Meet Alissa Vogelsang: Buffalonian, yogi and cancer thriver

Meet Alissa Vogelsang: Buffalonian, yogi and cancer thriver

Alissa rides her bike alongside the waterfront.

Several days a week, Alissa Vogelsang unrolls her yoga mat, bows her head and flows through a series of poses that challenge her physically and mentally. The practice has become spiritual in nature, serving to ground and center her as she moves through her day. She belongs to Space on Seneca, a yoga studio that’s owned by her best friend Colleen. Ever since Alissa’s move back to Buffalo a year ago, she has become ingrained in the community and looks forward to her practice.

Along with family and friends, the Space on Seneca community will join Alissa at the start line of the 2022 Ride for Roswell. As they ride, they will be honoring Alissa and her battle with metastatic cancer.

Alissa’s Cancer Journey

Alissa was just two weeks shy of her 30th birthday when she received the news. She lived in New York City at the time and discovered a lump she assumed was a cyst. A trip to the doctor confirmed her worst fears: She had breast cancer.

“Nobody could ever prepare you for hearing those words: You have cancer. It feels like having the wind knocked out of you,” she says. “Imagine your worst fear come to life. Cancer didn’t care that I was only 29 years old. Cancer didn’t care that I was in great shape. It didn’t care what my marital status was or what my career path looked like. It didn’t care if I had time for cancer or if I was terrified of having it. Cancer doesn’t care. It just comes in and starts taking over.”

After being diagnosed, Alissa went through a series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. She was in active treatment for almost a year before finally moving into remission. When she heard the good news, she exhaled, not knowing she’d been holding her breath since the beginning. From there, she resolved to get back to everyday life.

Fast forward three years. Alissa had just gotten back from a three-day yoga festival and felt a pain in her shoulder. She chalked it up to doing one too many chaturangas during her yoga practice and went to see an orthopedist. Concerned about the cancer returning to her breasts, she had been diligent about getting her MRIs and mammograms — but she had never thought about the rest of her body. As it turned out, she hadn’t pulled a muscle. The cancer was back, and it had metastasized.

The Road to Roswell Park

Alissa wears a #TeamAlissa T-shirt and triumphantly raising her hands in the hair beneath a sign that says "warrior." Her head is bald.
Alissa and her partner hug from a hospital bed. They are smiling and wearing matching #TeamAlissa tie-dye T-shirts.

Alissa began treatment for stage 4 cancer in NYC, but shortly after came the added stress of a global pandemic. Seeking a stronger community of family and friends, Alissa and her partner Brett made the decision to move back home to Buffalo, and Alissa moved her cancer treatment to Roswell Park, a center renowned for cancer care and research. Her first round with cancer made her familiar with hospitals, blood draws, testing and lingo, but this time was different. With it came new fears about her prognosis and quality of life. Some big questions weighed on her mind: Am I going to die? How soon am I going to die? What will my life look like now?

That’s where Roswell Park stepped in. The staff made her feel welcome and gave her confidence in her ability to fight back against the disease. They provided her with tools to keep moving forward and have taken care of her when it matters most.

“Roswell Park is supporting me in my fight against cancer, but more importantly, they’re allowing me to truly live my life. It’s not just about tackling the cancer and the diagnosis. It’s about ensuring that I get to still live my life the way I want to, as best as I can, despite the cancer,” she says.

Making the Most of Every Moment

Alissa stands next to her partner. She has a bald head and he wears a baseball cap and striped shirt.Living life is exactly what Alissa is doing. She continues treatments while leaning in to the things and people she loves most: her partner Brett, her fur baby Max, her family, friends and fitness. She’s more dedicated than ever to her yoga practice, carving out 60 or 75 minutes at a time to meditate as she moves through her flow. This has become an important part of her cancer journey, allowing her to tune in to her body and recognize when something doesn’t feel right.

Beyond that, Alissa’s committed to giving back to Roswell Park and helping others who are living with cancer. That’s why she decided to do the Ride for Roswell with the support and dedication of her yoga studio and loved ones.

“I feel very confident that a big part of why I’m here today and able to do these things and thrive is due to science and the advancements in cancer research. That’s a big part of what makes me so excited to participate in the Ride for Roswell. It’s helping create awareness and funding for science and research,” she says.

Ride Day Game Plan

Alissa and her best friend Colleen pose in front of their bikes on a beach with palm trees in the background.

On Ride Day, she’ll be surrounded by her partner, her brother (who’s flying in to ride with her), parents, best friend and fellow yogis. Her entire support system continues to rally behind her, including everyone who has donated to her Ride fundraiser. She will be riding in the Peloton for the Celebration of Hope and recently hit her goal of raising $10,000.

“I think the most exciting thing is to be surrounded by our community — our smaller community that includes our team and the larger Buffalo community. The number of people who do the Ride for us is so impressive, and it’s amazing to see people united for such a great cause: putting an end to cancer. To come together for something that is personally so important to me and celebrate it with so many loved ones is very, very meaningful.”

Look for Alissa and Team Space on Seneca this weekend!

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Baking with Gusto!

Lauren, her mom Lisa, sister Katie and friend Michelle stand in a kitchen for their Baking with Gusto! fundraiser.

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Baking with Gusto!

Lauren and her mom, Lisa, smile widely in winter jackets.
Lauren and her friend, Michelle, stand in a kitchen surrounded by baking tools.

For Lauren Latona, the Ride for Roswell goes beyond just a summer bike ride. Her mother, Lisa, is fighting stage four stomach cancer and visits Roswell Park often for treatments. Since her diagnosis, Lisa has always decided to mirror her life after one motto: Live with Gusto! The mantra is a simple reminder to make the most out of every day and to bring vigor and enthusiasm to all she does. 

Taking a page out of her mother’s playbook, Lauren decided to give back to Roswell Park and the Ride for Roswell by “Baking with Gusto!” All proceeds from her planned bake-a-thon would be donated to a cancer center that’s close to her family’s heart. For weeks, Lauren took orders from people in her network —quiches, cookies, cheesecakes and more. Then, she got down to business. With the help of her friend, Michelle, she baked for two days straight while checking orders off her list.

When all was said and done, the baking duo raised more than $600 for Roswell Park. Then, Lauren’s company, Sirius XM Radio, matched all donations for a total of $1,230 toward cancer care and research.

Lauren’s mom (and her sister, Katie) couldn’t be more proud of her efforts. Here’s what her mom had to say:

“Bake with Gusto! was born from the hearts of two warm and generous bakers — my daughter Lauren and her friend Michelle. They were looking to give back to RPCI for the great care I’m receiving, so they came up with a fantastic idea to bake for friends and family in return for donations. I still tear up when I think they were able to donate over $1200 to RPCI. Bake with Gusto! — a passion project close to my heart.”

Thank you, Lauren and Michelle, for all your efforts!

What out-of-the-box fundraising have you been trying? Share your ideas with us on social!

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Check out Ellen’s story

Sign that says, "All proceeds go to Ride for Roswell"

Out-of-the-box fundraising: Check out Ellen’s story

Ellen and her family gather around a branded sign at the Ride for Roswell.
Table of goods at Ellen's garage sale. There is camping gear, tools, and a beer cooler.

Hitting your fundraising goal can seem difficult, especially if you haven’t fundraised before. While Facebook is one great tool to spread the word and rally people, it’s not the only way — just ask Extra Mile Club member Ellen Geitter.

Ellen has been participating in the Ride for Roswell for nearly a decade. In recent years, she has been joined by her sisters — Mary, Megan and Karen — and two nieces. The Ride is their way of honoring their mother who passed away from small cell adenocarcinoma, an aggressive lung cancer. Through clinical trials at Roswell Park, their mom turned a two-year prognosis into eight years, and the sisters feel strongly about giving back in her memory. This year, Ellen her family will be Riding Their Own Way along a thirty-mile route between Utica and Rome, NY, on the Erie Canal.

Ellen had already raised more than $1,200 for Roswell Park, but with the weather warming up, she saw an opportunity to do even more in the fight to end cancer. She and her sisters sifted through tons of items, and Ellen asked herself, ‘What do I need? What don’t I need?’ They ended up with a lawn full of treasures and the idea of donating all the profits to the Ride for Roswell.

“I’m a blessed person, and I want to pass that along. If this can be in service of that and move me along, then it’s worth it,” Ellen says.

At the end of the weekend, Ellen and her family raised more than $3,300 from their garage sale. How are you fundraising to end cancer this summer? Let us know on social media!

Sam Accordino: Riding His Own Way in Alaska

Sam Accordino:
Riding His Own Way in Alaska

Cancer impacts every one of us, but for Sam Accordino, that six-letter word has irrevocably shaped his life.

Sam’s daughter Casey was always strong-willed. The oldest of three, she took the lead in all things involving her younger brothers, Nick and Max. She proudly donned mismatched socks and loved watching her favorite sports teams, especially the Bills, Sabres and Bisons. She was outspoken yet honest. As a kid, she managed to get caught by her parents every time she skipped school. As a young adult, she worked as a social worker and gave selflessly to others, bringing hope to those around her.

“She came into the world screaming, and she ruled the roost,” Sam says. “She really was a fun-loving kid — a giving, caring and wonderful person.”

Even as she battled cancer, Casey sought ways to uplift others, joining groups at Roswell Park like the Young Adult Cancer Program and making friends with nurses and patients alike. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013 and underwent surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation at Roswell Park. She entered remission. Thinking she had it beat, she looked forward to the next phase of her life and marked the occasion by marrying her best friend, Kevin.

But cancer had its own plans. In October 2017, Casey’s cancer returned, much more aggressive this time. At the same time, her mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Sam's Reason(s) Why

Sam’s daughter will always be his first and foremost reason why — the driving force behind his desire to end cancer. Casey’s journey isn’t the only one that’s impacted Sam, though. His 94-year-old mother survived both breast and ovarian cancer, and Sam recently learned that he has prostate cancer. Sam’s wife, Annette, discovered that she had carcinoma and went through treatment at the same time as Casey. Annette and Casey alternated rounds of chemo so they could care for one another, though they occasionally shared a room and an IV stand.

After additional surgeries and rounds of chemo, Casey passed away on October 27, 2018, three weeks after her 32nd birthday.

On top of everything else, Annette also learned that she has the BRCA2 gene — the gene that carries a high risk of developing breast cancer. As a preventative measure, Annette underwent a double mastectomy. The couple is trying to get ahead of cancer any way they can.

“I’ve had heartache, and I’ve had successes,” Sam says. “I wish the outcome would’ve been different for Casey, but unfortunately that’s how life is. Cancer affects a lot of people.”

Fighting Back

One of the ways Sam is working to get ahead of cancer is by participating in the Ride for Roswell. His goal is two-fold: honor Casey and work toward a world where fewer people have to say goodbye because of cancer. He’s doing that by riding and fundraising for Roswell Park, the institution that supported his family during some of their most difficult days.

“A lot of people don’t know about the numerous services Roswell Park offers like pastoral care, wellness activities or grieving sessions,” Sam says. “We still get together with some of the people we’ve met through Roswell.”

Sam aimed to raise $5,000 dollars toward cancer research, a milestone he’s already exceeded. The achievement will be rewarded with an engraved brick in Kaminski Park. He will dedicate that brick to Casey and her unwavering strength.

Riding in Alaska

When Sam decided to participate in the Ride for Roswell this year, he wasn’t sure how to make it work. The event takes place on June 25, the same day he planned to be on the other side of the continent. For the past three years, he and his wife had been trying to get away to Alaska, but the trip kept getting postponed due to family conflicts and the ongoing pandemic. The pair finally booked their vacation — on the same day as the Ride. That wasn’t going to stop Sam.

With the Ride Your Own Way option, Sam can participate in the Ride for Roswell from Anchorage, Alaska. His game plan is ambitious: He’ll ride in the Peloton during Celebration of Hope on Friday, June 24, at the University at Buffalo, hop on a plane Saturday morning and rent a bike as soon as he lands. Sunday morning, he’ll set off on the Tony Knowles trail, an 11-mile path along the coast of Anchorage that passes forests, vistas, earthquake fault lines and Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak.

“I plan on doing the whole 22 miles unless a moose gets in my way, which is a real possibility,” Sam says, laughing. “It’s going to be a cool adventure.”

When he finishes his ride, Sam plans to celebrate with his wife and friends while remembering Casey, his strong-willed daughter who loved her family, husband Kevin and dog Charlie, and fought with everything she had.  

Ride Your Own Way like Sam or join the Ride for Roswell in person on June 25.

The Draudt brothers fight back

The Draudt brothers fight back

For brothers Adam and Dan Draudt, participating in the Ride for Roswell comes down to one word: hope. They’ve seen the impact Roswell Park has in the lives of cancer patients and know firsthand how cancer can turn lives upside down. To the Draudt brothers, Roswell Park helps cancer patients fight back, giving them hope for a better tomorrow.

In 2021, Adam was told he had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells that causes bones to weaken. Luckily, doctors caught Adam’s cancer early, and he was able to fight back through stem cell treatments and chemotherapy. As of February, he is fully in remission. The diagnosis, however, flipped Adam and his family’s world around.

“It could happen to any of us,” Dan says. “I never would’ve thought it would happen to my brother, but here we are.”

While Adam was undergoing treatment, Dan sought out a way to take action for cancer patients like his brother. He signed up for the Ride for Roswell, wanting to make an impact for future generations. With Adam’s help, they raised more than $34,000 for cancer research! This year, they’re celebrating Adam’s remission by fundraising again.

“The funding that they get from Ride helps people like me go from a [cancer] diagnosis in June to full remission in February,” Adam says. “As a survivor, I see how the funding helps people behind the scenes at Roswell Park make advances they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

Everyone’s cancer journey differs, but for the Draudt brothers, hope keeps them working toward a world where we end cancer for good. Adam also has a little advice for anyone who might be hesitant to sign up for this year’s Ride:

“Go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose. Even if you don’t finish, you still raised money that’s going to help so many people in the future,” he says.

Check out Adam and Dan’s team, MADaboutcancer, and register for the Ride for Roswell today.

Connect with us!

Contact.

Office address.

Elm and Carlton Streets
Buffalo, NY 14263

Phone number.

716-THE-RIDE
(716-843-7433)

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