Roswell Park ICU nurse Gabrielle Acosta shares her personal connection to the cause.

Team Papa's Meatballs at Ride for Roswell

Gabrielle Acosta has experienced Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center through two different lenses: as an employee, working as an ICU nurse, and as the granddaughter of a patient.

Phil Pecoraro, Gabrielle’s “papa,” as she calls him, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013, years before she started working at Roswell Park.

Initially, Phil was being treated at an outside facility, but then the family turned to Roswell Park.

“Everything was totally different. Roswell has completely, completely changed my grandpa’s life, and my family’s life,” said Gabrielle.

Phil Pecoraro at Ride for Roswell

Team Papa’s Meatballs.

Turning their gratitude into action, Gabrielle and her family got involved with Ride for Roswell. She explained, “We started our team, which is called Team Papa’s Meatballs in honor of my papa.”

Gabrielle laughed when explaining the meaning behind the name.  She said not only was Phil ‘famous’ for making meatballs, but he also endearingly referred to his grandchildren as meatballs.

“You know, big Italian family,” Gabrielle said with a smile.

While Phil never rode in the event, Gabrielle says he loved being a part of the Ride Weekend environment. “It was like the like a big party for him,” she added.

Phil passed away in August of 2021, and in lieu of flowers, his family asked that memorials be made to Roswell Park instead.

Even after Phil’s passing, Team Papa’s Meatballs is still as active as ever, raising critical funds for cancer research in his honor. Gabrielle knows the continuation of the team would make her papa proud.

“He was Roswell’s biggest cheerleader. He loved that place, and he was such an advocate.”

A message to other Roswell Park employees.

Team Papa's Meatballs at Ride for Roswell

Employees who get involved in the Ride are a part of what we call Team Roswell, and they play a key role in the event’s success.

To her colleagues who are considering registering, Gabrielle says, “Don’t hesitate. Definitely sign up!”

She added that even if you’re not a cyclist, there’s no reason to be nervous, as there are people of all ages and skill levels. With nine different routes to choose from, ranging from five to 100 miles, there is a path for everyone.

And for employees who may not have experience with fundraising, you are not alone!

“Social media makes it so easy now, even if you just share a link to your fundraising page and post about what you’re doing, that’s a great start,” said Gabrielle.

Her favorite aspect of the weekend is the Celebration of Hope. “It makes me cry every year,” she added. It’s something so impactful she encourages all Roswell Park employees to experience it.


The big picture.

Since Gabrielle works on the frontlines of cancer care, she sees the dollars from Ride for Roswell at work every day.

“Since I have started at Roswell, there have been so many new cancer treatments and that is all because of fundraising and research.”

As she prepares for another Ride Season, she remembers why she joined the movement in the first place.

“Roswell Park gave us seven extra years with my grandfather, and we do the Ride so that our patients and other people can get more years with their families too.”

Team Papa's Meatballs at Ride for Roswell