Turning shock into action: The Gibbons Family Story

Turning shock into action: The Gibbons Family Story

When Jim Gibbons learned his wife Kathy had cancer, the news felt surreal. 

“The initial reaction we felt like we got mugged. Like what? Are you kidding? Her care team jumped right in. We started her on her initial round of chemotherapy within a couple of days,” said Jim. “We were climbing mountains in Portugal in April, and now we’re climbing different ones at Roswell.”

Kathy’s current battle with cancer is what motivated her family to sign up for their first Ride for Roswell. They’re riding not only to honor Kathy, but also to help forge a new, easier path for the next generation of patients.

Jim and Kathy Gibbons

Kathy’s Cancer Diagnosis

Kathy Gibbons in treatment
Kathy Gibbons in treatment

In the early summer of 2023, Kathy became noticeably tired. She developed an abnormal heartbeat, and, alongside her family, sought medical help to get to the bottom of what was going on.

Her daughter Cailin knew something was seriously wrong when a doctor in the emergency room told them they were going to call oncology at Roswell Park.

“She was officially diagnosed on July 4th last year with acute myeloid leukemia. Definitely a scary and uncertain moment, because we were unfamiliar with the disease and had so many questions yet to be answered,” said Cailin.

Kathy was admitted to Roswell Park to begin treatment right away. Jim and Cailin learned to pivot from shock to action, to be there as Kathy’s support system. Bridget, Kathy’s other daughter who lives in California, took the first flight she could get to come home.

Cailin explained, “It’s devastating. I don’t think you ever want to see someone you know, let alone a parent, go through something like this. There have been days where I’m just like, ‘I wish I could take your place.’”

In addition to the chemotherapy, Kathy also leaned on Roswell Park’s Donor Center as a key tool in fighting this disease.

“I added it up just from a couple month period. I looked at her chart and she received around 50 platelet transfusions,” said Jim. “She’s alive because of that donor center.”

Kathy received a 10/10 match through the Be The Match program, which allowed her to receive a bone marrow transplant in October. But, her journey is far from over. She is still recovering and gaining her strength back every day.

Riding for Kathy and Other Cancer Patients

Living in Western New York, Jim and Cailin had been familiar with Ride for Roswell for many years, and with Roswell Park now being a major fixture in their lives, they decided to join the cause.

“It was a no-brainer for me to participate this year,” said Cailin. “For me, I sometimes feel so helpless. What can I do? If raising money for Roswell Park helps me cope with my mom’s diagnosis and feel like I’m giving back and helping support, of course I’m going to do that.”

Members of the Gibbons family registered on the Donor Center’s team. In fact, this year, team captains for the Donor Center even selected Kathy to be their 2024 honoree.

Jim and Cailin have turned fundraising into a friendly father/daughter competition. They both have personal goals of raising $10,000. They say their ability to garner donations quickly speaks to Kathy’s character and the impact she’s had on so many people in her life.

Cailin and Kathy GIbbons

“Taking Deep Breaths” and Coping with Cancer

Kathy Gibbons in treatment
The Gibbons Family

When asked what advice they would give to another family learning of a cancer diagnosis, Cailin and Jim first offered, “Take deep breaths.” They’ve taken each day as it comes, trusted Kathy’s care team and created moments of joy along the way.

Their inspiration for staying positive: Kathy.

Jim said, “She was in a bed at Roswell I’d say about 120 days since July. Her spirit really hasn’t faltered all that much.”

Cailin, Jim and Bridget thank the team at Roswell Park for treating all of Kathy — the cancer patient and the human being. The staff has gotten to know her and allowed the family to feel as involved as possible.

One example of this came in August, when Kathy celebrated her birthday in the hospital. Nurses and medical staff helped decorate and hang a banner outside her room. Family members and friends sent birthday cards. In one day alone, Kathy opened around 80 cards from loved ones.

 “Some of our darkest moments as a family have been at Roswell Park. But then some of our brightest moments have too,” Cailin reflected.

As they prepare for their first Ride for Roswell as a family, Jim, Cailin and Bridget are all in on supporting the mission to end cancer.

“I’d gladly do whatever I can to help support my mom and the community at Roswell Park because she’s not alone. The floors are always full, so I know that people are looking for hope and answers and treatment and second chances, and if that’s what dollars can give, then it’s a great feeling,” said Cailin.

Jim added, “We’re taking it one day at a time. There have been times I’ve been so afraid. But I’m not as afraid anymore.”

First-time rider’s guide to the Ride

First-time rider’s guide to the Ride

Welcome to the Ride Community! With Ride Weekend fast approaching, this is a look at everything you can expect as a first-time rider.

Rider at Ride for Roswell giving a thumbs up

Did you know the Ride is a two-day event?

There are two key pieces to Ride Weekend: Celebration of Hope and, of course, Ride Day.

Celebration of Hope

Friday, June 21

Celebration of Hope is an impactful event that kicks off Ride for Roswell. The mission-based program, which takes place the Friday night before Ride Day, includes the parade of teams, the Peloton and the ceremonial lighting of the torch.

Ride Day

Saturday, June 22

Ride Day is what you probably picture when you hear, “Ride for Roswell.” Thousands of cyclists ride in one of the nine routes, ranging from 4 to 100 miles. All routes (other than Canada) begin and end at UB’s North Campus, and there’s fun for the whole family! Invite your loved ones to cheer you on, shop local at the Ride’s vendor village and enjoy lunch in the meal tent.

First and foremost, Ride for Roswell is a fundraiser.

Funds raised through Ride for Roswell benefit research and clinical trials at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. It’s important each rider does their part in the mission to end cancer. Imagine the difference we can make when we all come together for such an incredible cause. If you’ve never fundraised before, no worries! We’re here to help.

Get 3!

Did you know that every minute, three people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer? This year, we want every rider to secure at least three donations. Learn more about the Get 3 campaign here.

Getting Started

We know getting started with your fundraising can be intimidating, so we’ve laid out several tools, tips and tricks you can use to maximize your impact. Check out the tools to kick-start your fundraising.  

And … the more you raise, the more you earn!

The Ride Community welcomes you with open arms, and we can’t wait to celebrate together on Ride Weekend.

Meet some of the riders who will be joining you on Ride Weekend:

Still have questions? Feel free to call our team at 716-843-7433 or email us at rideforroswell@roswellpark.org.

Anita Jones: Two decades of Ride for Roswell

Anita Jones: Two decades of Ride for Roswell

Anita Jones is what we like to call a fundraising ‘go-getter.’ She knows Ride for Roswell isn’t just about Ride Day, but rather what we can accomplish when we come together with a shared mission of ending cancer. She’s gained perspective of the difference the dollars can make at her first Ride for Roswell 21 years ago, and she’s been hooked ever since.

Anita Jones at Ride for Roswell

Getting Involved in the Mission to End Cancer

Anita Jones at Ride for Roswell

Anita has participated in the Ride every year for more than two decades. Even when an injury prevented her from riding, she still raised funds for the cause. She reflected on what got her involved initially.  

“I was working for a State Farm agent, and at the time his father was going through cancer. So, he formed a team. I love to ride my bike anyway, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m all for it!’ and I’ve never stopped.”

After crossing the finish line for the first time, she knew the experience would stick with her. To this day, that is still one of her favorite parts of Ride Weekend. As she recruits new riders to the cause, she tells them about that impactful moment.

“I say, at the end, you may get emotional because you’re looking at all the names that are on the road that are written down. Either they’re survivors or in memory of someone. Then at the finish line, everybody’s ringing the bells and sometimes you might see a patient who is without their hair or you see little kids and you can’t help but get welled up with emotion because they’re saying thank you, and I’m thinking this is the least I can do, ride my bike. It is nowhere in comparison to what you’re going through.”

Fundraising for the Cause

Every year, people in Anita’s life know the request for a donation is coming. She believes people appreciate her dedication year after year, and some even reach out to her before she has a chance to solicit.

“I’m a Roswell Park supporter for life. It’s just something that I do, and people know that. When they see me, they’re like, ‘Are you doing the Ride again this year?’ I’m like, ‘You betcha! I’m there.”

Her advice to other fundraisers: Don’t be afraid to ask.

She utilizes Facebook and Instagram to garner donations, and she goes through all the contacts on her phone to see who might be able to support her efforts.

 “If they don’t, that’s fine. I say, ‘Please say a prayer for me on the day of the Ride.’”

Anita has raised more than $17,000 through the Ride, and this year alone, she’s striving for $5,000.

“It’s still not enough until cancer is one of those things that we don’t have to worry about anymore.”

Anita holding an Extra Mile Club sign
Anita walking in the procession at Celebration of Hope

Finding Purpose through the Ride

Anita at a tour during Ride for Roswell Kickoff
Anita at Ride for Roswell

The more Anita learns about the impact of the Ride, the deeper she dives into the movement. This Ride Season, she attended Ride Kickoff, which was held at Roswell Park for the first time.

“I went through the tour and it just blew my mind. The research that Roswell Park does — it never ceases to amaze me. Everybody is so invested and it’s one of those things that you can’t help but care. You can’t help but invest your time because it means so much to so many.”

She says the Ride has become much more than a summer tradition, but something that truly is a part of who she is as a person.

“This is something that has become one of my missions in life. Everybody tries to think of, why? What’s your purpose? Why are you here? I always think my purpose is to motivate people. If I can motivate people to contribute, whether they like me personally or whether they just get behind the cause, I think that’s part of my life’s mission.”

When asked how long she plans to participate in the Ride, Anita didn’t hesitate.

“As long as God enables me to be healthy, if I can ride, I’ll ride. When it comes to a time when I can’t ride anymore, I’m going to volunteer. I’m going to do something with Roswell Park,” she added. “It’s just a great cause, a great mission. I hope one day we can say, ‘Cancer? What is that?”

 

How Vanette Notaro leads her workplace Ride team

How Vanette Notaro leads her workplace Ride team

Vanette Notaro prepares for Ride Weekend all year. She’s been a longtime supporter of Roswell Park through her role as regional saleswoman for Cumulus Media, the parent company for radio stations 97 Rock, Classic Hits 104.1 and 103.3 The Edge.

“I’ve been with the radio station for 30 years and around 20 years ago we started working directly with Roswell Park in regards to the Ride,” said Vanette.

Her passion for the cause has never wavered, and she understands the mission both on a big-picture and personal level. Part of her motivation comes from her own experiences as a patient at Roswell Park, since Vanette has been living with cancer since 2003.

Vanette Notaro at Ride for Roswell.

Vanette’s Cancer Journey

In 2003, Vanette learned she had non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. Her children were one and three years old at the time.

“When I was first diagnosed, I was devastated, and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t realize that there were so many different things I could do to feel good and live a great, healthy life.”

Even though her cancer is something she will always live with, Vanette describes it as manageable — thanks to a treatment that was cutting-edge when she was diagnosed.

“I did a therapy back then that was really new. It was called Rituxan, and nowadays they do this all the time with patients, but this is why we do the Ride because it helps with new treatment options. And even though it was 20 years ago when I was doing Rituxan, now there are new therapies. Without the Ride, this couldn’t happen.”

Vanette visits Roswell Park for bloodwork and CAT scans regularly. She explained, because of Rituxan and the minimal side effects she’s experienced, many people wouldn’t know right away that she has cancer. The drug has helped her maintain normalcy.

That normalcy, and maybe one day a cure, is what she wants for all patients, including her late mother Elaine Tybor and friend David Berndt who both lost their lives to cancer.

“I wish there was a way to find out how to stop it, but at least we still can find a way to cure it.”

Motivating Team Cumulus at Ride for Roswell

Cumulus Media is not only a sponsor at Ride for Roswell, but also an active team led by Vanette. In 2023 alone, the three teams that are a part of Cumulus Media raised around $40,000. In 2024, they’re aiming for $50,000.

Vanette says what works for them is that their radio personalities and staff are all individually passionate about the mission.

“I also see a lot of new people every year, because every year someone is touched with cancer in a different way, whether it’s their mom or their sibling or their cousin. I feel like everyone has a story, whether they’re riding or they’re volunteering.”

Encouraging some fun workplace competition has also proven to be a great motivator for fundraising. For example, in recent years, 97 Rock103.3 The Edge and Classic Hits 104.1 have created individual station teams and incentivized which station could raise the most funds for Roswell Park.

“We kind of do an in-house competition with all the radio stations. We give all of the riders their own team shirts and they all are in a contest to win a gift card for $1,000 for a new bike.”

Vanette explained all three team leaders have been affected by cancer, so they’re personally motivated as well. Additionally, due to the nature of working in radio, they use their platforms to share stories related to the cause and let people know about the Ride.

“The listeners want to be a part of it. It’s like their own little families on each radio station.”

Team Cumulus at Ride for Roswell
Team Cumulus at Ride for Roswell
Team Cumulus at Ride for Roswell

What’s Kept Vanette Coming Back to the Ride

Vanette with 97 Rock at Ride for Roswell

Leading a large team can take hard work, but Vanette laughs that she doesn’t get tired — only excited.

“I think whether I was a patient or not, I would still be excited to be a part of this. It makes me really proud because this is one of Buffalo’s biggest events and also one of Cumulus’ biggest events. It’s important to all of us.”

In her role, she is on stage with the radio personalities at the start line for each ride. Cheering on each wave of riders is her favorite part.

“Seeing the people who really care, seeing the cancer survivors. When you’re at the start line and they ask you to raise your hand, it’s really emotional.”

She also likes connecting with other patients and survivors throughout Ride Weekend.

“It makes me feel like that was the reason why I was there at the Ride: to help other people like me.”

When asked how to describe the Ride to someone who has never experienced it before, Vanette didn’t hesitate. “It’s hope.”

She added, “You see all the people coming together, all these strangers, and it’s just an experience. Everyone laughing and maybe even crying because they lost someone, but it brings everyone together, and there’s not a lot of events that can do that.”

Why Get Your Workplace Involved in the Mission to End Cancer?

Creating a team at Ride for Roswell is easy and worthwhile.

Vanette’s advice for someone looking to get their company or organization involved in the Ride is to make sure you have a few leaders who are driven to leave a lasting impact for the cause.

She added, “Cancer doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about age. It doesn’t care about your family or friends. Everyone has been affected. It can change someone’s life in an instant. The chances that people at your work are being affected is huge, unfortunately, and that gives them a passion to start this team. Friends and family will jump on to help support those people.”

Not only can doing the Ride alongside coworkers be great for workplace morale, but together you’re also making a difference for cancer patients everywhere.

“There’s a need for new treatment options that can actually save people’s lives. These therapies can provide cutting-edge treatment choices for patients, which we need and it’s important.”

Vanette and her sons

Vanette has experienced the impact firsthand as a longtime cancer patient, who 20 years ago, didn’t think she’d be here in 2024, now advocating for others living with these diseases. She is, and that’s what keeps her motivated to return each year, rally her colleagues and contribute the best way she knows how to the mission to end cancer.