WILTON, Conn. – Cancer kicked the ever-energetic Kathleen Gioffre of Wilton hard. Not surprisingly, the Wilton mother of three kicked back even harder.
Gioffre will ride the 25-mile leg of the Connecticut Challenge on Saturday, July 26, as co-captain of Team Sempre Avanti, named after her life’s motto, “Always Forward”. It will be her third year in the ride, which supports the Challenge’s cancer survivor programs. It’s her way of giving back and remembering where she had been. Readers can support Gioffre by making a donation through her online fundraising page.
In November 2010, Gioffre suffered from extreme vertigo, tinnitus and loss of muscle function, which after three months, was traced to a co-infection of Lyme and Bartonella that had entered her central nervous system.
The diagnosis of her thyroid cancer came in March 2011, and was an unexpected result of the numerous blood, spinal and various other tests she had undergone in her battle to get better.
Gioffre was no stranger to the harsh reality of cancer, having lost a number of family members and close friends to this illness, several in the past few years.
Before her cancer diagnosis, Gioffre was the “Super Mom” with never ending vitality. “I had a full-time job, was working out four or five times a week, and had ridiculous amounts of energy,’’ she said. There was no way cancer was going to get in her way.
“'Just get it out of me,' I told my doctor," she said. "And I said to myself: 'You’re not going to let this get you down.'”
Faced with a greatly compromised immune system, Gioffre was ordered to go on a three-week “strengthening diet” before her surgery. But anyone who knows Gioffre will know when she takes on a task, it is full steam ahead. Only organic produce and meats were allowed, and she ate and drank things she never would have touched beforehand -- all in an effort to beat her cancer into submission. She realized she needed to gain her physical strength back and to do that she needed a goal.
That goal was defined once Gioffre learned about the Connecticut Challenge. She was immediately drawn to the concept of empowering cancer survivors to live longer, happier, healthier lives with unique programs and credible resources.
To consider riding even a mile was beyond her physical capability at the time, so friends and loved ones helped. They walked with her, brought over meals, helped with her children and eventually biked with her. Step by step, walking 400 feet, then 1.5 miles and eventually bike riding, she gradually increased her distance and hill difficulty.
“I was deeply moved by the love and generosity of my friends and loved ones,'' Gioffre said. "The Connecticut Challenge organization is about building a community of support which is exactly what I had experienced during my illness, recovery and training”.
Gioffre said she was concerned about riding the 25 miles for my first Challenge. "Everyone told me “it’s OK, you can always get off the bike,'' she said. "With every training challenge, 'I would say to myself – You will do this! You will fight.' Mentally I was determined not to let something get in my way. After such a long journey, I was very emotional as I crossed the finish line. What I learned is that you have to have the will to fight, to never give in and never give up! Always go forward – Sempre Avanti! Most importantly, I realized that nothing can replace the love and support from loved ones and friends."
Gioffre has returned to a busy life, and finds her ride in the Challenge more rewarding each year. “The ride makes me feel good about the ability to give back and continue to fight this disease and encourage people not to give up. That’s why I do it.”
She got firsthand experience with benefits from the Connecticut Challenge, and makes her more resolute in supporting it.
“What I like most is you know where your money is going,’’ she said. “This is something tangible, a center providing many different types of support to cancer patients/survivors and their families. It’s very different than any other organization. It encourages you to get better and continue to fight the fight. “