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The People Who Change Us: The Story of Cathy and Robyn

The People Who Change Us: The Story of Cathy and Robyn

If you have been to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, you may have met Cathy Disher, a member of the Pelotonia community and Chaplain at The James. As a Chaplin, Cathy’s job is to provide vital emotional support for patients and their families, as well as staff at the James. Through her job she has the honor of developing lasting and meaningful relationships with each of her patients, their families, and her coworkers.

This year Cathy will ride in her third Pelotonia to fight back against the disease that plagues each of her patients.
Cathy Disher

Cathy first joined the James in early 2015 and was quickly introduced to the Pelotonia movement by her friends and coworkers. Six months into her position, after receiving plenty of encouragement to participate in Pelotonia, she registered and started training for the 2016 Ride.

Though a bit hesitant about the commitment, Cathy’s attitude and passion for the cause changed forever, when a 19-year old girl, Robyn, was admitted to her unit at The James. Robyn had been diagnosed with leukemia and was already in poor condition by the time she was placed in intensive care. Her diagnosis had been sudden and progressed quickly. The chemotherapy had taken its toll on Robyn’s body, so much so, that Robyn had to be sedated ninety percent of her two-month stay.

Robyn’s time at the James affected Cathy deeply. Robyn was the youngest patient Cathy had worked with at The James, and stayed for a longer period of time than any other patient in Cathy’s unit. Robyn was very, very sick, and it was devastating to see this every day.

Becky, Robyn’s mother, was near in age to Cathy, and through this difficult time the two women grew close. “Our relationship has been on-going since I first introduced myself to Robyn’s mom in October 2015, ” Cathy noted. While not every family that Cathy interacts with lets her into their lives, she said that “A connection was made that day as Robyn’s family opened their lives, their hearts and allowed me to journey with them during Robyn’s time here in the hospital, not only as their chaplain but as their friend.”

Cathy remembered a day when she had walked in to Robyn’s room to check on her and found Becky standing over her daughter’s bed, visibly upset. Becky was a realist. She knew that Robyn did not have long to live, but she, like any mother, still held onto a sliver of hope that everything would miraculously get better. Becky asked Cathy, “Tell me what you see. Be honest… We’re too far along this journey together for you to lie to me.” Cathy comforted Becky, seeing the toll that the cancer and chemotherapy had taken on Robyn’s mind and body and the heartbreak it took on her family.

Robyn passed away on December 10th, 2015. She was 19. After Robyn’s death, her parents, Becky and John, stayed in touch with Cathy. They had formed a bond. They asked Cathy to read Robyn’s final words at her Celebration of Life, which would take place the following March, on Robyn’s birthday. Cathy gladly obliged. In return, Cathy asked if she could ride her first Pelotonia in Robyn’s honor. Robyn’s parents were touched that Cathy would remember and celebrate their daughter in that way.

Cathy, more motivated than ever to make her first ride a success, leaned into her training and fundraising. She began making and selling buckeye candies to raise money and committed to regular training rides. One day, after completing a 60-mile ride, her coworker and close friend, Dan, suggested that she increase her mileage to the century ride (100-miles). “Dan believed in me, especially from the moment in December 2015 when I told him I wanted to ride in Robyn’s honor.” Although she was nervous about the distance, Cathy said she would make him a deal – if she could raise the money, she would do the 100-mile ride. She remembered thinking “I had no reason not to try. It was literally all uphill from that time on.”

Cathy Disher

The following August, Cathy did it. She rode 100 miles in Pelotonia 16. Robyn’s parents met her at the finish line to congratulate and thank her for riding in their daughter’s honor. Looking back on her first ride, she said Pelotonia was “Community, connection, relationships, and hope, all for one purpose. I want to be a part of a community where there is one goal, one heart, and one mission. I believe I have found this in Pelotonia.”

Now a dedicated member of the Pelotonia community, Cathy continues to ride. She rides in memory of Robyn, in honor of the patients she sees daily, and for those who are no longer with us.


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