Gary was enjoying a rewarding career as a chemical engineer and looking forward to possibly starting out on a new venture.
But during a routine physical in 2008, Gary’s doctor felt something in his neck. Biopsies revealed a Stage 4 throat cancer. It was devastating news for a man whose future looked so bright.
Fortunately for Gary, he was in the hands of one of the country’s most noted head and neck surgeons, Dr. Clarence Sasaki of Yale New Haven Hospital, now with Smilow Cancer Hospital. Under Dr. Sasaki’s care, Gary underwent a partial neck dissection, and Dr. Yung H. Son implanted radiation seeds. During the procedure, 28 lymph nodes where the cancer was likely to have spread were removed.
Following successful surgery, Gary underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Hari Deshpande. The entire treatment process was a difficult ordeal for Gary and his family, emotionally as well as physically. But eight years after being diagnosed with a Stage 4 cancer, he is enjoying life to its fullest.
“It’s a wonderful event. There’s a real feeling of support among the survivors, their families and all the caregivers coming together and inspiring one another.”
In 2011, Gary and his wife Susan volunteered to work at an event they had heard would raise thousands of dollars for cancer research, treatment and awareness. It was the first annual Closer to Free Ride organized by Smilow Cancer Hospital. “Volunteering was my way of expressing gratitude for what Smilow did to give me back my life,” says Gary. “It’s a wonderful event. There’s a real feeling of support among the survivors, their families and all the caregivers coming together and inspiring one another.”
In fact, Gary was so inspired by the day’s events, the following year he signed on again. This time as a rider. He’s ridden in every event since. In 2016, he was even honored on stage as a key participant in the opening ceremonies.
And Gary’s dream of a second career? In October of that same year, he opened the Backroom Bakery in Milford. Baking was, after all, something Gary had been passionate about since childhood. The interior motif of his store is blue and green, the colors of the Closer to Free Ride. Prominently displayed on the wall is one of Gary’s Closer to Free Ride jerseys. Gary is looking forward to many more rides ahead.