Spearheading Team Roswell’s top fundraising team

Spearheading Team Roswell’s top fundraising team

Employees at Roswell Park serve cancer patients every day, but their commitment to the cause doesn’t stop there. Hundreds of employees also do their part in the mission to end cancer by participating in Ride for Roswell. We call this group, along with their family members, Team Roswell. Since 2012, Team Roswell has raised more than $3.5 million through the Ride.

For several years, the Donor Center has been the top Roswell Park team — led by Maria Turner.

Getting Involved with Ride for Roswell

Maria, who is also the marketing and communications manager for Roswell Park’s donor center, took part in her first Ride for Roswell as a vendor representing the donor center in the mid-2000s. She says the experience was eye-opening, and encouraged her to come back the following year as a participant.

That next year, Maria’s entire family participated in the event and she rode a tandem bike with her son, who was just six years old at that time. What started as a one-time event for her family has grown into an annual tradition. She’s taken part every year since.

“It’s the most humbling thing we do every summer. It sets the tone for the rest of the summer because when you get in that mindset of doing something to help other people, then it stays with you and you want to keep doing that all summer long,” said Maria.

Maria Turner, a Ride for Roswell team captain
Riders on the Donor Center Team
Riders on the Donor Center team
Participants on the Donor Center team

Starting the Donor Center Team

Maria founded the Donor Center Team and she has been its captain every year.

“We stay in communication. We’re a close-knit group. We get together after the Ride to celebrate our success and we just have a good time.”

The Donor Center Team has held its place as the top Team Roswell team for several years. In 2024 alone, they have surpassed a goal of raising $60,000. Maria says they are passionate about their goals, which motivates each team member throughout Ride Season.

However, she credits their success largely due to a very determined team and the decision to dedicate their fundraising to a different patient each year.

“A couple years into it, we decided to ride in honor of one of our patients and, in particular, a patient who was utilizing blood products so that we could bring even more recognition to our program. Having our honoree family involved firsthand helped them understand a little bit more about Ride for Roswell.”

A win/win for both the donor center and Ride for Roswell — but that’s not all.

“What happens as a result is actually beyond amazing. Down to the most basic level of healing, we have seen by affording these patients and their families an opportunity to see beyond their own situation and become involved to a larger extent, ends up providing healing that I never saw coming. Our families consistently express their gratitude for the opportunity and how much it helped them”

Many of the honorees they’ve selected over the years have had no prior experience with the Ride, but as a result of riding with the donor center, their family and friends have stayed connected to the event long-term.

In fact, many of the patients the donor center rode in honor of are still active in the Ride

Advice to Anyone Considering Joining the Ride

When it comes to fundraising, Maria doesn’t want others to be intimidated by the donor center’s strong numbers. She recommends jumping in with social media to kick off your efforts. Her team also utilizes a large gift card raffle every year and other methods to encourage people to contribute. The key is just getting started.  

Maria believes the Ride is something you have to experience for yourself, and she thinks everyone should try to participate at least once.

“I encourage everybody to try it because you get hooked. Once you’re there and you realize all that’s happening, it’s something that you want to be part of every year. The experience is beyond what I can really put into words.”

Aside from the altruistic reasons to get involved, Maria stressed … it’s fun!

“Like we always say here at Roswell Park, ‘Just give it one day.’ I would say, ‘Just give it one Ride,’ I think you’ll see then why you’ll want to continue.”

The Donor Center table at Ride for Roswell
Donor Center at Ride for Roswell

Ride for Roswell Impact Series, powered by West Herr

Ride for Roswell Impact Series, powered by West Herr

West Herr Logo: West Herr is powering the Ride for Roswell Impact Series.

When you Ride for Roswell, you’re making a difference for people living with cancer right now.

The groundbreaking innovations happening each day at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center would not be possible without community support. The donors, volunteers and fundraisers who support Roswell Park through events like Ride for Roswell are fueling lifesaving clinical trials, critical cancer research and compassionate patient care programs that reach thousands of patients.

Here you will find four episodes of the Ride for Roswell Impact Series, powered by West Herr. Through this series, you can experience the full spectrum of care your support provides to cancer patients seeking hope at Roswell Park.

CAR T-cell Therapy

Quality-of-Life Programs

Response to Therapy

SurVaxM

Thank you for supporting Ride for Roswell and our mission to end cancer. 

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. 

2024 Team Tents

Team Tents

We are so excited to be able to gather once again at UB after a long day of riding at Ride for Roswell. There really is nothing better than celebrating crossing that finish line with family and friends!

The following options are available to accommodate your team at UB:

Team Tent photo from Ride for Roswell

Rent a Team Tent:

  • 10×10 tent with 1 table and 6 chairs – cost $310
  • 15×15 tent with 2 tables and 10 chairs – cost $375
  • 20×20 tent with 2 tables and 10 chairs – cost $475

Bring Your Own Tent:

  • Limited spots available at no cost​

Team Tent Rentals

  • Rented team tents can be accessed for set up and decorating on Friday, June 21 from 12-4 p.m., or Saturday, June 22 from 6-9 a.m. 
  • Volunteers will be available on Saturday only from 6-9 a.m. to assist you with transporting your items to your tent location. 

BYO Tents

  • BYO tent spots will be accessible for set-up on Friday, June 21 from 12-4 p.m., or Saturday, June 22 from 6-9 a.m.  Vehicles that are remaining parked must be in place no later than 9 a.m.
  • Volunteers will be on hand to direct you to a designated spot.
  • Specific instructions, along with a map of the tent location, will be sent to the email address provided after June 1. All teams will be responsible for set-up and take-down of all supplies.
  • No personal grills are to be brought or used at the event.
  • Limit of one (1) vehicle per team.
  • Limit of one (1) pop-up tent per team. Maximum size: 15’x15’. You must bring sandbags or weights to secure your tent. NO STAKING of any kind due to the location of underground utility lines.  This will be enforced.
  • THIRD PARTY TENTS NOT ALLOWED. Please contact Ride for Roswell if you would like to rent a tent. 
  • All tents MUST comply with NYS Fire Code 24.04 and will have a tag affixed certifying treatment for flame resistance. Non-compliant tents will be removed at the discretion of the UB office of Environment Health and Safety. 

How to raise $1,500 by Ride Day

How to raise $1,500 by Ride Day

Ride for Roswell is still a few months away, and there is still plenty of time to maximize your impact. We have some ideas to help you hit $1,500 (making you a member of the Extra Mile Club) in time for Ride Weekend.

This is a photo for the Ride letters and flags at Ride for Roswell.

Attend a Beers & Gears event

Rally your friends and family for Ride for Roswell’s happy hour series: Beers & Gears. The cost for most happy hours is $20, which will get you two drink tickets. The full $20 will then be credited to the rider’s fundraising page of your choice (yes, it can be your own). The more people you bring, the more you will raise!

Get 3!

Did you know that every minute, three people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer? Changing lives for cancer patients can be as easy as 1, 2, 3. This year, we want every rider to secure at least three donations. Here's how.

Host a team event.

Hold a team fundraiser! From a yard sale at a team member’s house where everyone can bring items to sell, to a potluck dinner where you charge guests a small fee to attend, the possibilities are endless. Post your event to your social media accounts to promote it!
Once your event is done, the funds raised can be turned in and divided evenly among the team members to count toward their fundraising pages.

Check out the new MyRFR app

Download the My RFR app to reach your fundraising goals even faster! The app will help you secure donations, track your progress toward your goal and it even has mobile check deposit. Learn more about the MyRFR app.

Lean on your strengths.

Use your unique gifts to make a positive impact. We encourage riders to personalize their fundraising strategy to their strengths and interests making the journey fun and rewarding in more ways than one. Love crafting? Consider selling your creations for the cause! Do you have a skill you can teach others? Host a lesson and put the proceeds toward your fundraising total! There are so many opportunities to align your passions with Ride for Roswell’s mission.

Get social!

Utilize social media as a tool to help you reach your fundraising goals. Share your fundraising page on all your social platforms to spread the word about your why, and encourage friends, family and coworkers to donate to your fundraising page. FYI: Funds from Instagram don’t always display in the Ride for Roswell dashboard. For info on Facebook/Instagram fundraising, click here. 

The rule of 10.

Make a list of 10 people, ask them to contribute $25 each, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly the dollars add up! That will get you up to $250, earning your first rewards! If you need a good place to start, here is an example.

Ask > 3 friends > 2 co-workers > 1 neighbor > 4 family members.

Find a community partner.

Visit local businesses and ask them about ways they can help you raise funds for your Ride. They may donate or offer you a space to promote your Ride.

Ask, ask, ask … and ask again.

So many people have been impacted cancer. Whether they’ve lost a loved one to cancer, know someone who is a survivor or are battling the disease themselves, people want to make a difference! The more you share what you’re doing, the more people will choose to donate. Kathy Caruso of Team ‘Otterly’ Phil says it best; “A penny or a pound, it's all forward motion.”

Still need help? Feel free to call us at 716-843-7433 or email us at rideforroswell@roswellpark.org. Our in-house fundraising experts can offer additional guidance!

Meet Ride for Roswell’s 2024 Torch Lighter: Kelly Englert Flak

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.”

10 Years of SurVaxM

10 Years of SurVaxM

In 10 short years, donor support helped bring a homegrown cancer-fighting discovery to the national stage in the form of a clinical trial. SurVaxM, a therapeutic cancer vaccine developed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, has the potential to drastically extend the lives of patients living with brain cancer. You and your donors are part of that.

SurVaxM was created in a lab at Roswell Park by Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery. Dr. Fenstermaker is the Principal Investigator of the nationwide randomized trial and Dr. Ciesielski is CEO of MimiVax, the company which now produces SurVaxM. Their work has been passionately supported by donor funding for the past 10 years, proving instrumental in bringing this new treatment to where it is today.

Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, with a sample of SurVaxM

2012

Roswell Park announces a new clinical research study that could put cancer cells “in a Catch-22.”

2013

A phase I clinical trial begins in human patients, supported by the American Cancer Society.

SurVaxM
SurVaxM lab image

2014

Roswell Park donors begin to financially support SurVaxM alongside the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation through events like Ride for Roswell and more.

2015

Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski present their phase I clinical trial results to the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Phase II of the clinical trial begins, bringing hope to 50 newly diagnosed patients at Roswell Park and Cleveland Clinic.

Ciesielski and Fenstermaker in the lab
SurVaxM

2016

Experts investigate usefulness of SurVaxM for patients with multiple myeloma.

2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awards orphan drug status for SurVaxM. This designation is intended to encourage innovation in the treatment of rare diseases.

Dr. Ciesielski SurVaxM lab image
Ciesielski and Fenstermaker in the lab

2018

Findings through SurVaxM trials open doors for other types of treatments like CAR T-cell therapy and antibody-based therapies.

Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski join their colleagues at Cleveland Clinic to present their phase II findings so far at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Results from phase II clinical trial show significant success: well-tolerated; 96.7% of patients did not experience disease progression within the first six months; 94.2% of study participants were alive one year after their diagnosis, as opposed to 65% of patients in a historical comparison group.

2019

Trial leaders bring fully completed results to the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Roswell Park and MimiVax announce the next step forward: a larger scale phase II study and a licensing agreement.

SurVaxM lab image
Dr. Renuka Iyer

2020

Two new studies, led by Renuka Iyer, MD, of Roswell Park, explore the potential use of SurVaxM for patients with neuroendocrine tumors.

2022

SurVaxM

2023

The FDA grants Fast Track Designation for SurVaxM, opening doors to accelerated approval as late-stage clinical trials advance.

2024

You fundraise for Ride for Roswell, armed with the confidence that your hard work is propelling something meaningful on a national scale.

Want to learn more about your impact?

Contact our team at rideforroswell@roswellpark.org.