Carol Ann Malinowski

It was one year ago when I joined the ranks of so many women who have been afflicted with breast cancer.

I began a roller coaster of emotions when I went from thinking it would be just a minor lumpectomy, to the complicated physical and emotional journey of a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I was blessed with incredible support from my family, amazing friends, and a trio of doctors who led me through a very difficult journey.

Before my diagnosis, cancer touched my life when one of my best friends endured a 3-year battle with pancreatic cancer with amazing grace; two of my beautiful friends continue to deal with a multiple myeloma diagnosis; and my dad surrendered to acute myeloid leukemia with unwavering strength and faith.

When my diagnosis came I was training for a triathlon and extensive surgery and recovery were not part of my plan! So a year after that life changing day when my doctor's voice said “are you driving," and I pulled over and began my journey, I am eternally grateful to the incredible support network who fed my family, got me to doctors, and sat with me for hours while I recuperated from all the surgery.

Being able to do the Connecticut Challenge is a part of the ongoing healing process that I now embrace.

I am riding because I have experienced first hand the importance of a support network when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis.  I am riding to acknowledge the ongoing battles of my dear friends who have also joined the ranks of the survivors.  And I am riding for my dad and Reeze, who left me with wonderful memories and continue to inspire me everyday.

Like the ongoing recovery process Team “CAM Girls” embraces hard work, laughter and getting a little misty in the process!

Photo (l-r) Carol Ann, her sister Diane, and daughter Emma

Dan Kayne & Dan Anzalone - Alpha Riders

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my left leg and was told I might never walk again.

After 9 months of aggressive chemotherapy and several life saving surgeries I was cancer free, but my road to recovery occurred over many years as I had to re-learn how to walk and regain mobility and strength in my left leg.

There was no question that this was the most frustrating and challenging period of my life. If gave up on my physical therapy, I would spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair or on crutches. It was a condemning fate and in my darkest hour I almost gave up.

Seeing how frustrated and disappointed I was with my progress, my Nana did something that changed everything for me. She simply moved my bike into my bedroom. I hadn't seen my bike in over a year and had largely given up on the idea of ever using it again - but I loved to meant everything to me.

From that moment forward, I woke up every day and pushed myself as hard as I could so I could one day get back on it.  At 17, I was riding recreationally. In 2007, I met Jeff Keith.  Jeff had the same cancer as I did.  He is THE symbol of what you can do if you push yourself to try.

That year, Dan Anzalone - my friend and colleague - started team Alpha Riders. When we started we were a team of 2. Our numbers have since grown into the 40s.

Our team is made up of friends and colleagues who work within the hedge fund industry. We ride because we want to create "Alpha" for our community - for my fellow cancer survivors. This year marks our fifth summer together. This year I'm riding 100 miles.

Bob Pigue

I rode in my first Connecticut Challenge in 2007.  My best friend since 2nd grade, Pat Sclafani, was in the midst of treatment for stage 4 thymoma, a treatment which included chemotherapy, aggressive thoracic surgery and radiation followed by still more chemo.  Pat, an avid cyclist, had heard about the Challenge and he suggested that we get a few people together to ride.  I didn’t have the guts to tell him that the date of the ride was only 7 weeks after his final chemo treatment. Maybe it was a little too much, a little too soon.  When he announced we’d be riding 50 miles, I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was crazy.  I wasn’t sure that I, in good health, could ride 50 miles, much less Pat.

I kept my doubts to myself as we gathered a bunch of old friends and family members and formed our first Team Sclafani.  We were a group of 15 riders and 15 volunteers.  On the day of the ride, we started together and at the end of the 50 miles, when we crossed that finish line, we crossed it together as a team.  There wasn’t a dry eye among us.  And by the way, we raised over $30,000.

Team Sclafani has grown in every Connecticut Challenge since then.  Pat remains cancer free, but other members of our team have since been touched by cancer, so our number of cancer survivors has grown as well.  We’ve raised over $150,000 to date.

To fully understand why I ride, you’d have to join us for our annual Friday night pre-ride dinner.  There, many of us are seeing each other for the first time since the previous year’s ride; that’s where we welcome our many new teammates.  You’d have to witness our Saturday evening beach dinner and awards ceremony where we laugh over the day’s exploits.  You’d have to see our good-byes on Sunday morning as those not from Connecticut head home to New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia.  You’d have to look into the eyes of our many children on the team to experience the pride we share and the remarkable bonds being formed.   I’m not a cyclist, I only train so I won’t embarrass myself the day of the ride but, as physically challenging as those long hills might be, I feel like I’m being carried along by the spirit of our team.  That’s why I ride.

Elliott Gualtiere

On November 9th, 2010 I arrived at my doctor's office thinking I had strep throat.  My severe sore throat made it difficult for me to even swallow.  During the medical examination my doctor discovered a lump in my neck. At the time we did not know what it was, but over the next five months, including a full thyroidectomy (surgery to remove the thyroid gland), it was determined that I had thyroid cancer.

As I recovered from the surgery in March I made myself a promise that I was not going to just sit around and feel sorry for myself. I needed to find a focus. I had heard about the CT Challenge from my good friends Bob Ford and Christian McEvoy but never considered riding until last spring.

Before I started training for the CT Challenge, I’d never been on a bike ride longer than 5 miles. I did not even have a bike when I registered to ride the 25 miles. Thanks to the Trek Shop in Fairfield I got fitted with an awesome bike and in the middle of May began training. From the moment I started riding, I knew I had made the right decision. My family and friends were awesome in their support of me, not only the day of the ride but also in the months leading up. I quadrupled my initial fundraising goal.

As someone who has benefited from CT Challenge Survivor Programs, all you do in terms of your support and fundraising does make a difference. I come from a family where cancer has affected me tremendously (my father and uncle both died from cancer). I ride in honor of them and all others living with cancer.  We Survivors are never rid of cancer.   You are always living with it.  I can honestly say that completing my ride this past July was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life and I did this only a few months removed from major surgery. I look forward to riding again this summer and possibly pushing my limits to ride 50 miles. We will see. Let's hope for cooler weather; that might make my decision a little easier!

George Richards

It was July 2009 when Sally, my wife of 16 years, told me she was planning to ride in the CT Challenge bike ride later that month. She had been battling lung cancer for about a year and was in the middle of a six-week hiatus from her third set of chemo treatments. She rode the 12-mile ride with three friends, Meg Staunton, Carolyn McKenna and Kitty Fiol. The smile on her face and the satisfaction in her voice could not have been greater. She had been bitten by the CT Challenge bug that day and vowed to ride again in 2010. Sadly her disease accelerated last fall and overtook her life in February of this year.

As a lasting tribute to her admiration for this organization and her incredible strength and faith in herself, her family, her friends and the community in which she lived, I picked up a road bike for the first time and established the team “Ride Sally Ride.” The fact that we have 58 riders in early June 2010 and many more talking about signing up is a testament to Sally’s ability to foster and maintain connections with people spanning every period of her 42 years. During our last journey fighting cancer, I watched my wife use her seemingly infinite network to find individuals whose professions ranged from oncology, to psychotherapy to chiropractics to support groups, to faith and religion to nutrition to energy healing in a concerted effort to find ways to help her in the battle for her life and reclaim, even for a brief moment, the vigor of her past. Her efforts brought her to Jeff Keith and the CT Challenge and what she sought is reflected in this organization’s mission. Through her efforts my wife found a place of happiness and peace that we can only hope to discover and made lasting impressions of her power on her family, friends, doctors and priests.

I ride because I want to show the world the power of connections and how those connections can lead us farther down the path blazed by Sally and CT Challenge where they may more easily find the resources to get them quickly on the road to rebuilding their lives and finding peace.

Editors note:  George Richard's Team Ride Sally Ride was 76 teammates strong when they took part in the 2010 CT Challenge Bike Ride.  The team raised over $96,000 to support programs for cancer survivors!

Bob & Emma Ford

I ride because of friends and family.  At first I was drawn in by a group of buddies who were helping with a fledgling effort to help cancer survivors.  As an avid rider I was a good choice to participate and the Connecticut Challenge was an excuse to join others in a long ride for a good cause.  Helping mark the course for the big day and marshaling riders along a tough century course was my idea of fun.  Over the years my participation has become more personal.

Since the inaugural ride, several of my family members have been treated for skin cancer, the threat of which never seems to go away.  Neighbors, co-workers, and students have shared their stories with me because I work with the Connecticut Challenge – their experience makes me want to help in whatever way I can.  If I could write the big check that would make a difference, I would.  However my best efforts lie in helping others to join the ride and complete their goals.  Want to try the Challenge, but the idea of riding a 25 mile hilly course makes you nervous?  I can help.  Never done a 50 mile bike ride?  You can, both for yourself and for others.

No one chooses the challenge of cancer, but you can choose to challenge yourself in other ways.  This choice is always an optimistic one, it is hopeful.  It is something to look forward to and it is habit-forming.  The Connecticut Challenge is not just about raising money, it is about accomplishing something difficult and the joy that brings us.

As a coach my approach to any challenge is always the same.  First, identify your goals; what do you want to do and when do you want to do it.  When you are committed to your goal, make it public – “I will ride 25 miles in the Connecticut Challenge at the end of July this year”.  Second, working backwards from your goal-date, decide what has to happen for you to realize your goal – “I will train for the ride by gradually building up the time I spend on the bike and the difficulty of the terrain I travel”.  Third, lay out a concrete plan for the mini-goals you will accomplish in your training - “By the end of May, I will be able to spend an hour on my bike as a routine thing; I will be able to ride the big hill near my home without stopping”.  The specifics for each person may differ, but the pattern is the same.

Join us for the ride, not just for that day late in July but for the process of getting ready for it.  I have made wonderful friends through our shared experience and desire to help.  Embrace the challenge for others and yourself.

- Bob Ford, Teacher and distance running coach at Fairfield Prep, life-long endurance athlete in swimming, biking and running.

Tracey Brittis

Two years ago- in July of 2009- I rode my first CT Challenge bike ride.

I woke up on the morning of the ride and asked my husband if he had a bike helmet because even though I was still very weak from my treatment, I wanted to ride 25 miles with the CT Challenge. What could he say, but lets go?! When we got there, the first thing that happened was a survivor lap. A survivor lap?! Balloons, butterflies, applause… it was like a dream. I felt like it was all for me. My eyes welled up but I couldn’t stop smiling. And when I looked around me, there were many people riding along side of me, and they were smiling too! It was right then that I realized that I had survived!

Right then my battle shifted from death to life, from drowning to swimming, and instead of fighting off cancer, I was riding for my health. A small shift, but a giant one. I was amazed- all I did was get on my bike that morning. On that day I began to take charge of my health and when we were done riding we said “Next year its 50 miles.” So this summer we rode 50 alongside hundreds of other survivors and friends and families of survivors. It was an awesome day.

Karen & Kert Sabbath

Every participant in the CT Challenge had his or her own personal reasons for “going the distance”. Perhaps they were survivors, or had a close friend or family member who was a survivor. Maybe they lost a loved one to cancer and were riding for them. Many health care professionals in the oncology world rode to honor their patients. Kert and I rode for all of those reasons.

As a medical oncologist at The Leever Cancer Center in Waterbury for nearly 25 years, Kert has had the privilege of caring for patients who continue to amaze and inspire him every day with their courage, fortitude and bravery through often difficult and trying times. As an oncology nutrition specialist at The Leever Center, I help to guide our patients through their treatment and beyond. We both find our jobs incredibly rewarding and feel good about the work that we do.

Our world turned upside down just over 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe I thought that by being married to an oncologist, I had some type of immunity, but that did not prove to be the case. Although we deal with cancer patients every day, all the rules go out the window when you are the one seated in an exam room or office having “the talk”. I am guessing that every survivor remembers every detail of the day they received their bad news. The treatment becomes a blur, but for me, that feeling of being punched in the gut when hearing the words “You have cancer” is permanently embedded in my memory.

My mind raced with the usual questions: How did this happen? I did everything right….why me? How could I tell my kids, my family members? What would the treatment be like? But, the unspoken question that was most difficult to face was: Would I live long enough to see my kids grow up? Would I die? Like many in my position, I spent a while ruminating and being scared and angry, then pulled myself together for the fight. I found that friends and family became my lifeline, and kept me going, moving me forward on this new journey into uncharted territory. They made me laugh, let me cry, let me vent, but never let me quit. And, after a somewhat rocky course, I completed my treatment. I was congratulated and sent on my way, with hugs and kisses from cancer center staff. Was that it? The letdown was palpable, but I felt guilty about it; after all, I should be elated. I tucked away my feelings and plowed ahead.

Well, the rest is history. Fast forward 10 years, and we met the great people at CT Challenge who articulated what I had been feeling for years. We were hooked, our cancer center was hooked, and before I knew it, Kert and I were co-captains of an awesome team of 27 riders, young and old, who raised over $35,000!!!!!

In many ways, the day of the ride was a metaphor for the journey each cancer patient makes. For me, it was a combination of nervous anticipation, tears and fears, worrying about the extremely hot weather, the hilly terrain, not knowing what to expect, wondering how it will feel to cross the finish line. Will I fall? What if I pass out? Will I make a fool out of myself? Will I let my team down if I can’t finish?

For Kert, it was a challenge of a different sort. He was going for the Century, and trained for months to push the envelope and meet his goal. There were 6 others on our team who were to join him as Century riders. They encountered lots of issues along the way; bike breakdowns, hydration issues and fatigue. But, they remained together, a team, and finished with fists held high, exhausted but elated. The way he led his "team" was a lot like the care he provides to patients by helping them navigate their journey; always remaining with them no matter what, until they cross the finish line.

The ride was definitely a challenge for each of us in different ways. As I tried to manage the hills and heat, my close friends and team members coaxed and cajoled me with words of inspiration, encouragement, jokes, songs and reminiscences of our lives together. As I crossed the finish line, sweaty, sticky, exhausted, but exhilarated, I realized once again, that whatever your journey may be, whatever challenge you are facing, your “team” will help you through the ups and downs, enabling you to accomplish what you thought was impossible.

We feel grateful to have become a part of this new survivorship community and to be a part of CT Challenge, an amazing organization that continues to reach out, educate and inspire all those they touch. And for us, the ride was a kick off for the survivorship program, "Stepping Forward" that is now being implemented at The Leever Cancer Center. The journey never ends.

Larry Schwartz

Six months after Sharyn & I were married, we learned she had cancer.  We experienced all of the awful emotions that accompany such a diagnosis. When we found out about the Connecticut Challenge and its mission to provide support to cancer survivors, we knew we had to get involved. I ride because there is an unmet need. I’ve come to understand there can be more survivorship clinics and education programs for healthcare professionals, survivors, and their families. By riding each year, we can help the Connecticut Challenge come closer to achieving their mission.

Cancer Cycling Fairfield: Amy Nessel

When my oncologist told me about my advanced diagnosis, I felt like the floor had dropped out from under me.

Who was he talking to? I felt great.

Why was he talking about maintaining my quality of life?  I was as happy as I have been in a long time and I was having about as much fun as I have had in a long time.

How could this be happening?

I am the mother to a scrumptious little boy and have my whole life in front of me.  I just could not metabolize the news.  My whole concept of time shifted - time simultaneously stood still while flashing before my eyes.

In an effort to make sense of everything, I began the process of linking minutes into hours, hours into days, days into weeks and weeks into months.

Now, 10 months into the process and feeling great, as good if not better than the day I was diagnosed, I have a deep commitment to living in the moment and a renewed sense of time.

On that cold, rainy February morning, a day and a half after my diagnosis, I walked with my brother the 5 miles to my house to my first treatment in town.  As an athlete, it was the only thing that made sense to me.  It was the only measure I had that I was doing well.  Exercise became a way of feeling like myself - young, alive and strong.  Since that day, I have not missed a week of walking to treatment with the company and support of a dear friend.

On July 24th, 5+ months into my treatment, I rode in my 2nd CT Challenge, but my 1st as a Survivor.  As I rode the same mantra held true - pedal strokes into feet, feet into yards, yards into miles to a finish line that defines accomplishment, offers an amazing sense of community of Survivorship and celebrates how amazing it is to be active.

I ride so that I feel alive, so that -  despite my diagnosis, I live the life I want to live.