• Route: Smoky-mountains
  • Ride Year: 2021
  • Hometown: Naples, FL

About: Hello! My name is Serena - pronounced sir-rain-uh not Serena as in Serena Williams or Serena van der Woodsen. I am a junior at the University of Texas at Austin studying Music Performance on a Pre-Medical track.

Why I Ride

There are thousands of reasons to join the fight against cancer, but closer to my heart, I decided to join the fight for the most important people in my life. I ride for the strength of their stories, whether those stories continue to be written or not.

I ride for my dad. During the summer of 1994, my dad rode his bike from Astoria, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. His compilation of photos consists of bits and pieces of each of the three routes that Texas 4000 travels with each summer. He saw the beauty of the Pacific West, the glory of the Rockies, and the verdant nature of the Ozarks. I ride for his sense of adventure, the adventure that brought his back tire to the Pacific and his front tire to the Atlantic.

I ride for my grandma. My entire life has been filled with invincible women. My paternal grandmother suffered three rounds of breast cancer, all going unnoticed by myself as a child. During a conversation with my dad, he spoke about how the cancer seemed to return every fifteen years, starting from when she was 45. When it first occurred, my dad was only ten years old, and was therefore shielded from the actualities of cancer. When it returned, he was older- more aware. However, the cancer’s inability to win the first time seemed to instill some blind confidence in him. When it returned the third time, it was my turn, as a child, to be shielded, and as a result I have no solidified memory of my grandmother ever battling cancer.

To me, cancer was simply a myth. It was something you read about in The Fault in Our Stars and heard about affecting a friend of your family, but that friend has long hair and a vibrant personality now, so was it really ever a threat? It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I realized that maybe, just maybe, cancer was greater than the stories we heard about.

My mom was in the kitchen and I was doing homework in the living room when she told me her mother, my Grandma Jan, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The sheer amount of sadness that, for the first time, wasn’t shielded from us was my first encounter with cancer. However, as I’d learned from the other invincible women in my life, cancer could still be beat, and my grandmother outlived her breast cancer diagnosis. She lived to see me graduate from high school, and once again I was under the impression that cancer was no match for the women in my life.

But time moved forward, and sixty years of smoking took their toll on my grandmother. The lung cancer diagnoses felt more final, as that had been the lingering concern of our family for years. However, time kept moving forward, and it was my sophomore year of college when I got the message from my mom, amidst finals week, that the cancer had spread to her brain. The last Christmas I spent with my grandmother felt surreal, and even though I was aware of the reality of the situation, I refused to accept anything as the end. After all, directions for treatment and doctor’s appointments were still listed on her refrigerator.

My Grandma Jan ended up passing away the morning of my 20th birthday, on January 21st, 2018.

Even when I was told it didn’t feel like the truth. I had texted her days before with a photo of a skirt a friend had brought back from India for me, and I hadn’t responded to her comment on how beautiful she thought it was. My mom had bought a plane ticket months ago to visit her the following week. And yet, for the first time in my life, cancer had won.

I ride for my Grandma Jan, because the strength she had during her fight against cancer is the same strength that is going to carry me to Alaska.

I ride for my Grandma Tina, and her intermittent and strongly fought battles against breast cancer. I ride in hope that one day she won’t have to worry about its return.

I ride for the stories of the people I love, and I encourage you to ride for those stories as well.

People I ride for:
Grandpa Ralph
Uncle Jeff
Aunt Emily
Great Aunt Margaret

Thank you for reading my Why I Ride! As always, please let me know if there is anyone I can ride for in your life, whether they have been affected by cancer or not. In addition, please consider donating to Texas 4000’s fight against cancer. Big or small, any contribution can make a world of difference.