Less than six months after losing her mom, 26-year-old Ashley Roberts will ride in her first Closer to Free bike ride, which is now in its eighth year.
The ride raises millions of dollars for research and patient care at the Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center in New Haven.
“I’m definitely doing this to share my mom’s story to create awareness,” Roberts told NBC Connecticut, “'cause I think if it was caught earlier maybe there could have been a different outcome.”
Joan Roberts’ battle with cancer started with a cough in November 2015.
“She went to the doctors and they said it was bronchitis,” Ashley said. “In February of 2016 and they said it was pneumonia, but that’s when my dad and mom started asking more pressing questions. My mom knew she didn’t feel right, there was something more.”
By the time doctors diagnosed Ashley’s mom with non-small cell lung cancer, it was too late for surgery.
“When we found out it completely like just turned our family upside down,” Ashley recalled. “We were this happy-go-lucky family, she never smoked so it just came out of left field.”
Ashley said her mom refused to be an in-patient during intense treatment at Smilow.
“She was like, listen to me I’m gonna beat this, I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna be OK,” Ashley said, “and I knew she was really strong, I knew she was scared, but she put on a front for all of us.”
Last September, shortly after buying a new mountain bike, Ashley could not take part in Closer to Free because it was too close to her wedding day.
“So I said, 'Mom, you get better, you get healthy and you and I will do it next year together,” Ashley said. “She made that promise, but obviously odds became not in her favor anymore.”
Ashley’s mom’s battle with lung cancer ended on April 13, 2018.
“She wasn’t giving up, it’s the cancer in her body that gave up on her, she never gave up,” Ashley said.
Joan Roberts was 54 years old.
“I mean she was my best friend,” Ashley said. “She’s truly missed by everybody.”
This September Ashley, family and friends on team “Jogs for Joan” will ride 25 miles to raise money for Smilow and to spread awareness.
“So maybe next time if someone had a cough, they would ask more pressing questions and catch it a little earlier,” she said.
Since her mom peacefully passed away at their home in Cheshire, Ashley has worn a necklace with Joan of Arc on one side and her mom’s fingerprint on the other.
“She was a fighter,” Ashley said. “She was the strongest person I know, even before she got sick, she was so strong.”
NBC Connecticut is a proud media sponsor of the Closer to Free Ride on Sept. 8. You can still sign up here.