Gratitude in action: Kathy Caruso shares the story of hope behind Team ‘Otterly’ Phil.
Time means different things to different people. For Kathy Caruso of Humphrey, N.Y., time is a gift.
In life, the unexpected can happen; the challenges that remind us we don’t have control over how much time we get. But, it’s how we choose to spend that time, that makes the journey real, authentic and human.
As Kathy remembers her late husband Phil Stock, you can tell by her contagious smile, that the couple made every second count, even when their time was cut short.
“Cancer was with us all of our married life, but it never stopped us from living and loving and doing the things that we always wanted to do,” Kathy explained.
In 2003, Kathy and Phil became husband and wife.
“We just got married and we had all the hope and the
However, four months into their new chapter, Phil was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer, one of the fastest growing and most aggressive cancers. The two had to pivot from planning for the future, to navigating a life-altering disease.
“It was devastating because it was a grim diagnosis. He just had the wind knocked out of his sails. He fainted in the office.”
Once they had the results, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center had a plan for Phil to begin treatment for the following Monday.
“That’s how quick it was,” Kathy emphasized.
Phil underwent enhanced radiation and chemotherapy and, while intense, Kathy praised the precision of the treatment.
“It was the therapy he needed. It was the treatment he needed. It was guided by the hands of the oncologist, the radiologist. I can’t say enough about those people. They saved his life.”
Three years after that initial diagnosis, Phil was recovering – both in health and spirit, and he was incredibly grateful.
Kathy added, “It was a miracle delivered through Roswell.”
Kathy describes their role in Ride for Roswell as “gratitude in action.”
After Phil’s clean bill of health, in 2007 he bought a bike and decided to get involved. For Kathy and Phil, fundraising and riding in Ride for Roswell was their way of giving back.
“My gosh, that man rode that bike till the end of days and always in Ride for Roswell. That was his go-to.”
But in 2010, the couple got hit with another shock. Phil’s second cancer diagnosis. This time, it was stage IV colon cancer.
The last lap.
With Phil’s new diagnosis, Kathy said, once again, the staff at Roswell Park got right into action. It wasn’t until five years later that Phil had exhausted all treatment options, and turned to palliative care.
“Through palliative care, we got two more years, and that was a gift of time to do things we had wanted to do, to finish things up that we hadn’t done.”
Kathy explained the team at Roswell Park also helped Phil to say goodbye to friends and family and to hope in a different way. She added, “The doctors and the nurses were incredible and just so special.”
The summer leading up to his death, he visited with people in a gazebo he had previously built in their backyard. Even during the hardest times, his spirit and zest for life never faded.
“He was so grateful for every minute, for every day, for every year, for every time we walked out of Roswell Park and we got the go to live. Man, he just embraced it all,” said Kathy. “We had 15 years together and every minute of it is a gift.”
Kathy remembered one of the last conversations she had with her husband, in which he expressed he wished they had their own team at Ride for Roswell. Imagine the impact they could’ve made!
He died just days before the Ride in 2017, but in his honor, Kathy started a team the next year.
Team ‘Otterly’ Phil.
On the team page description, Kathy explained the meaning behind the name Team ‘Otterly’ Phil. She wrote in part:
“Phil and I once pondered what animal we would like to be. He chose the otter. He chose well. Otters are engaging creatures overflowing with positive energy. Intelligent and bright, they are also popular, eminently lovable and love the water! Otters mix easily with a wide range of animal personalities. Doesn’t that describe him to a tee?”
While the team started because of Phil, it has grown into something much bigger. After all, even during his life, Phil aimed to put others in the spotlight. Kathy believes that’s what made him such a wonderful teacher and human being.
“We ride under his name, because it’s what he wanted, but we ride for so many others,” said Kathy.
Making an impact.
Each of us has the power to make a difference, whether you ride, donate, volunteer or help spread the word. Kathy said her team’s philosophy is, “A penny or a pound, it’s all forward motion.”
When asked to describe Ride Weekend, Kathy said the experience, above all else, is hopeful.
Hopeful to end cancer. Hopeful for time.
“I know that there are many, many people in the world who are struggling with what he went through and I just pray to God that they have some part of the spirit that Phil had, and if I could do anything to help that go forward, that’s what I’d like to do. That’s why we ride.”