closer to free

Smilow Cancer Hospital Coordinator Goes 100 Extra Miles for Patients

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Cyclist Heather Studwell discovered Closer to Free during the ride’s second year. She heard about it from a close friend.

“We went and it just became a love affair at that point for me because the event was so wonderful,” said Studwell.  

She’s now an oncology survivorship coordinator at Smilow Cancer Hospital in Greenwich.

“And we go on to ‘what are the next steps?’” she said. “So, you finished all of this treatment and ‘oh, but I might still have some tingling in my hands and my feet.’ Or you know ‘I might be really, really tired,’ so we have a full set of services that might help with those side effects.”

Fundraising from the Closer to Free ride helps cancer survivors cover the cost of services that insurance doesn’t, like acupuncture.

Studwell is riding 100 miles this year with the Greenwich Freedom Riders in honor of her patients. One patient’s husband even joined their team.

“It’s just inspiring, more inspiring than anything else," said Studwell. “And it just brings a lot of joy to the day knowing that she survived and that he’s riding for her and everybody else.”

She says it’s was important to continue supporting the ride throughout the pandemic and into this year because of those patients.

“With all of the advancements in cancer treatment and people living longer, we know there are more side effects, there are more late effects that happen, and these services help them get back their quality of life.”

She’s also planning to ride on Sept. 11 for her best friend Beth who had stage four lung cancer. She was the first motivation for the ride. Now there’s two more.

“Just this year I’ll add that I have two uncles that were diagnosed with cancer. One who’s being treated through our Smilow system as well,” said Studwell.

Like many people, she’s hoping for a return to an in-person ride this year.

“When you drive in and the sun is just rising, there’s an overwhelming feeling of togetherness.”

For now, the team is starting with a plan for another virtual ride. It was a hit last year; they were able to double their fundraising dollars.

“Our team of typically five went to a team of 33,” said Studwell.  

They’ll adjust if there’s a return to the roads this year.

Studwell says she’s looking forward to her favorite part, which is also the favorite of many riders. It’s the ride past the Smilow Cancer Hospital for the Smilow Salute. It’s always emotional and for Studwell, the ride past New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital is a reminder of the work across Yale New Haven Health with her patients in Greenwich.

“Literally until we get past this point, I will just cry and it’s happy, it’s just overwhelming.”

NBC Connecticut is the proud media partner of the Closer to Free Ride.

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