The Second Toughest Ride

By Sarah Garcia - February 04, 2021

Since she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2018, Laurie Pacholke has already been on one of the world’s toughest rides. In just a few days, she will set out with a group of cyclists to take on a different type of ride.

Staring in Tallahassee, she and 40 other cyclists will make the 325- mile trek back to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. The annual Cure on Wheels, Inc. Capitol Ride helps to raise awareness and funds for cancer research – a cause that Pacholke is intimately familiar with.

Laurie and Aaron Pacholke
Laurie and her husband Aaron cycling on the Courtney Campbell Causeway scenic highway and trail in Tampa.

Pacholke isn’t just a patient at Moffitt– she is a team member who serves as a lab assistant specialist in hematology. Her husband, Aaron Pacholke, also works at Moffitt as a cytotechnologist.

While there are some obvious reasons Pacholke is eager to participate in the ride, she says part of it has to do with her husband participating last year and the camaraderie and fun of the experience. “I told him, you’re not going and having that much fun without me.”

Aside from the sheer fun of biking over 300 miles with close pals, Pacholke says it’s all about having a concrete goal to work towards.

“When I was diagnosed, I kind of lost my identity because I was an athlete, I was a coach … and that was really taken away from me. Cycling, I thought, was something I could do.”

Although she’s only been riding for just over a year, Pacholke has worked her way up to riding three to four times a week and going distances of 50 to 75 miles or more on one ride. “I mean, you know, fighting cancer isn't easy, but neither is this,” she says.

Laurie receiving treatment at Moffitt.
Laurie receiving treatment at Moffitt.

Every eight weeks she goes to Moffitt to receive her Rituxan®, which is a maintenance immunotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“Going through treatment while training for this ride has definitely been a rollercoaster, Pacholke said. “But part of the challenge is just fighting through that. Not feeling well some days, but pushing through. For me it’s a good ride if I can just finish it, and I can feel that sense of accomplishment.”

For 2021, the Capitol ride is just a bit different. Typically, the ride begins at Moffitt and ends in Tallahassee, culminating with Moffitt Day at the state Capitol. Moffitt Day had to be cancelled this year due to the pandemic, so the cyclists are riding from Tallahassee back – an “upside down” ride, perfectly fitting as we just wrapped up a year that felt far from normal for most.

For Pacholke, this means hitting the hills of Tallahassee – the most difficult segment of the route – at the start of the three-day long ride. “At least we’ll get the hardest part over with and then everything after that gets a little easier.”

It’s a lot like a cancer diagnosis, she said. “When you’re first diagnosed the hardest part is the beginning. Then after that you’re just kind of going along and getting done what you need to get done.”

When asked how she thinks she’ll feel at the end of the ride … “Exhausted. But proud. Mostly just proud that I was able to accomplish this. I think it’ll just give me a little more courage for anything that I do.”

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