Cathy L. Disher, a chaplain at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, isn't certain why one patient touched her heart so completely when they met in October 2015.

Perhaps it was that the woman was only 19 years old, or that her mother, who visited every day, was about Disher's age.

In any event, when a severe allergic reaction to the chemotherapy being used to treat the daughter's leukemia landed her in the critical intensive-care unit where Disher is assigned, she got to know the entire family.

"They really opened their lives to me, allowed me to journey with them, and we talked about the hard stuff," said Disher, who lives in Westerville.

The young woman, Robyn, died on her 60th day in the ICU.

Disher, who had asked the staff to call her when that happened, returned at 3 a.m. to be with Robyn's mother.

Disher, 63, had been toying with the idea of participating in the Pelotonia, a pretty natural thing for anyone who works at the James, but not much more than that.

Until Robyn died.

"I knew that day I would ask if I could ride for her," Disher said.

She held off on asking the family until they invited her in January 2016 to participate in a celebration of Robyn's life on her birthday in March.

"They were honored, so much so that after the celebration-of-life service, her dad asked me to let them know how they can support me," Disher said.

The family's eventual contribution to the chaplain's Pelotonia ride of $1,114 at first was perplexing, but then the penny dropped.

That had been Robyn's room number at the James.

Disher, who will participate in her third Pelotonia, is a native of Waterville in Lucas County. She has had a varied career, ranging from music therapy and working in a nursing home to climbing the corporate ladder in the food-service industry and serving as a sales director, which took her to central Alabama.

In 2005, Disher took an adult Bible-study-degree program at the Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, Alabama. A friend suggested she go on to attend seminary.

"I said, 'Well, seminary is for men who want to be preachers and evangelists, not for me,' " Disher recalled.

At the urging of her pastor's wife, she filled out an application for admission to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. By the end of January 2006, Disher had sold her home and was sitting in a seminary classroom.

"I couldn't have orchestrated that myself," she said. "Ultimately, from my perspective, it was in God's hands."

Disher became interested in chaplaincy after serving for a time as a military missionary in Chesapeake, Virginia, and she began sending out applications in 2014.

"I wanted to come back to Ohio," she said, and Columbus in particular where much of her family had moved.

Disher started her job at the James in February 2015.

"It's very rewarding," she said. "I work with wonderful, wonderful people."

Disher rode 100 miles in her first Pelotonia in 2016.

"The first 50 was pretty OK," she said. "The second 50 ... things got pretty isolated."

She dialed that back to 45 miles last year because her mother had entered hospice care. She plans to ride that same amount this time around because she has to get through a certification process for her chaplaincy.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1