there will be a cure for pancreatic cancer — and for the countless other types of cancer out there.
“To end cancer is optimistic but doable. And every day, we get closer. One day it’s going to happen. Empire State Ride is one of those things that are going to help find that end to cancer.”
Until that day, Jane plans to continue living in the moment and making the most of every adventure.
“Being on my bike and doing the things I love to do, that’s who I am. And cancer doesn’t get to take that away from me,” she says.