closer to free

Teen Survivor Starts Non-Profit to Benefit Smilow Cancer Hospital

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A Westbrook dad is gearing up for the Closer to Free Ride Sept. 12, taking a 100-mile trek in this year’s virtual event.

The inspiration: his 17-year-old son who’s now a brain cancer survivor.

“I was in eighth grade and I was diagnosed with brain cancer,” said Matthew Scotella.  

At just 13, Scotella faced news that would be hard for anyone to handle.

“Smilow Cancer Hospital really helped me get through this ordeal,” said Scotella.

When he should have been thinking about high school, chemotherapy nurses, doctors and family helped him navigate his way to recovery.

“The love and care and support really made an impact on me,” said Scotella.

“Really cheering Matthew through this as a very difficult situation, they did a fantastic, fantastic job with it,” said dad Peter Scotella.

Matthew is now four years cancer-free and is still being monitored.

“A lot of anxiety comes from it every time I go for brain scans, but I’m really grateful I’ve been cancer-free for this long,” said Matthew.

His family is also grateful, Peter joined closer to free last year as a first-time rider and is training for the virtual century ride this year.

“It’s humbling when you walk around and say I’m here because of Matthew. And you just ride, and you go," said Peter.

He says it’s a moving experience to be with people working toward the same goal. The greatest part: riders motivating each other, and strangers sending words of support when you least expect it.

“At the end of a driveway up a long hill, you’re not expecting to see lawn chairs with signs from people saying thank you,” said Peter.

This isn’t the only way the family is supporting Smilow Cancer Hospital. Two years before his own diagnosis, Matthew started a non-profit in 2012 called “Bottle it Up.” It was a way to express his sadness over the death of a beloved teacher.

“It made a huge impact on me, she died of pancreatic cancer and I wanted to do something for her,” said Matthew.

They worked with businesses in town, donating every nickel to Smilow Cancer Hospital. Two years later came Matthew’s brain tumor, deepening their ties to Smilow Cancer Hospital.

Bottle it Up gained speed; for the last three years they hold an annual bottle drive in town. For one week, a dumpster is available for donations.

“Jennifer and I take all the bottles and cans just ourselves, and we redeem them at different local grocery stores,” said Peter. “And the dumpster does get filled several times a day.”

Tens of thousands of bottles later, they’ve collected $60,000 in redemptions for the hospital.

“It gives us an opportunity to express how deeply we care about Smilow Cancer Hospital, and curing cancer, and the Closer to Free Ride,” said Matthew.  

Because of COVID-19, the drive is postponed this year. For now, they'll accept bottle redemption vouchers if people would like to make a contribution.

But it's still a big year for Bottle it Up. Now a 501(c)(3) non-profi, they're also supporting Smilow Cancer Hospital as a Closer to Free Ride sponsor.

“Something from Matthew so young, to now being a sponsor for the Closer to Free Ride, it’s just a humbling feeling knowing you’re doing the right thing,” said Peter.

He says he’s riding 100 miles this year for Smilow Cancer Hospital, for Bottle it Up and for Matthew.

“You look at Matthew and all he’s been through in 17 years, there are no words, you know. Just proud," said Peter.

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