“In December of 2019 at the age of 37 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Katie Cardoso says she was surprised to be diagnosed with cancer at an early age. She went right to Smilow Cancer Hospital to begin treatment two months before the COVID-19 pandemic it.
“I’m so grateful 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 could not have my own family come in for my treatment with me.”
She went through treatment from January to July of 2020.
“I got to learn my nurses names, I got to learn who they were dating, I got to learn more about their kids, we got to commiserate about their own struggles with the pandemic,” Cardoso said.
The care she received at Smilow is the same she’d seen before. Her brother Will was treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoblastic T-cell lymphoma in 2012 when he was 27.
“I think we’re both very grateful that we’re here,” Cardoso said. “I think we’re both very grateful to Smilow and the science, the medication, the treatments, all of the things we’ve learned, the family that we’ve made at Smilow.”
Which is why Team Willpower came together after her brother’s diagnosis. They’ve been in Closer to Free, a fundraiser to benefit 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’s become a family tradition. Katie even rode in the virtual event last year at the end of her cancer treatment.
“We all felt connected because we weren’t in one spot,” Cardoso said. “As much as possible we were together physically but then there were other parts of the family that were doing it in other states.”
Last year’s virtual event almost didn’t happen. Organizers had debated canceling the ride all together.
“We’re thrilled that we did not because our community showed up, and we had 2,100 riders across 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’re starting off with it this year but riding in-person hasn’t been ruled out yet.
“We are hoping this year that we are able to pull off an in-person event so I encourage everyone to stay tuned and listen for our announcement,” Scheps said.
She also says people should register now so they’ll be ready if an in-person ride is available. This year’s ride is September 11, and the fundraising minimum is $250.
“We still need support. Cancer is not going anywhere and during a pandemic, we need your support even now more than ever,” Scheps said.
Last year’s virtual ride raised $1.75 million dollars. Katie and Team Willpower 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 as Katie and Will ride together as survivors.
“There’s something really joyful and hopeful and inspiring about 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.