Smilow Cancer Hospital

Cancer Survivor Shares Why Closer to Free Ride is Close to Home

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“Getting sort of my legs taken out from under me was definitely an emotional rollercoaster,” said Mike Smith, reflecting on his diagnosis with Burkitt non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It was the summer of 2008, a few months before his senior year in college. The athlete and swim team captain had moments of panic, and then changed his perspective.

“Really looking at my cancer experience and treatment as just a long training season, where the culmination isn’t swimming championships but it’s being cancer free.”

He took the fall semester off to focus on his goal. After months of treatment and a 30-day stay at Yale New Haven Hospital, he was out in October on his 22nd birthday.

He got back in shape and took on a biking event a year later. 

“I had no idea what I was doing. My legs cramped up, they totally bricked,” said Smith.  

Five years later, his first ride with Closer to Free was in 2014.

“It’s got the right vibe and the right culture,” said Smith. “It’s very welcoming and very exciting. The post-ride ceremony is awesome and it’s my favorite for a whole bunch of reasons.”

He’s still riding September 12 because he says supporting Smilow Cancer Hospital programs, like the Survivorship Clinic, is important.

“You schedule a two-hour appointment and you get 30 minutes with an oncologist, you get 30 minutes with a physical therapist that works with you, a nutritionist, a social worker, and makes sure you as an entire person has the resources to be your best self,” said Smith.

Riding as a survivor again this year, he says he’ll miss seeing friends and Closer to Free family members in person. He’ll also miss the support along the course, like a man he once saw with a simple sign.

“’I’m here because of Smilow, thank you!’ And I just shouted me too! And as I rode the next few miles, I had to choke back tears because it got emotional, because at the end of the day, that’s why I ride, that’s why people ride, because it literally saves people’s lives.”  

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