Dr. Emese Zsiros: Researching and riding for cancer cures

Dr. Emese Zsiros: Researching and riding for cancer cures

Dr. Emese Zsiros’ work at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has two main facets: treating women with cancer and researching to find the next cure. As the Chair of the Department of Gynecological Oncology, her passion stretches from the clinic to the community.

Dr. Zsiros and her dog at Ride for Roswell
Here you will see Dr. Zsiros in an Extra Mile Club jersey at Ride for Roswell.
Cheryl, the 2023 Torch Lighter, posing with Dr. Zsiros and her dog at Ride for Roswell.

Riding to end cancer.

Dr. Zsiros came to Roswell Park in 2014, and Ride for Roswell was one of the first fundraising events she participated in as a team member.

“At that time, I only had one daughter. She was four years old. It was a huge honor and really emotional to be able to participate in the Celebration of Hope, to be able to walk with our patients in the procession, to be able to raise money and awareness of gynecologic cancers, but also to able to show my daughter what Mommy and Daddy are doing.”

Dr. Zsiros’ husband, Dr. Gyorgy Paragh, is also a physician at Roswell Park. He serves as the Chair of the Department of Dermatology. During that first Ride Weekend as a family, Dr. Zsiros says their daughter could sense the love and gratitude from the patients.

“Just seeing the enthusiasm of the crowd cheering for the cancer patients, cheering for the Peloton riders, cheering for the physicians as you’re walking through the procession, I remember it really left a big mark on her.”

Nine years later, they have four children – all of whom will be riding this summer and walking in the procession at the Celebration of Hope.

“I have twin boys, and they typically walk with my husband’s team. Our two girls will be walking with me and the gynecology patients, representing women.”

Full spectrum of care.

Cancer care is not one-size-fits-all, and Dr. Zsiros prides herself on really getting to know the women she serves.

“We walk the path together, from the time of diagnosis, the surgery, all the chemotherapies until their cancer journey is through.”

It’s because of those relationships that Dr. Zsiros is even more motivated to discover new breakthroughs that can improve and extend life.

“My research focuses on ovarian cancer research and immunotherapy. I think this is a deadly disease that typically doesn’t get a lot of attention. Part of that is because it affects women, but a minority of women,” Dr. Zsiros explained. “When the mother falls ill, it tends to affect the entire family due to her common role as the primary caregiver. This type of research not only assists our patients directly but also has a broader impact, often benefiting multiple generations under the familial umbrella she heads.”

Staff members with the Department of Gynecological Oncology stand by those families every day at Roswell Park, but they also come together to show their support during Ride Weekend.


Team Roswell.

Since Dr. Zsiros became chair of the department, she has encouraged the entire gynecology staff to get involved with Ride for Roswell. Last year, they even had special shirts made for their team.

“The entire gynecologic oncology team came together as a cohesive unit, providing an invaluable experience for our team members. This momentous occasion allowed us to connect with this community and the Roswell family deeply, transcending our regular daily work routines.”

Her message to other Roswell Park employees considering signing up: “Don’t think about it twice, because it is so much fun!”

Fun and fulfilling. From raising critical funds for cancer research, to pushing yourself physically while riding, Ride Weekend is something Dr. Zsiros and hundreds of other riders look forward to all season long.

“Last year I took on a longer route and it was challenging. The heat was intense, and navigating through it was strenuous. But I felt so accomplished and so happy by the end of the day that I did something meaningful. I really wouldn’t have given up that opportunity for anything else.”

She explained that Ride for Roswell showcases what it means to be a part of the Roswell Park community.

“We are really in this together: health care providers, patients, researchers and family members.”

Chris Eberle, an active light in the Ride’s legacy

Chris Eberle, an active light in the Ride’s legacy.

Ride Weekend evokes different feelings from each participant. For some, it’s action. For others, it’s remembrance. For many, it’s hope.

Nothing brings together all those emotions better than the Celebration of Hope, an event that wouldn’t have been possible without longtime volunteer and cancer survivor Chris Eberle.

The upcoming Ride for Roswell marks two milestones for Chris: 15 years of service and six years cancer free.

Chris Eberle during her cancer treatment. Chris is a longtime volunteer with Ride for Roswell

A partnership begins.

Chris first began her partnership with Roswell Park in the early-2000s when she owned a design and communications firm. She was brought on to help educate the public about what it meant to be a comprehensive cancer center and the important work being done at Roswell Park.

The more she learned, the more she wanted to get involved. Soon after, she started volunteering for the Ride. Chris served on the steering committee and brought her marketing expertise to the forefront.

“When I started, the Ride didn’t have a website yet. We developed the website and the ability to register online.”

As the Ride grew, Chris’s role evolved. For example, she played a pivotal role in turning the Ride into a two-day event.

“The Ride is always on Saturday. Then we thought that we really needed another component, so we decided to have an opening ceremony and it was in the University at Buffalo Stadium. It was a way to honor the researchers, clinicians, patients and survivors and nurses.”

That was in 2012. A few years later, with Chris’ leadership, the Friday night ceremony would see another evolution into what we now know as the Celebration of Hope.

The ceremonial torch at the Celebration of Hope at Ride for Roswell
This is a photo of the flame that lights the ceremonial torch at Ride for Roswell

The Ceremonial Torch.

“For my 10th anniversary with the Ride, I wanted to do something memorable, something to give back to the Ride.”

Chris was the visionary for the ceremonial torch, which debuted for the first time at the Celebration of Hope in 2017.

“The flame represents the patients and survivors. It represents the compassion of our nurses and our clinicians. And it represents the brilliance of our researchers.”

Chris explained the torch would serve as a kickoff to the Ride. Much like the Olympic torch, it would stay lit from Friday night until the last rider came in on Saturday.

“And we still do that to this day,” Chris said with a smile.

The Ride team and committee, including Chris, also developed the Peloton, a Friday night ride exclusively for Extra Mile Club (now Extra Mile Club Silver) members. That route starts at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and finishes at UB right before the commencement of the Celebration of Hope.

“The [Peloton riders] bring a little light from downtown and we light the torch with that light making the connection between Roswell Park and the Ride.”

That idea that Chris spearheaded remains the central focus of Ride Weekend. While she watched it come to fruition for the first time, its message resonated even more deeply than she could’ve imagined.

Chris’s cancer battle.

One week before the Ride’s inaugural year for torch lighting, Chris was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The day we set up the torch for the first time was my first biopsy.”

Chris underwent a year of treatment including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

“It was grueling. You lose your hair, and I was told I was going to have one of the hardest chemotherapies. You just hope you make it through.”

As Chris was nearing the end of her treatment in 2018, she was honored as the Ride for Roswell Torch Lighter.

Chris lighting the same torch that she led the creation of just one year prior became a moment that reminds us all why the Ride matters: why we must continue to fight for more treatments, more research and more memories – like this one.

“It was relieving in a way to light the torch the next year because I thought, man, I made it. It was pretty amazing.”

Chris Eberle lighting the ceremonial torch at the Celebration of Hope during Ride for Roswell.
This is a photo of Chris Eberle after lighting the ceremonial torch at Ride for Roswell.
In this photo Chris Eberle is celebrating after ringing the Victory Bell at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Continuing the mission.

Shortly after the Ride in 2018, Chris rang the Victory Bell at Roswell Park, marking the end of a transformative chapter.

“I have to say, there are days that I don’t want to be reminded of my cancer, but I wouldn’t give up working for the Ride. Roswell Park saved my life.”

Message to other volunteers.

Chris’s influence on the Ride will be felt for generations to come. When asked what she would say to someone considering getting involved, she didn’t hesitate.

“Once you’ve experienced Ride weekend, you’ll never be the same. The passion, compassion and dedication of every participant, from riders, to survivors, clinicians, researchers and nurses is extraordinary. It is truly a rewarding experience to know that you are making a difference by volunteering in the fight to cure cancer.”

Chris will have another full-circle moment at the upcoming Ride. Volunteers from all of Roswell Park’s events will be invited to the 2023 Celebration of Hope, as a thank you for their dedication and commitment to the cause.

“We couldn’t raise as much as we do every year if we didn’t have all of the volunteers, and all of that money is going to save somebody in your family someday.”

This is a photo of Chris Eberle hugging Dr. Candace Johnson at Ride for Roswell.

Two-time cancer survivor preparing for his 19th Ride for Roswell

Two-time cancer survivor preparing for his 19th Ride for Roswell

John Heimback Jr. didn’t hesitate when asked about his passion for Ride for Roswell

“What keeps me coming back is we’re not done.”

John is a two-time cancer survivor, and this summer he’ll be riding in his 19th Ride for Roswell.

Two-time cancer survivor John Heimback is posing next to his name on the finish line at Ride for Roswell.
Two-time cancer survivor John Heimback is with his daughter and wife in front of the sign at Ride for Roswell.

The start of John’s Ride story.

John rode in his first Ride for Roswell in 2004. He joined his family team, the Rainbow Riders, in honor of his aunt who was a patient at Roswell Park battling multiple occurrences of tonsil cancer.

At the time, John had no idea the cause would soon become even more personal.

“Little did I know, just a short eight-to-nine months later, I would find out I had stage III thyroid cancer,” John explained. “So suddenly cancer hit home and in a big way.”

John’s treatment included radiation and surgery to remove his thyroid; then he returned to the Ride for a second year. “At the start line, they asked anybody who’s a survivor to raise their hands. That was the moment it all got really real,” he reflected.

Over the years, John got more involved in the Ride as both a participant and a volunteer. He even served on a steering committee in the event’s early days. He describes the Ride Community as a support group of sorts, with each person motivated to make a difference.

“Cancer can’t win.”

John has been in remission from thyroid cancer since 2005, but his second cancer diagnosis would come a decade later. This time, it was prostate cancer. Under the care of Roswell Park and Dr. Khurshid Guru, John survived. His own experience, yet again, adding more fuel to his fire in the mission to end cancer.

“Not only have I survived cancer twice, but now it’s two different cancers. Both were pretty aggressive, but I’m here to share my story,” said John. “God has blessed me to be in a spot where I have to carry on the fight.”

He wants more people facing a cancer diagnosis to benefit from up-and-coming treatments, the way he did, and he knows funding for research is what drives those lifesaving discoveries.

John is standing with and Dr. Khurshid Guru, who treated him for prostate cancer at Roswell Park. They are at the Ride for Roswell in this photo.
John and his daughter with their Ride for Roswell lawn sign.
John and his wife

John’s fundraising advice.

Fundraising can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it before. Over John’s nearly two decades of riding, he has learned personalization is key.

“What you find out is a lot of people have either had their own experience or family experience with cancer, and people want to help. It’s actually a lot easier than you realize as soon as you start putting yourself out there and letting them know about the cause.”

In his early years, John would write personalized letters to friends, family and colleagues about Ride for Roswell and his cancer story. Now, he says email is his main source for garnering donations, but he also thinks social media can be useful to riders.

His main piece of advice: “Remind people. Remind people. Remind people.”

John now rides on M&T Bank’s team, where he has been an employee for 23 years.

Crossing the finish line.

As John approaches his 19th Ride for Roswell, the weekend still holds tremendous power.

“When you’re there, the opening night, the Peloton, there’s really nothing like that.”

One of John’s most memorable Ride moments happened just last year, when he rode alongside his daughter Hailey in the 2022 Peloton.

“We held hands going across the finish line. It was just incredible.”

John will be back in 2023, and so will Hailey.

“When I go to the Ride it gives me that energy again. Like, this is why I have to keep going – because I’m able to,” John explained. “Each year, we’re getting one step closer to ending cancer.”

John and his daughter crossing the finish line at Ride for Roswell, a cycling fundraiser to end cancer.