Cancer Survivor Finds Hope in Pelotonia Pedaling

Aaron Conley’s devotion to the Pelotonia goal of ending cancer stems from his own journey as a cancer survivor and from the cancer journey of a friend who died last year.

“I am riding in memory of my good friend Max Vokhgelt, who passed away in 2016 from complications with treatment in his second battle with leukemia,” Conley writes in his profile for Pelotonia 17. “Max and I connected over being survivors and started a business together. This year I will ride 180 miles in his memory, and in hope of a future without cancer.”

His route—the longest available in Pelotonia 17—will take him from Columbus to Gambier and back as captain of the NextGen James Ambassadors peloton, a part of Team Buckeye.

Conley, a director of foundation relations for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, has always loved cycling and credits that sport in part with saving his life.

In 2013 he noticed that he felt weak riding and that his cycling times were slowing. Suspecting that he had a heart problem, Conley had a check-up and learned that he was severely anemic, a condition that was affecting his heart and vision. A subsequent colonoscopy revealed a large bleeding tumor in his colon. On Nov. 1 of that year, at age 27, he was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer.

Three days later, Conley had abdominal surgery at another area institution to remove a fist-sized tumor, eight inches of his colon and 32 lymph nodes, five of which were cancerous. “After recovering for a month, I started six months of intensive chemo once every two weeks, connected for 49 hours at a time to a chest port.” Conley completed therapy on May 16, 2014.

In August 2014, he rode 100 miles in his first Pelotonia, and he has ridden in it ever since. He notes that he has already been personally impacted by Pelotonia due to receiving free genetics testing through the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative (OCCPI), a Pelotonia-funded study. When Pelotonia 17 arrives, more than three years will have passed since he finished chemotherapy. His tests and check-ups have been clear, and his blood counts have been normal. “I’m in remission!” he says, attributing his good fortune in large part “to the support and love of so many family members, friends and co-workers.”

Conley began working at Ohio State in December 2015 and is continuing his journey as a cancer survivor at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

In his work at Ohio State, he has primary responsibilities for units of the Wexner Medical Center, including the OSUCCC – James and the Neurological Institute, working with researchers, doctors, faculty and staff to secure foundation funding.

Throughout his journey, he has focused on “staying positive and living in courage, knowing that so many others, including close friends, have faced cancer like mine or worse and stayed strong.”

“No one my age, or any age, should have to face this struggle,” Conley says. “Pelotonia is a way for me to continue getting back on my bike and helping work toward Pelotonia’s one goal of ending cancer. Pelotonia gives me hope."

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