From Patient to Participant: Wallingford Cancer Survivor to Ride in Closer to Free

As a patient, Erin Matthews from Wallingford cheered on Closer to Free Riders last year outside the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven. This September she plans to hop on a bike and ride in support of the hospital that saved her life.

“Cancer is a tough diagnosis,” Matthews said. “It was a tough diagnosis for me as a young mom, but I felt so much support and so much love I'm so grateful for Smilow."

Matthews has two sons and she works as a scientist at Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

“I never saw myself as the person who was sick,” she told NBC Connecticut. “I always saw myself as the person who was making medicines to cure people.”

But last April, she went for a biopsy at Smilow after finding a lump in her right breast.

“Indeed it was cancer and it had spread to my lymph nodes,” Matthews said.

Her team of doctors decided she needed surgery, so they scheduled a double mastectomy for Aug. 30, 2017.

“It was the day the cancer was going to come out and I was going to go home,” she said, “Go home cancer free. And I suffered a complication. My left lung collapsed.”

That night, she had a second emergency surgery.

“That was to insert a lung tube and hook me up to suction to keep my lung up,” Matthews explained, “and keep my heart from being compressed from the extra air pressure.”

Matthews spent two weeks at the hospital hooked up to a suction box she nicknamed “Humphrey.”

On Closer to Free Ride day 2017, staff brought her outside for the first time in a wheelchair to cheer on the 1,500 riders during the Smilow Salute. The Closer to Free ride is a fundraiser that benefits the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

“I was meant to be there,” Matthews said holding back tears. “I was meant to cheer on these riders and it was my goal at that point to ride Closer to Free. If I made it out of the hospital alive, I was going to ride Closer to Free in 2018.”

While at Smilow, Matthews said she was inspired by videos she saw from one of the riders, Susan Brown. After she left the hospital in mid-September, the two met.

“We went on a long walk on the Cheshire trail,” Matthews said. “She’s a survivor herself and that’s when she said join my team, ride with me.”

Matthews’ sons, ages eight and 11, are also joining Team Spring Glenn Runnerz. They compete in triathlons, so they have more bike riding experience than their mom.

“I don’t even own a bike,” Matthews said, “so far I’ve been training in a spin class at the YMCA.”

Now in remission, Matthew’s oncologist advised her to take part in a clinical trial in New York City.

“It is my wish that we would have more trials available here at Smilow,” she said.

Getting on a bike this September is here way to give back.

“I want to grow Smilow Hospital,” Matthews said. “I want more people to have the same sense that I had of an entire team fighting for them.”

Last year’s ride raised $3 million for research and patient care.

The 2018 Closer to Free will be Saturday Sept. 8. You can choose between the 10-, 25-, 65-, 100- or the new 40-mile courses.

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