GUILFORD — A year ago Heather Bradley was fighting for her life against an aggressive cancer. Today, she is training for the 65-mile Closer to Free ride.
This Elisabeth C. Adams eighth grade language arts teacher remembers being sick in the hospital a year ago, while one of her former students, Cameron Hubbard, rode for her. Hubbard’s father, Carl Hubbard, died from cancer in 2012, and he and his mom, Stacey Doyle Hubbard, have been champions of the race.
“When I was really sick his mom posted a picture of him on Facebook holding up a sign saying, ‘I’m riding for Miss Bradley,’” she recalls. “It was very moving for me and inspired me. So, now I’m so happy to be on the other side of it and riding for friends of mine who are dealing with this.”
The ride is also part of a deal she made with a friend and something she is training hard for and looking forward to completing on Saturday, Sept. 7.
“When I was really sick in the hospital last September, I think it must have been when the ride was happening, my friend, Catherine Marganski said, ‘if you’re still alive a year from now let’s do the ride’ and I apparently agreed to it, although I have absolutely no recollection. I don’t remember anyone who came to the hospital to visit,” she says.
Yet, Marganski remembered and texted her friend a couple months ago to remind her of the “deal.”
“Heather’s Peddlers” was formed and includes Bradley and Marganski, in addition to Marganski’s husband, Joe, Annamarie Mercurio, Buzz Gardner, Diane Stevens and George Sanders.
“I’m excited,” Bradley says. “I think it’ll be pretty emotional.”
Since 2011, riders, volunteers, sponsors and supporters have generated more than $15 Million for research and patient care at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital. To contribute to Heather’s Peddlers visit http://bit.ly/30FtUxC.
Bradley is thankful for the treatment she continues to receive from Smilow.
It was Jan. 22, 2018 that the 48-year-old teacher received the news that she had Stage 3B cervical and uterine cancer. This led to daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy for six weeks.
“I got really sick,” she recalls. “Around March I had a scan, of course I was out of work, and they said we don’t see it anymore. They’ll never say you’re cured, but they said it’s not showing up.”
The cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes was not detectable, but the protocol called for three more rounds of chemotherapy, “which was really brutal,” she remembers.
“I lost my hair and was 90 pounds and couldn’t eat,” she says. “I was sick every day, all day.”
Through it all Bradley kept remembering that she was cancer free and she was willing to do anything to save her own life.
Then, in August, feeling ill while visiting her sister in France, she came home to more devastating news. The cancer was back.
To attack the cancer that currently is on her pelvic wall, she is receiving immunotherapy every three weeks at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
“It’s not in my lymph nodes anymore,” she says, tapping her fist, twice, on the wooden outdoor chair. “I hope.
“The last scan I had was three weeks ago and it had shrunk 45 percent since May, so just in two months it had shrunk 45 percent,” she says.
While surgery is a possibility in the future, Bradley is making the most out of every minute she has, feeling well enough to do the things she loves including exercise and teaching.
“It allows me to run and ride my bike and swim and do everything I would normally do, pretty much,” she says.
Bradley was an avid runner, logging up to 60 miles a week before her cancer diagnosis. She also found time to do butterfly laps at the Soundview Family YMCA once or twice a week.
“I like to challenge myself,” she says, with a laugh.
“I was actually getting kind of better; it was the best running of my life about a year before I got sick,” she adds. “I’m just back to it. I try to go every day.
“It’s been hard to get back into shape,” she admits.
Yet, this athlete is not one to give up easily and while working hard on getting back in running shape, she has added cycling to her exercise routine.
“My goal is 100 miles a week, but I’m doing maybe about 60 to 80,” she says. “I do a long ride on the weekend with a friend of mine and then we do a group ride on Sunday.”
When she is in the thick of training on long rides, including hills, she continually thinks about how important the ride is.
She says she reminds herself, “that I have to have grit to do it. I’m not going to die from a bike ride or any other type of exercise. I tell myself, ‘You’re not going to die from this.’”
This grit and determination are evident to those around her.
“Heather’s a power of example,” says Adams Principal Michael Regan, is full of admiration for this teacher and the team he works with at the school.
Regan, who has done every single Closer to Free Ride since it started in 2011, is looking forward to ride this year alongside his colleague.
“To see a person like Heather, who will be wearing a survivor’s jersey, which is different from everybody else’s, you can’t help draw inspiration from that,” he says. “Heather is a power of example of how do you live with this disease.”
Marganski, the captain of “Heather’s Peddlers,” will be doing the 25-mile ride alongside her husband. She never had a doubt that Bradley would be participating in the ride this year, she says.
“I knew she’d do it all along,” says her friend of 20 years. “That’s just how she is. And the fact that the money somebody else raised riding that bike ride helped make her better and killed her cancer is just going to fuel her to do it for somebody else.”
To contribute to Heather’s Peddlers visit http://bit.ly/30FtUxC.