Linda DiDonato has been riding a bike all her life.
“When all my friends were turning 16, I was on my bike and not caring about driving a car,” DiDonato said. “I’d be out on the bike.”
But no ride will mean more to her than this year’s Closer to Free on Saturday, Sept. 8.
“It happens to be the one year anniversary of my surgery with the bike ride coming up,” she told NBC Connecticut. “I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. It was a 12-hour procedure.”
After a positive mammogram and ultrasound in May of 2017, right away DiDonato said she wanted to undergo treatment at the Smilow Cancer Hospital.
“It was the only place that came in my mind,” she recalled.
DiDonato has spent time meeting cancer patients at Smilow through her work as a nurse in admitting at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
“Seeing a lot of the people who work (at Smilow), doing a lot of my business here at Yale,” she said, “I could see the quality of the care.”
Two months after her surgery, DiDonato was able to travel to Spain with friends before chemotherapy for a trip that had been planned before her breast cancer diagnosis.
“That was the most exciting thing,” she said, “the nice little sendoff then I was ready for my treatment. I was ready to get started.”
During her interview with NBC Connecticut, DiDonato fought back tears thinking of the friends and family in her circle of support.
“That was the greatest fear, not the cancer, just people just ignoring you and instead I had an onslaught of family and friends and cards coming through, food being sent to my house, and that was the most amazing thing, and it just makes you smile,” she said.
Halfway to her fundraising goal, DiDonato is eager to hop on a bike to give back to the hospital.
“It will bring back some interesting memories,” she said. “It will make me feel great with all I went through with my surgery that I’m able to do the 60-mile ride.”
The annual Closer to Free bike ride, now in its eighth year, raises millions of dollars for patient care and research at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital. NBC Connecticut is a proud media sponsor.