The Ride brings the Voelker Family together to fight cancer
In 2017, Laura and Josh Voelker, along with other family members, wanted to pay tribute to Josh’s beloved Aunt Ann, who had recently died of cancer. They wanted to take part in a family gathering that would be fun and meaningful. They had heard about The Ride, the cycling fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and decided to sign up. It turned out to be just what they were looking for.
In the lead up to The Ride, the Voelkers enthusiastically raised money and eagerly looked forward to it. Then, the Friday before The Ride, Laura, who was 41 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer after a routine mammogram. With no history of breast cancer in her family, the diagnosis came as a shock.
“Since we signed up for The Ride to memorialize Ann, we decided to keep it about her and tell the family afterward,” Laura says. “It was a fantastic way to remember her, but at the same time I was worried I because I didn’t know what I would be going through.”
After the ride portion of the event, they stayed to listen to cancer survivors tell their stories. “It takes a lot for me to cry, so I got a few odd looks from family members as I sobbed through these stories,” Laura says.
“We were definitely more emotional than the rest,” Josh adds. “Then we shared what we were going through, and they became a big part of our support network.”
“Afterward, I had a much better outlook about what I was going through. I just kept thinking that there was a reason for all of this—the timing of it and having my family there,” Laura says. “We believe in God. Our children go to Christian school. I thought this was God’s way of letting me know it was going to be OK. I knew Ann was there with us, and I said to Josh later, ‘I think she was my guardian angel through my treatments.’”
Laura and Josh both grew up in Columbus and were high school sweethearts before getting married. They have two children, Olivia, 16, and Jack, 12. Shortly before her diagnosis, they moved back to Columbus and set up their new home. Josh’s parents had recently moved in with them while they searched for their own home nearby. “So, when I found out I had cancer, I had all the right people in the right place—both sets of parents, former classmates, members of our church. I had this feeling that I was going to be OK,” Laura says.
Laura’s treatment consisted of 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 31 days of radiation therapy. Despite the uncertainty, fear and treatment side effects, Laura and Josh found that the experience has had its positive side.
“It was actually quite good for our family,” Josh says. “We got a lot closer—we had to. Our children, Olivia and Jack, had some questions but fully understood the potential implications—that they could have lost their mom. It was a growing moment for them. They took it pretty hard in the beginning, but we pushed through it together.”
Their support network was also a great help. “News spreads fast in a small town, and you get help along the way,” Josh says. “Meals start showing up at your door. People stop by and do what they can to help. There was never a day that we had to worry about what was going to happen because we people were always checking in with us and making sure that we had everything we needed.”
After her cancer experience, Laura decided to help fellow patients by volunteering at Columbus Community Hospital, where she supports patients during chemotherapy and families of patients undergoing surgery. “It’s my way of paying it forward. Plus, I get to work with patients again,” says Laura, who previously worked as a dental assistant and medical receptionist.
That same caring spirit fuels Laura and her family’s participation in The Ride. Sept. 22 will be their third time participating—Laura’s first as a rider.
“It’s amazing that all these people are coming together for something so positive in our community and riding for somebody they’ve lost, somebody they love, somebody who’s going through cancer,” Laura says. “It’s also humbling that they’re taking their time and making an effort to help raise money for cancer research. It’s great to be part of it. Watching everybody come across the finish line is inspiring. I’m looking forward to it and feel very fortunate to be riding this year.”