“It was the worst day of my life,” said Janelle Morales. “It’s an out-of-body experience – there are so many questions that go through your head. You’re thinking am I going to die?”
In January of 2016, Janelle received devastating news – she had cancer. Unfortunately, breast cancer was all too familiar in her family. Years before, her aunt passed away as a result of a long battle with the disease, leaving behind her young daughter. When Janelle heard the news of her own diagnosis, she began to prepare for the fight of her life, starting with telling her family. When looking back on that day, she remembers being scared to share the news with her mom in particular.
Despite the fear of the unknown that lay ahead, Janelle’s strength and perseverance to fight against the disease persisted.
“During my diagnosis, I remained as healthy as I possibly could,” said Janelle. “I surrounded myself with friends and family to keep my mind off of the diagnosis, and then I just had to take things day by day. I am a planner and overthinker, so I just had to put those things aside and to a halt and look at life one day at a time.”
Now, Janelle is healthy and living an active lifestyle. In March of 2022, she will participate in her first Pan-Florida Challenge Cancer Ride. The annual ride brings together dedicated cyclists to fight cancer. This year, the ride will be held on March 26 and 27, with starting lines in both Tampa and Fort Myers. Routes range from 10 to 200 miles, so riders of all skill levels who hope to celebrate survival or honor a loved one have the opportunity to participate. Every dollar raised goes directly to the Pan-Florida Challenge’s mission to fund cancer prevention and research at Moffitt Cancer Center, sponsor educational programs and provide cancer-fighting weekend backpack meals (PFC Power Packs) to hungry children.
Last year, Janelle’s partner, Kerry Sartell, rode in her honor. He has been cycling for several years as a form of staying active and keeping a healthy lifestyle, but after Janelle’s battle with breast cancer, the two knew that they wanted to find more ways to support cancer prevention and treatment research.
“I’m very fortunate because I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer,” said Janelle. “But I knew when I was diagnosed and going through my treatment, that I wanted to find something where I could give back and remember and honor those that we’ve lost and for my aunt.”
Before participating in the 2021 ride, Kerry had never completed a century ride, so when the two came across the Pan-Florida Challenge and learned about its mission, they knew it would be the perfect way for Kerry to accomplish his goal.
“Janelle being a cancer survivor motivated me the entire ride, from mile one to mile 99,” said Kerry. “This was the first time I’d ever done anything like this. While fundraising, you talk to a lot of people that are impacted by cancer in some form or another, and that starts to click as you’re riding – you’re thinking about all the people that contributed and you want to do the best you can for everybody that supported you. Before my ride, Janelle reached out to friends and family and had a video made for me which was incredible and emotional. At the end of the ride coming through mile a hundred, I felt like I could do a hundred more.”
This year, Janelle will join Kerry on the ride. She has spent the last several months training and preparing to take the challenge – including how she prepares to handle any hurdles along the way.
“I think if I run into a spot where I’m having difficulties physically or mentally, I’m going to think back about the people that are dealing with the disease. They have it much worse than what we’re doing when we’re going out there and doing these rides. I am a little bit nervous because this is my first time doing this long of a ride with a group, but I’m confident at the same time that I’m definitely going to cross the finish line.”
Join Janelle, Kerry and hundreds of other passionate cyclists in the 2022 Cancer Ride. Every dollar raised from the annual Cancer Ride goes directly to fighting cancer and providing hungry kids nutritious foods to eat over the weekend. To learn more about the Pan-Florida Challenge and to register for this year’s ride, please visit www.panfloridachallenge.org/the-ride/.