“In December 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37.”
Katie Cardoso says she was surprised when she was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. She went straight to Smilow Cancer Hospital to begin treatment two months before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m so thankful that my doctors never changed the course of my treatment,” Cardoso said. “The nurses were still there. They were like family to me, especially because I couldn’t have my own family come to me for my treatment.”
She underwent the treatment from January to July 2020.
“I learned the names of my nurses, I learned who they were dating, I learned more about their children, we had to be compassionate about their own struggles with the pandemic,” Cardoso said.
The care she received at Smilow is the same as she had seen before. Her brother Will was treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic T-cell lymphoma in 2012 at age 27.
“I think we’re both very grateful to be here,” Cardoso said. “I think we’re both very grateful to Smilow and the science, the drugs, the treatments, all the things we’ve learned, the family we’ve built at Smilow.”
That’s why Team Willpower got together after her brother’s diagnosis. They have been participating in Closer to Free, a fundraiser for Smilow for nine years.
“The first time we did it it was the 25 mile ride and my sister-in-law and I were both pregnant at the time. We were both 20 weeks pregnant.”
It has become a family tradition. Katie even raced in the virtual event at the end of her cancer treatment last year.
“We all felt connected because we weren’t in one place,” Cardoso said. “We were together as much as possible physically, but there were other parts of the family that did it in other states as well.”
Last year’s virtual event almost didn’t take place. The organizers had debated canceling the ride all together.
“We’re really glad we didn’t because our community showed up and we had 2,100 riders in Connecticut and beyond,” said Jessica Scheps of Yale New Haven Hospital and the Closer to Free Ride.
Scheps says the virtual ride is now a permanent option. They will start this year, but driving in person is not yet out of the question.
“We hope we can host an in-person event this year, so I encourage everyone to stay tuned and listen to our announcement,” Scheps said.
She also says people need to register now so they’re ready when a personal ride is available. This year’s ride is September 11, and the minimum fundraising amount is $250.
“We still need support. Cancer is not going anywhere and during a pandemic we need your support even now more than ever,” said Scheps.
Last year’s virtual ride raised $1.75 million dollars. Katie and Team Wilskracht were part of that, including all the children in the family. Katie says they’re looking forward to getting the kids involved in fundraising this year, while Katie and Will ride together as survivors.
“There is something very joyful, hopeful and inspiring about moving closer to free and I look forward to being able to give back to the people who did so much for me last year.”
NBC Connecticut is the proud media partner of the Closer to Free Ride.