Meet Alissa Vogelsang: Buffalonian, yogi and cancer thriver

Meet Alissa Vogelsang: Buffalonian, yogi and cancer thriver

Alissa rides her bike alongside the waterfront.

Several days a week, Alissa Vogelsang unrolls her yoga mat, bows her head and flows through a series of poses that challenge her physically and mentally. The practice has become spiritual in nature, serving to ground and center her as she moves through her day. She belongs to Space on Seneca, a yoga studio that’s owned by her best friend Colleen. Ever since Alissa’s move back to Buffalo a year ago, she has become ingrained in the community and looks forward to her practice.

Along with family and friends, the Space on Seneca community will join Alissa at the start line of the 2022 Ride for Roswell. As they ride, they will be honoring Alissa and her battle with metastatic cancer.

Alissa’s Cancer Journey

Alissa was just two weeks shy of her 30th birthday when she received the news. She lived in New York City at the time and discovered a lump she assumed was a cyst. A trip to the doctor confirmed her worst fears: She had breast cancer.

“Nobody could ever prepare you for hearing those words: You have cancer. It feels like having the wind knocked out of you,” she says. “Imagine your worst fear come to life. Cancer didn’t care that I was only 29 years old. Cancer didn’t care that I was in great shape. It didn’t care what my marital status was or what my career path looked like. It didn’t care if I had time for cancer or if I was terrified of having it. Cancer doesn’t care. It just comes in and starts taking over.”

After being diagnosed, Alissa went through a series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. She was in active treatment for almost a year before finally moving into remission. When she heard the good news, she exhaled, not knowing she’d been holding her breath since the beginning. From there, she resolved to get back to everyday life.

Fast forward three years. Alissa had just gotten back from a three-day yoga festival and felt a pain in her shoulder. She chalked it up to doing one too many chaturangas during her yoga practice and went to see an orthopedist. Concerned about the cancer returning to her breasts, she had been diligent about getting her MRIs and mammograms — but she had never thought about the rest of her body. As it turned out, she hadn’t pulled a muscle. The cancer was back, and it had metastasized.

The Road to Roswell Park

Alissa wears a #TeamAlissa T-shirt and triumphantly raising her hands in the hair beneath a sign that says "warrior." Her head is bald.
Alissa and her partner hug from a hospital bed. They are smiling and wearing matching #TeamAlissa tie-dye T-shirts.

Alissa began treatment for stage 4 cancer in NYC, but shortly after came the added stress of a global pandemic. Seeking a stronger community of family and friends, Alissa and her partner Brett made the decision to move back home to Buffalo, and Alissa moved her cancer treatment to Roswell Park, a center renowned for cancer care and research. Her first round with cancer made her familiar with hospitals, blood draws, testing and lingo, but this time was different. With it came new fears about her prognosis and quality of life. Some big questions weighed on her mind: Am I going to die? How soon am I going to die? What will my life look like now?

That’s where Roswell Park stepped in. The staff made her feel welcome and gave her confidence in her ability to fight back against the disease. They provided her with tools to keep moving forward and have taken care of her when it matters most.

“Roswell Park is supporting me in my fight against cancer, but more importantly, they’re allowing me to truly live my life. It’s not just about tackling the cancer and the diagnosis. It’s about ensuring that I get to still live my life the way I want to, as best as I can, despite the cancer,” she says.

Making the Most of Every Moment

Alissa stands next to her partner. She has a bald head and he wears a baseball cap and striped shirt.Living life is exactly what Alissa is doing. She continues treatments while leaning in to the things and people she loves most: her partner Brett, her fur baby Max, her family, friends and fitness. She’s more dedicated than ever to her yoga practice, carving out 60 or 75 minutes at a time to meditate as she moves through her flow. This has become an important part of her cancer journey, allowing her to tune in to her body and recognize when something doesn’t feel right.

Beyond that, Alissa’s committed to giving back to Roswell Park and helping others who are living with cancer. That’s why she decided to do the Ride for Roswell with the support and dedication of her yoga studio and loved ones.

“I feel very confident that a big part of why I’m here today and able to do these things and thrive is due to science and the advancements in cancer research. That’s a big part of what makes me so excited to participate in the Ride for Roswell. It’s helping create awareness and funding for science and research,” she says.

Ride Day Game Plan

Alissa and her best friend Colleen pose in front of their bikes on a beach with palm trees in the background.

On Ride Day, she’ll be surrounded by her partner, her brother (who’s flying in to ride with her), parents, best friend and fellow yogis. Her entire support system continues to rally behind her, including everyone who has donated to her Ride fundraiser. She will be riding in the Peloton for the Celebration of Hope and recently hit her goal of raising $10,000.

“I think the most exciting thing is to be surrounded by our community — our smaller community that includes our team and the larger Buffalo community. The number of people who do the Ride for us is so impressive, and it’s amazing to see people united for such a great cause: putting an end to cancer. To come together for something that is personally so important to me and celebrate it with so many loved ones is very, very meaningful.”

Look for Alissa and Team Space on Seneca this weekend!

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Baking with Gusto!

Lauren, her mom Lisa, sister Katie and friend Michelle stand in a kitchen for their Baking with Gusto! fundraiser.

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Baking with Gusto!

Lauren and her mom, Lisa, smile widely in winter jackets.
Lauren and her friend, Michelle, stand in a kitchen surrounded by baking tools.

For Lauren Latona, the Ride for Roswell goes beyond just a summer bike ride. Her mother, Lisa, is fighting stage four stomach cancer and visits Roswell Park often for treatments. Since her diagnosis, Lisa has always decided to mirror her life after one motto: Live with Gusto! The mantra is a simple reminder to make the most out of every day and to bring vigor and enthusiasm to all she does. 

Taking a page out of her mother’s playbook, Lauren decided to give back to Roswell Park and the Ride for Roswell by “Baking with Gusto!” All proceeds from her planned bake-a-thon would be donated to a cancer center that’s close to her family’s heart. For weeks, Lauren took orders from people in her network —quiches, cookies, cheesecakes and more. Then, she got down to business. With the help of her friend, Michelle, she baked for two days straight while checking orders off her list.

When all was said and done, the baking duo raised more than $600 for Roswell Park. Then, Lauren’s company, Sirius XM Radio, matched all donations for a total of $1,230 toward cancer care and research.

Lauren’s mom (and her sister, Katie) couldn’t be more proud of her efforts. Here’s what her mom had to say:

“Bake with Gusto! was born from the hearts of two warm and generous bakers — my daughter Lauren and her friend Michelle. They were looking to give back to RPCI for the great care I’m receiving, so they came up with a fantastic idea to bake for friends and family in return for donations. I still tear up when I think they were able to donate over $1200 to RPCI. Bake with Gusto! — a passion project close to my heart.”

Thank you, Lauren and Michelle, for all your efforts!

What out-of-the-box fundraising have you been trying? Share your ideas with us on social!

2022 Ride for Roswell Team Tent Rentals – Details

Team Tent Rentals - Ride City

Rented team tents can be accessed for set up and decorating on Friday, June 24 from 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. or Saturday, June 25 from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Please be mindful of pedestrian traffic.

Volunteers will be available during these times to assist you with transporting your items to your tent.

The Team Tent Drop Area will be located along Lee Rd., adjacent to the Furnas and Jarvis B parking lots. View the complete campus map here. A volunteer will greet you and will call for a gator to help deliver your items to your tent location.

SATURDAY BREAKDOWN:

As the day comes to an end, gators will also be available at the designated drop off areas in Ride City for transport back to the Lee Loop Team Tent Drop Area. The times for this accommodation begin at 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Please note that pedestrian traffic may impact delivery times and our volunteers will do their best to accommodate you.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

  • No personal grills are to be brought or used at the event.
  • You are responsible for general clean up and take down of all supplies within your tent.
  • No glass bottles are allowed in the Team Tent Area.

Bring Your Own Team Tent Reservations

Bring Your Own (BYO) team tents can be accessed for set-up and take down on Friday, June 24 from 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. or Saturday, June 25 from 5:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Please note that you are responsible for the set-up, take down and security of all your belongings.

NEW THIS YEAR: You will be able to temporarily park your vehicle to load and unload your tent and supplies in the Alumni B parking lot. To access this area, you will need to enter and exit Webster Rd. off Millersport Hwy.

SATURDAY BREAKDOWN:

As the day comes to an end, you will be able to drive your car to the Alumni B lot for breakdown by entering Webster Rd. off Millersport Hwy. This will be the only way to access that lot/area.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

  • No personal grills are to be brought or used at the event.
  • You are responsible for general clean up and take down of all supplies within your tent.
  • No glass bottles are allowed in the Team Tent Area.

Featured Team: Team Shuno

Why does your team ride in the Ride for Roswell?

When we started as a Team of 8 in 2018, it was a few years after my sister in law underwent treatments for Breast Cancer and my mom started her battle with Lung Cancer. In the summer of 2014 we lost my uncle Ralph to Throat Cancer. In October of 2015, on the same day that we learned of my wife’s Breast Cancer diagnosis, my mom went to the hospital with what would be the spread of her cancer to her brain. Shortly after that, with my mom and my wife dealing with their surgeries and treatments, my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. In the spring of 2017 my friend Susan Tanner lost her valiant battle with metastatic Breast Cancer. Needless to say, it was a rough few years. With all that had happened we felt the need to do something to not only celebrate those that were still with us and honor those that we lost, but also to do something to help the cause in some way. The Ride For Roswell was the perfect opportunity and we have been riding and growing as a team ever since! This year we will have 15 riders from Buffalo, Olean, Rochester and Vermont!

What does leading a team mean to you?

I feel a tremendous sense of pride to be able to organize our families and do something to help this cause that has affected us in such profound ways.

What is your favorite part about Ride weekend?

There are so many things I love about Ride weekend. At the top of the list is the Celebration of Hope. It’s a chance to slow down from all the prep and remember why we are riding. Although it’s always a very emotional event, it is also incredibly uplifting and empowering.

Bob and Julie Furminger Talk Tradition

For Julie and Bob Furminger, the Ride for Roswell is a quarter-century tradition that keeps getting more meaningful with time. It all started 25 years ago with a gift. A dear friend of the Furmingers gave them a racing bike shortly before he passed away from cancer. The couple saw that as an opportunity to honor their dear friend and put the bike to good use by participating in their first-ever Ride for Roswell.

The Beginning

That first year left a strong impression on the Furmingers. They rode through pouring rain and got soaked to the bone pedaling down cobblestone streets. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

One image remains with them to this day:

“We stood outside the hospital and waved to the people in the windows at Roswell Park,” Julie says. “Then, everybody got on their bikes and left with a bag pipe player. It poured rain, and we were soaking wet right through. That was not easy, but it was a very memorable thing to be at the hospital with all those people in the windows.”

Twenty-five years later, the Furmingers are still riding strong for everyone affected by cancer at Roswell Park and beyond. Despite the normal obstacles of everyday life, they commit to riding year after year. Even their most recent challenge — Bob’s hip surgery — couldn’t stop them from participating in a tradition they love.

Through the Years

According to the couple, the Ride for Roswell has gotten even better with time, bringing new traditions, bigger celebrations and different ways to ride. This included the formation of their team, the Clarence Christian Crusaders. When the Furmingers shared their enthusiasm for the Ride for Roswell with their church, the entire community rallied behind them and decided to ride together. Since the pandemic, the team has leaned into the Ride Your Own Way Option, which has given them the ability to ride from anywhere and chart their own course while supporting the same great cancer cause.

This year, they plan to cover 25 miles with 30 other church members riding or cheering them on. A few preschool kids will also join them for a shorter ride to a local ice cream shop. Their parents see this as a teaching opportunity, showing their little ones that helping the community matters (while giving them a sweet treat).

On Fundraising

The Furminger’s team isn’t the only thing that’s grown over the years — their fundraising has, too. The Clarence Christian Crusaders has managed to fundraise thousands of dollars for cancer care and research at Roswell Park over the years with more than $21,000 raised last year alone. They’re hoping to match that number again this year. The Furminger’s fundraising efforts are eclectic with some donations coming directly from their church community and others coming from their friends and loved ones and friends of loved ones. They write personalized letters each year to the people in their lives, explaining what they’re doing and asking for donations. Last year, they sent out between 50 and 75 letters, and almost all of them came back with donations.

“It doesn’t have to be a large donation,” Bob says. “It can be a small amount of money, but the more people who donate, the more money we’re going to get. And that’s what it’s all about — getting enough to keep the research going.”

As times passes, more people in the Furmingers lives have been affected by cancer, including friends and team members. This year, the Furmingers will be riding for their daughter-in-law, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and began treatment at Roswell Park. This experience has brought a renewed sense of urgency in their fundraising for clinical trials and research.

“I have lost so many friends [to cancer], and if I can do anything to slow that down or stop it, I would consider my efforts successful,” Bob says.

Final Thoughts

Thinking back on her 25-year journey, Julie had one last sentiment to share.

“A long time ago, I met a lady from Barcelona, Spain,” Julie recalls. “She was given a scholarship to come to the famous Roswell Park hospital. She had just graduated from medical school, and it was the fifties. She impressed me, and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s really an important place down there.’ I still feel that way about Roswell Park. I just feel good about helping.”

Join the Furmingers at the 2022 Ride for Roswell today.

Featured Team: Andrea’s Army

The Ride for Roswell is very meaningful to my family. We’ve had many experiences with cancer through numerous family members. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters, Cousins, Grandchildren, young and old, so many have experienced cancer in one way or another. The team, Andrea’s Army, is named after my sister Andrea who battled Stage 4 Kidney cancer at the young age of 28 years old. She put up an extremely courageous battle against cancer and never gave up. We like to raise money and ride every year in her memory to continue her fight against cancer. Her generous and joyous spirit lives on in us and in this event.

What does leading a team mean to you?

Leading Andrea’s Army is very bittersweet for me. I wish my sister Andrea were by my side to lead her team herself. I feel her energy through the love and support I have received over the past 9 years from friends and family alike.

What is your favorite part about Ride weekend?

Waiting at the start line is always my favorite part. The excitement from the community of people around me is always overwhelming! Then, when I push the pedals and take off, riding through the crowd of supportive strangers cheering and ringing their bells is such a wonderful feeling. I am so happy to be part of this event year after year.

Featured Rider: Roxanne Farrell

Why do you participate in the Ride for Roswell?

My mother passed away at the age of 42 from lung cancer. We never knew she had cancer. My Grandmother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer the first few years of my life. I remember her being sick from the chemo and radiation. My grandfather passed away from Skin cancer. Too many family members have had cancer. I want to help to find cures so it’s not always a death sentence, but curable.

What is your favorite part about Ride weekend?

The love and support of the Thousands of riders and volunteers all coming together for this one amazing cause. Because Cancer sucks, and together hopefully we can make it’s not so bad.

What have you been doing to raise funds for the Ride?

Asking friends, family, and co-workers. Collecting every single penny, nickel, dime, quarter I find on the road, parking lot, floor and call them my “pennies from heaven”.

Contact.

Office address.

Elm and Carlton Streets
Buffalo, NY 14263

Phone number.

716-THE-RIDE
(716-843-7433)

Proceeds directly benefit: