For 59-year-old Maria Thor, enjoying nature, being surrounded by loved ones and taking care of her health are three of life's greatest blessings. She cycles six days a week and adds an hour of weights whenever possible as part of her training for Empire State Ride, which she has proudly done every year since 2017. She rides to honor her parents who both lost their battles to cancer.
Through everything, Maria's strong faith sees her through life's ups and downs. In recent years, this faith has become more important than ever as she's been faced with new challenges.
Early warning signs
In late 2021, Maria noticed something in her stomach didn't feel right. "I know my body so well, and that's really important," Maria says. "I always stress that you should go to the doctor if there's something wrong."
And she did, calling her doctor right away, she set up an appointment as soon as possible. After a sonogram and a CT scan, she received a phone call that no one ever wants to receive.
"I'll never forget it. I was riding my bicycle when the doctor called and said I had a fatty mass. I almost fell off my bike."
On November 22, Maria's diagnosis came back: Leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that grows in the smooth muscles.
Alongside her niece, Rebecca, close friend, Terry, and the staff at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Maria started chemotherapy. For each round of treatment, she stays at the hospital for days at a time, hooked up to an infusion pump on an IV stand that Rebecca has fondly named Wanda. Despite any limitations, Maria completes three miles, or about 99 laps around her hospital floor, with Wanda in tow.
Not all days are good, but she does what she can to keep herself moving, including training to participate in her sixth Empire State Ride.
"It's in God's hands what I'm going to be able to do this year [at ESR]," Maria says. "If it's just a mile, I'll do a mile. But I will be at the Empire State Ride, heck or high water, sleeping in a tent and joining everybody in celebration."
Get involved in the Empire State Ride
If you're ready for the 500 mile cycling challenge for cancer research, looking to volunteer or get involved in another way, sign up for ESR 2022 today!Register
Remembering her first ride
Maria's journey makes raising funds to end cancer more important than ever. She thinks back to her first Empire State Ride in 2017 and remembers not knowing what to expect. A self-declared "Holiday Inn girl," she avoided camping for most of her life and had limited experience with distance cycling.
"I really had no idea how to ride my bicycle. I just rode," she says. "It's a game — getting the rest, taking the supplements you need, drinking water every 10 minutes, finding a support group to cheer you on. That first year, you really learn."
As she prepares to embark on her sixth Empire State Ride with her team, GBY9 ("God Bless You" followed by her parents' favorite number), she looks forward to doing what she can on her bike and cheering everybody else on. Like years past, she'll stop when she sees a penny or quarter and pocket what she calls her "wings from heaven." Later, she'll add the coins to her fundraising total.
Most importantly, Maria will keep a list of people who have donated to her fundraiser and send them prayers from the road. They're part of her team, and she can say firsthand that what they're doing makes a difference in the lives of patients like her.
"Your whole life changes in a blink when you hear the words, 'You have cancer,'" she said. "You don't take anything for granted."
That, Maria says, is reason enough to keep moving.
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.