"Life-changing" is how Gahanna resident Brandi Hann describes her involvement in Pelotonia, which started in 2009.

Though she randomly stumbled onto the charity bicycle tour that raises money to support cancer research, it didn't take long for the cause to become personal.

Hann, 44, said she was working at SBC Advertising, which was next door to the Pelotonia headquarters, when event representatives visited to deliver a recruitment speech.

"I hadn't ridden a bike since high school," she said. "I didn't have a significant connection to cancer."

She and her co-workers got caught up in the excitement, and she purchased a bicycle.

"I honestly did it mostly for something to do with my co-workers," Hann said. "We had fundraising events. I had no idea the life-changing experience it would be."

She rode 50 miles in the first Pelotonia.

"That year they had a survivors tent (at the) opening ceremony," Hann said. "There was a whole group of us that went to the opening ceremony together. We were going to report on our experience."

In that tent, Hann said, she saw current cancer patients, as well as survivors.

"It was very emotional to be a part of it," she said. "It was heart-wrenching. When we rode that first day with the people and all the signs (of support), it was life-changing."

She signed up again in 2010, riding 50 miles for the second time.

Then Hann was diagnosed with cervical cancer in July 2011 at the age of 38 and she became a patient at the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State.

"The recommended course of treatment was a radical hysterectomy, so I couldn't have children," she said.

Hann had the surgery Sept. 1, 2011.

"I couldn't ride, so I volunteered that first week in August," she said. "I was in a weird no-man's land, waiting to have surgery. You have that fear of what's going on inside. I hadn't figured out where my story was going to go. I didn't know my path on sharing it."

After her surgery, she followed a recommended course of chemotherapy and radiation.

"I was in treatment until May the following year," she said.

While she was in treatment, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer and then her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the following summer.

Hann's father died in fall 2012 at the age of 62, while cancer took her mother in April 2013 at the age of 63.

"With them, it was hard to watch," Hann said. "Dad's metastasized to his brain. My mom's was stage 4 breast cancer. It was frustrating because she waited too long to go to the doctor."

Because of all those experiences, Hann said, Pelotonia is a cause close to her heart.

"I don't want anyone else to go through what I did," she said.

Hann said she was grateful to have the James so close to home.

"The staff becomes an extended family," she said.

When she changed jobs in 2012 and started working for the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, a colleague wanted to ride in Pelotonia.

"I said I would ride with her," Hann said. "I signed up for 100 miles with her support."

From that point on, she said, the people she met through Pelotonia became her close friends.

"My inner circle I met through riding," she said. "I have an incredible support group. We ride and swim. I'm doing a triathlon in July. This is where it all started for me from a physical perspective."

This August will mark her fourth year of cycling the 180-mile route from Columbus to Gambier on Aug. 5 and back to New Albany on Aug. 6.

"Day one is big with tons of people," she said. "It's cool to feel the energy of that. Day two, it's the passion from the people and you survived day one. You come out of Kenyon (College in Gambier) and it's an incredible emotional experience. That's why I continue."

Hann said it wouldn't be quite as special if she didn't ride on day two.

"When I cross that finish line, it's empowering," she said.

Hann said she values the people she has met and experiences she has had.

"You immerse yourself into a world of cancer," she said. "I met a lot of people I've lost but who touched my life in a way that I'm glad I got to know them. It's cliche to say, but it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Through it all, she said, cycling has been an activity she could embrace.

"It was something I could continue to do," Hann said. "It was a gift. I don't know what direction I would've gone if I hadn't had that to come back to."

She said she was never an athlete during her youth.

"I've come into it with the team dynamic," Hann said. "I've always been active, but never part of such a big thing. The small group of my own that has come out of it has truly been life-changing for me."

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla