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Full circle moments: Why first-time ESR rider Fred McKenna rides to end cancer

Fred's Why for Riding

There are moments in life when you look back and realize how all your life experiences connect — whether it’s destiny, divinity or mere coincidence. First-time Empire State Rider Fred McKenna reflects on this idea as he sits down at his computer in his home office in Oakdale, NY. Donning black-rimmed glasses and a blue-and-white polo, he shares his why for participating in Empire State Ride and fundraising for cancer research — something Fred says is akin to common sense.

“It’s just the right thing to do if you have the means and the opportunity, and you can do it,” Fred says. “If you can’t do what I do and ride and raise that much because physically or financially you can’t, then contribute in some way.”

For Fred, 74, a prostate cancer survivor, former science teacher and retired entrepreneur, riding in Empire State Ride means more than just the adventure. He remembers the days when he’d coach his daughter Aileen’s soccer team, doing his best to instill in her important life skills.

“My dad was my coach from a very young age all the way through until I was ready to go off to college,” says Aileen. “He was a great coach. He loved the game and loved seeing us succeed — but he also felt very strongly that playing soccer wasn’t just about playing soccer. It was about learning, about commitment and teamwork and the value of hard work.

In recent years, Fred and Aileen discovered that the son of a fellow soccer coach went on to become a leading researcher in the field of CAR T-Cell Therapy. Up until a few years ago, this fact may not have given them pause. Today, however, it connects to their lives in a significant way.

A Christmas picture of the McKenna family was just after Aileen got the CAR T treatment

“It's just the right thing to do if you have the means and the opportunity, and you can do it. If you can't do what I do and ride and raise that much because physically or financially you can't, then contribute in some way.”

Photo of Aileen getting her head shaved
Photo of Aileen getting her head shaved

Navigating His Daughter’s Cancer Diagnosis

In October 2021, Aileen, 38 at the time, started to cough and feel under the weather. The cough lingered for more than a month, and she became extremely out of breath and fatigued. At Thanksgiving, family members encouraged her to see a doctor. She soon visited a walk-in clinic where she received a chest X-ray. That scan revealed the first sign of serious trouble (and every parent’s worst nightmare): a mass in the center of Aileen’s chest.

Aileen’s physicians moved quickly, referring her first for a CT scan. Over the next month, she bounced between a local medical facility and her primary care physician, working with a thoracic surgeon, cardiologist and oncologist to determine her diagnosis.

On January 6, 2022, after a month of tests and uncertainty, the diagnosis finally came back: Aileen had lymphoma, later determined to be diffuse large b-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer was aggressive but actionable, and Aileen, with the support of her dad and mom, immediately took the first step.

The next day, Aileen started her first of six chemotherapy treatments spanning four months. She received each dose within a five-day span, then three weeks of recovery in between treatments. At the end of chemotherapy, the tumor in her chest shrunk but didn’t go away.

Navigating CAR T-Cell Therapy

The next step in Aileen’s treatment involved CAR T-Cell Therapy, one of the first FDA-approved cellular therapies to incorporate adoptive cell transfer. This innovative treatment option was pioneered by Renier Brentjens, MD, PhD, Deputy Director at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and only recently moved up as a second-line treatment option by Aileen’s insurance. Months earlier, she may have needed more chemotherapy.

On November 14, Aileen went back to a New York City based hospital to begin her therapy — starting with having T-cells removed from her blood and sent to a laboratory. There, a gene was inserted to help them hunt down cancer cells and launch an attack. The stronger cells were multiplied and returned to Aileen through an infusion. This allowed Aileen’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells. There were side effects, of course, but Aileen said their duration was much shorter than what she experienced during chemotherapy.

Fifteen days later, Aileen was released from the hospital. On January 6, 2023, one year to the date of her diagnosis, she was officially declared no evidence of disease.

Reflecting on this moment, Aileen thinks back to her soccer days. “I learned a lot of lessons in soccer that I think really paid off when it came time to surviving cancer and going through treatment — a lot about persistence. I learned that you can do hard things and that you can be in a lot of pain and keep going. All those things were weirdly valuable lessons that came out of soccer that had nothing to do with winning games or being a champion athlete. Flash forward, all these experiences kind of connected.”

Aileen with shaved head during treatment

"I learned that you can do hard things and that you can be in a lot of pain and keep going. "

Life After Cancer

A cancer diagnosis often affects more than just the patient. “Cancer didn’t only happen to me,” Aileen says. “It happened to everyone around me. Everybody reacts to that kind of fear and frustration and helplessness very differently. Both of my parents provided an immense amount of care.”

For Fred, the fear and uncertainty of watching his daughter go through treatment led to action. Cycling, a long-time passion of his, seemed like a logical way to make a difference on the future of cancer care.

“There’s never going to be a time when my daughter doesn’t think about cancer. It’s just in no way possible. How could you go through what she went through and not be concerned every time you get a call or you’re sick or you’re coughing too much? In the back of your head, you’re thinking, what do I have?”

Fred's bike club

Why Fundraising for Empire State Ride Matters

As Fred prepares to ride his bike across New York State, his cancer connection and drive to move the research forward is deepened by the knowledge that funds from Empire State Ride benefit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, a national leader in cell therapy research. While researching the event, Fred also learned that Roswell Park developed an innovative brain cancer vaccine, SurVaxM, that is making strides in treating glioblastoma patients. Fred’s nephew passed away from brain cancer a few years ago. He was only 22.

“I think that the stuff around glioblastomas is so groundbreaking and tremendous,” Fred says. “It is a death sentence, and here they are, beginning to have some impact on it.”

Advances in critical areas where little is known about less common, aggressive and complex cancers depend on research — and research is funded through donor dollars like those raised through Empire State Ride.

Looking Ahead to the 500+ Mile Adventure

Thinking back on his daughter’s cancer journey, the loss of his nephew and his own battles with prostate cancer that was treated and cured with bracytherapy, Fred has confidence that his fundraising efforts through Empire State Ride will bring more effective, less invasive ways to treat all types of cancers — and hope to patients everywhere, including Aileen.

“Cancer comes in many forms and shows up in many, many different ways. I don’t know if we’re ever going to totally cure it, but maybe we could develop treatments, even for chronic types of cancers, where we can keep people alive, allowing them to live normal lives,” Fred says.

Until that day, Fred plans to keep going and keep riding, enjoying every moment with Aileen along the way.

 

 

Picture of Fred with his wife and daughter Aileen.

"I don’t know if we’re ever going to totally cure it, but maybe we could develop treatments, even for chronic types of cancers, where we can keep people alive, allowing them to live normal lives."

To date, Fred has raised more than $16,000 for the cause.


Join Fred on the road today.

2023 Empire State Ride Raises $2 Million for Cancer Research

From July 22 to July 29, 2023, 276 cyclists embarked on the journey of a lifetime across New York State. Together, they raised $2 million for cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. That’s a new fundraising record for the Empire State Ride, since the event began back in 2014.

Watch the 2023 Wrap Video!

The Journey

During the 500+ mile adventure, starting in New York City and ending in Niagara Falls, riders passed through 76 villages, towns and cities. They conquered countless obstacles, from heat and hills to storms and distance.

Riders came from 26 states (including Alaska) and the U.S. Virgin Islands with one common goal. They created unique bonds by sharing their stories and their why for taking part in #ESR23.

Every night, through evening programming, Empire State Ride road warriors learned more about the mission to end cancer and how their fundraising dollars are being put to work right now.

Want to revisit some of the best moments from your weeklong adventure? Check out the Empire State Ride Flickr album, with photos from each day.

This is an image of an Empire State Ride road warrior cycling past the American flag

“This week was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had … I rode for my dad, and seeing him and my family at the finish line made all the struggles so worthwhile. I made amazing friends and got to see so much of this incredible state.”

“That's why I really wanted to do this ride, because I wanted to do something monumental that says, ‘I got cancer, and it's not going to stop me.’ It hasn't stopped me."

“Empire State Ride means coming together once a year with a family that will continue to grow and that will raise what we need to raise to keep more research going … I encourage everybody to do at least one day of the Empire State Ride. One day can change your life.”

Join the Adventure

Be the first to know when registration opens for #ESR24 by joining our mailing list.

We look forward to seeing you on the road next summer for the 10th anniversary ride.

Save the dates:
July 20 – July 27, 2024

The Difference You Make with Empire State Ride

When you support Empire State Ride, you’re paving the way for the next generation of cancer care.

The funds raised by our riders benefit cutting-edge cancer research at America’s first cancer center dedicated to research, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Through regional, national and global collaboration, the funds that come to Roswell Park go into efforts that will change the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancers of all kinds everywhere. That means with Empire State Ride, your impact is worldwide.

Check out these videos to see how your dollars are being put to work right now:

CAR T-Cell Therapy

CAR T-Cell therapy, an innovative immunotherapy treatment, originally for blood cancers, that will now expand to solid tumors, thanks to forward-thinking, patient-focused leadership at Roswell Park.

SurVaxM

SurVaxM, a therapeutic vaccine designed to help patients with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. SurVaxM was developed at Roswell Park by Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery, and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology.

Response to Therapy

Response to Therapy, an innovative blood test that will change the way we treat cancer by giving doctors real-time updates on how a patient is responding to treatment. A phase 1 study, funded in part by donations, is already underway at Roswell Park.

Honoring a life through Empire State Ride: Jerry Lewandowski’s story

Jerry Lewandowski's Story

When you walk through the doors of the Lewandowksi household, you’ll be welcomed in with warmth and kindness — whether you’re a friend or stranger. If you need something to eat, Jerry Lewandowski, 53, will happily fire up the grill. If you need a place to stay, his two kids, Grace, 22, and Jerry Jr., 25, will grab extra blankets and make space for you, no questions asked.

 

In a big house in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Albany, the three Lewandowskis work hard to carry on the long-standing traditions started by Theresa Puleo-Lewandowski, a mother, wife and respected lawyer. Theresa was an advocate for what the family called “taking in the strays,” which means welcoming all who enter with open arms. Their home has long been synonymous with community for those who know them.

“We called it our extended family,” Grace said. “My brother went to school with a lot of kids from a lot of different countries. When they couldn't go home during the holidays, my mom would invite six of them over to stay in the guestroom and basement. She really put her all into it. We'd have Easter eggs, and she'd make them Easter baskets, even if they didn’t celebrate. She always made sure everybody felt included.”

Jerry, Jerry Jr, Grace, and Theresa Lewandowski stand in front of the mantle at their home. Context.
Lewandowski Mantle

Navigating Life After Loss

In recent years, the Lewandowski house has taken on a quieter atmosphere. Some things have remained the same: their three dogs running around the house, a dusty old bike with a Ride for Roswell bib hanging in the garage. But much has changed.

The mantle now holds a lifetime of keepsakes: beloved pictures, diplomas, a box of candy. In the middle, a wooden box rests with candles on either side. For the last two years, the flame they share has never been extinguished — not since the candles were first lit in honor of Theresa.

Two years after losing her life to stage IV colorectal cancer, Theresa continues to make an impact through the hearts of those who loved her most.

Theresa's Legacy

Theresa always sought to do right by other people. “Taking in the strays” was just one of the many ways she made a difference for others. She was a woman of strong morals, and fighting for what’s right was in her DNA since day one.

Theresa came into the world two months premature with underdeveloped lungs and a string of health complications. She wasn’t given a proper middle name because the doctors didn’t anticipate she’d survive. But she fought hard and made it — and then she moved on to fighting for others.

“She was phenomenal,” her husband, Jerry, said. “She really was. She was very understanding, very loving. I don’t know how she kept all the balls in the air and still maintained her career. Everything was for her family. And yet — she was able to maintain the professional, ethical lifestyle that she chose as a career.”

On the job as a trial litigator, Theresa’s poised demeanor and sharp, pitch-perfect arguments commanded the courtrooms she worked in. At home, Theresa listened intently to her kids, Jerry Jr. and Grace, and challenged them, without judgement or anger, to always think critically about their choices. Her strong moral compass and high ethical standards earned her respect among colleagues and awe among her family and friends.

"Everything was for her family. And yet — she was able to maintain the professional, ethical lifestyle that she chose as a career.”

Honoring Theresa by Fueling Cancer Research

Jerry and Grace Lewandowski with their dog, Monty

Now, the Lewandowskis are figuring out life in a new chapter without Theresa. Each family member copes differently — sometimes, they cope together; sometimes, they cope in quiet moments alone. For Jerry, coping also means picking up where Theresa left off.

 

Theresa was an avid runner, so Jerry stepped up and completed a half marathon. Theresa cycled and participated in the Ride for Roswell. She also strongly supported Roswell Park, a place where she felt comfortable and at ease during her cancer treatments.

 

“We flew all over the country trying to find different treatments for her cancer. I remember one time walking into Roswell Park. Theresa turns around and says, ‘You know, every time I walk in here, I feel like I’m home.’ And that meant the world to me, that she was comfortable there.”

 

When Jerry learned about Empire State Ride and discovered that the proceeds fuel cancer research at Roswell Park and around the globe, he knew he needed to take on the weeklong adventure for Theresa.

 

“They say, spend just one day with usAnd we did the one whole day with Roswell Park. Got there at like seven in the morning, and we didn’t leave until eight at night. We were going to go for other opinions, and she got done talking to the doctor, and she says, ‘Sign me up.’ And they opened up a trial to her and told her that they would accept her. And we got more time with Theresa because of that,” Jerry said. “I just want to give back as much as I can now.”

“We got more time with Theresa because of [Roswell Park]. I just want to give back as much as I can now.”

Tackling a 500+ Mile Biking Adventure of a Lifetime

Jerry Lewandowski rides his bike in an ESR jersey. Context

The day of orientation for #ESR22, Jerry Jr. and Grace drove their father to Wagner College.   

“It was like dropping your child off,” Grace recalls. “Everybody was crying. We were hoping he was going to make friends and have a good time. We were so nervous to drop him off. And then ….” she pauses. “Normally every day at home, he calls us five times a day. What are you doing? What are you doing? On that weeklong ride, WE were calling HIM. He was so happy. He left us alone for the week. He fit right in, and he loves it. And he now plans to do it every single year.”

For Jerry, the Empire State Ride is both an opportunity to honor Theresa and a chance to connect with people who understand what he’s going through. Many of the people on the road have experienced the loss of loved ones to cancer or have battled cancer themselves.

“It's really hard to explain the bond that you feel with other riders. But everybody needs a purpose. Might be somebody else's story. Might be your story. But it takes all of us to move the needle to help get the funds needed [for cancer research],” Jerry said. “She taught us that: Make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

To date, Jerry has raised more than $96,485 for the cause.


Join Jerry by donating today.

Jane Eshbaugh: Chasing the wind

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.

A portrait of Dennis Eshbaugh sitting in the living room in front of a camera
A portrait of Jane's husband, Dennis

“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. 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.”

Jane’s Journey with Pancreatic Cancer

Jane stares at NYC from the Staten Island Ferry during ESR

“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. But I'm going to cry when I ring that Victory Bell.”

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

A portrait of Kate sitting in the living room in front of a camera
Jane's daughter, Kate, (above) sends a special message to her mom

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:

“Mom, I want to tell you how inspiring you are to me. Throughout this journey, you have supported me as my mother, which is crazy because I'm the one who's supposed to be supporting you. But your ability to make the best of this and to keep living and to never give up, that's what keeps me going,” Kate says.

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.

Stay in the loop on #ESR23 for more on Jane's 500+ mile journey.

A group of ESR riders on the final day of ESR22. Jane is in the front row to the far left

How one woman is fighting back against cancer, for herself and others

Meet Caitlin Pietz: Volunteer for ESR and Breast Cancer Thriver

On a sunny day in February, Caitlin Pietz stood in front of a small metal bell as a stream of sunlight cascaded through the windows beside her. With her husband Mark at her side, she proudly gripped the chain that hung from the mouth of the bell. For a moment, she stared out at the faces of the loved ones who surrounded her, pausing to take in the scene. Then, she pulled the rope with palpable excitement. A smile spread across her lips as the lobby filled with a brassy jingle and cheering rang out. At that, a new chapter began. Caitlin had officially finished her treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Volunteering for a Cause that Aims to End Cancer

For Caitlin, ringing the Roswell Park Victory Bell brought new meaning to a movement she’s already been part of for many years — a movement to find new treatments for cancer and, ultimately, save more lives. She’s volunteered for numerous Roswell Park events through the years like the Ride for Roswell and IceCycle. Doing so was her way of honoring her father who passed away from cancer. Her husband, Mark, would ride in these events while Caitlin volunteered.   

In 2017, Mark decided to ride for three days in Empire State Ride, and Caitlin drove him to Weedsport. She stayed for dinner and sat in on the evening program, where she listened to a rider named David talk about his cancer journey. As it turned out, David’s cancer journey closely resembled that of Caitlin’s father, though David had survived and Caitlin’s father had not. After David’s speech, Caitlin gave him a big hug and shared her story. They soon became fast friends.

That serendipitous moment motivated Caitlin to really get involved with Empire State Ride. The next year, she signed on as a weeklong volunteer, making countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the riders. If you ask her about this, she’ll give you a smirk and say that hers were the best sandwiches, because they were made with love. Of course, she had additional duties, too, like assisting with the evening program and making sure riders with special dietary needs had the fuel and hydration they needed. At the end of the week, she was exhausted but happier than ever.

“I thought, ‘This has been the most tiring but best week of my life.’ It was just so much fun,” Caitlin says. “They talk about the ESR family, and that is no joke. You really do become family with these people.”

Caitlin returned as an ESR volunteer again in 2019 and had planned to return again after the pandemic — until she heard the three words that no one ever wants to hear: 

You have cancer.

Caitlin’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Caitlin stands before a crowd after ringing the Roswell Park Victory Bell. Context.

Throughout Caitlin’s volunteer efforts, she never expected to be on the receiving end of her efforts to drive lifesaving cancer research. In 2022, however, Caitlin went to a routine mammogram the day after her 50th birthday. When her doctors sent her for additional testing, including mammograms, biopsies and MRIs, Caitlin knew something was up. Her doctors soon delivered the news that Caitlin had invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.

“That started a journey of 10 months,” Caitlin says. “Two surgeries, a lot of visits in between and then chemo and radiation. And I will say, the journey was tough but the staff at Roswell Park was amazing.”

Caitlin said that the staff at The 11 Day Power Play Resource Center helped her get oriented with the hospital and even walked her through a dry run of what to expect before chemo to make the actual treatment less nerve-racking.

“There was never a point when I didn’t have answers. Roswell Park … I just can’t imagine going any place else,” she says. “The journey wasn't fun — probably the worst 10 months in my life overall. But here I am, on the other side of it, thanks to Roswell; thanks to the amazing doctors and staff and nurses and aides and everybody who has given me a perfectly healthy prognosis going forward.”

Bringing her Volunteer Efforts Full Circle

Despite her struggles, Caitlin says the day she rang the Victory Bell was one of the most emotional and gratifying days of her life. She threw a big party at a restaurant after her bell ringing and about 45 of her closest friends showed up. Almost 80% of them were people she met on the road during Empire State Ride. Many were also in the crowd as the sound of victory rang out after her last treatment, including Dr. Joyce Ohm, Chair of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at Roswell Park and an ESR road warrior.

“I see riders every day and tell them, ‘Those dollars matter. Those $5, $10, $20 donations are going to turn into cures, and they’re going to save lives,” Dr. Ohm says, reflecting on her research efforts.

During the course of Caitlin’s treatment, she saw, firsthand, some of the advancements in treatment options available thanks to research funding raised through events like the Empire State Ride.

At Roswell Park, Caitlin had access to a test that allowed her doctors to personalize her treatment plan based on her genetics and specific type of cancer. This simple genetic test shows whether a patient with breast cancer will benefit from chemotherapy. Though Caitlin’s test showed she would need chemotherapy, an estimated 70% of patients with common forms of breast cancer may not need it as part of their treatment plan.

“Every day during Empire State Ride, we realize why we're all doing this, and it is to raise money to find new treatments for cancer, new research dollars,” Caitlin says.

Dr. Joyce Ohm, Chair of Genetics and Genomics at Roswell Park. ESR road warrior. Clarifying picture

Caitlin’s Favorite Part of the Empire State Ride

For the 2023 Empire State Ride, Caitlin plans to greet her ESR family at the finish line and cheer each and every one of them on for their accomplishment. She’ll also be volunteering that day and hopes that she’ll be able to volunteer for the full week again next year. In the meantime, she’s grateful she can take in her favorite part of the adventure.

“The best part of the whole thing? Seeing that finish line moment,” she says. “It’s so great at the end, because they reach the finish line and everyone’s crying because it was such an emotional week hearing all the survivor and patient stories.”

Will you join Caitlin in her mission to end cancer?