Meet Ride for Roswell’s 2024 Torch Lighter:

Kelly Englert Flak

2024 Ride for Roswell Torch Lighter, Kelly Englert Flak

Cancer has carved its way into many areas of Kelly Englert Flak’s life. She is a cancer survivor, a grieving mother who lost her daughter to this disease and a Roswell Park employee who has dedicated her career to serving patients. Still, Kelly stands by this notion: “Cancer can’t win.”

We gather at Ride for Roswell every year to stand in solidarity with patients, celebrate survivors and remember those we’ve lost. But, at the forefront, we ride with a mission to end cancer. Kelly lives that mission every day. Her unwavering hope and commitment to a better tomorrow are just some of the many reasons she was selected as this year’s Ride for Roswell Torch Lighter. 

She received dozens of nominations from family members, friends and colleagues. 

  • "Kelly is the most selfless person I know, putting herself last before helping others.”
  • “It’s not easy seeing what this disease does to many, but Kelly gives hope, love and support so that others don’t have to fight alone."
  • “She lives the Roswell Park mission all day, every day.”
  • “Kelly exemplifies hope in everything she does. Through all of this, she perseveres and is the glue that holds us all together.”
Ride for Roswell Torch Lighter Kelly Englert Flak in the Elevate Salon
Kelly and Kendall Flak

“The Mayor of Roswell”

Kelly, RN, MSN, OCN, began her career at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2007. She moved her way up from a staff nurse in the intensive care unit to the clinical nurse manager in the gynecology clinic.

“I absolutely love coming to work. A lot of people can’t say that about their job. I have a passion for what I do and a passion for my patients. I like knowing that I can make a difference,” said Kelly.

Kelly’s youngest daughter Kendall now works at Roswell Park as well. The two often meet for lunch when their shifts align.  

“Kendall calls me the ‘Mayor of Roswell,’” Kelly laughed. “It’s just because I have been on so many paths on my journey as an employee.”

Working at Roswell Park is what makes Kelly, Kelly, even as she battles stage 4 lung cancer.

“I worked for eight months on the floor with a chest tube in. I have to. This is my sense of normalcy. This is where I can come and be Kelly, and not be a cancer patient.”

As Kelly fought cancer herself, she also took care of her late daughter Kaitland Sneed. Each step of the way, Kelly’s colleagues offered their compassion and support.

“I call them my coworkers, but they’re my family. They have taken care of me, and they’ve embraced Kaitland as part of our family.”

Diagnoses Months Apart

While working a night shift in the ICU, Kelly got a call from Kaitland’s husband. He explained Kaitland was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital after having a seizure. Kaitland, 29 years old and living in Pittsburgh at the time, had no symptoms prior. It didn’t take long for her to be diagnosed with grade 3 astrocytoma. Later, she would receive a second diagnosis: glioblastoma.

Only three months after Kaitland’s initial diagnosis, Kelly learned on July 22, 2020, that she had stage 4 lung cancer. The news came after living with what she thought was just “bad allergies” for more than a year. She saw her doctor with complaints of constant sneezing and coughing and they went on a pursuit to figure out the cause but wound up unsuccessful. So, Kelly learned to live with her discomfort while being redeployed to the ICU during the pandemic.

“When I found out, I just felt like my whole world came to an end, but I couldn’t because my daughter was on the same journey with me, and we continued on that journey together. We got each other through.”

Kaitland Sneed, Kelly's daughter
Kelly's family in the hospital with Kaitland
Kaitland and Kelly
Kelly's family photo

Fighting Cancer as Mother and Daughter

Kelly stayed in Pittsburgh for the first two months of Kaitland’s treatment. Once Kaitland started progressing, they created a rotating family schedule for visits so Kelly could continue to do her treatment in Buffalo.

“We called ourselves our cancer buddies because we kind of knew what each other was thinking. If we went to a bad place in our mind, I knew where she was at so I could pull her back out of there and vice versa or taking care of ourselves, remembering to do that. She would look at me and say, ‘Mom, you’re not getting enough rest. You don’t look good.’ Or I would say, ‘Kaitland, you’re pushing yourself too much.’”

Eventually, as Kaitland got sicker, Kelly brought her daughter home to Buffalo so she could continue treatment in a place they both trusted: Roswell Park.

Kaitland fought hard in the last months of life. She passed away in January of 2024, less than a month after her 32nd birthday.

By this point, Kelly’s lung cancer had spread to her brain amid her treatment plan of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. However, thanks to targeted therapy — an approach that was decided on after receiving a genetic test — Kelly is now in remission. At the top of her mind, is making sure Kaitland’s life is remembered.

“Kaitland was just a wonderful person, so energetic, so full of life. Her personality and her smile. She was just magnetic. You were just drawn to her. She was the kindest person there ever was. There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for anybody. She was my social butterfly,” Kelly explained with tears in her eyes.

“I want people to remember her name and I want people to know she fought, and she did not let cancer take from her, not even the last year. She fought, she persevered and she was Kaitland. She was not going to let cancer steal from her.”

Carrying on Kaitland’s Legacy Through the Ride

Back in 2020, Kelly’s family created a team at Ride for Roswell: Flak Pack Family and Friends. They used it not only as a way for loved ones to show their support for Kelly and Kaitland but also as a platform to reach others.

“It’s not just for the Ride. It’s also to help others who are on their cancer journey because one of our mottoes is nobody fights alone.”

Prior to creating Flak Pack, Kelly volunteered at the Ride as a nurse for many years. Her favorite part is the Peloton.

“I get goosebumps every time I see them ride in knowing that they’re riding for somebody and they’re riding for everybody and just the support that they bring. The whole evening is very emotional. Our family usually goes together and then when they light the torch, that’s the most exciting part. It’s like, ‘All right, let the Ride begin.”

The cause is obviously close to Kelly’s heart, for more reasons than one. But, above all else, she knows the importance of raising funds for cancer research.

This is a photo of the Ride for Roswell Torch.

“Without research, I wouldn't be here. Right now, I am on a medication that was only approved three years ago by the FDA. Three years ago, had I been at the beginning of my journey and had that mutation, I wouldn't be sitting here right now, and I wouldn't be lighting that torch this year. So, I am thankful to Roswell Park and its research and to everybody who helps donate and put money and funding toward that.”

Kelly Englert Flak, the 2024 Torch Lighter

As Kelly prepares to light the torch during this year’s Celebration of Hope, she laughs that she has “big shoes to fill.”

She’s honored to be a part of such an impactful moment, and when she sees the flame, she’ll know Kaitland will be, in some ways, still be right by her side rooting her on in the fight against this disease.

“I hope she’s looking down on me right now and I want her to be proud of me for continuing to bring cancer into the spotlight in a good way to say, ‘Hey, we can make these changes. And it takes all of us to make these changes and it’s for the better.”