Positivity drives Susan Costello’s life after breast cancer

Florida nonprofit raises money, provides support network for those in recovery

Susan Costello reminded the doctor’s office she wanted the in-depth, diagnostic mammogram instead of a breast cancer screening in 2016. She has a family history of breast cancer, so Costello felt it was important to have the most thorough exam. 

Teri Dean, right, with Susan Costello at a Ribbon Riders fundraising event.

But when Costello went to change into a gown, the technician said, “You know this is just a screening, right?”

As she was putting her arm through the sleeve, it brushed across an unfamiliar, hard, pea-sized lump on her chest. She said she must have looked like she saw a ghost when she asked the technician to confirm what she suspected.

The technician scheduled a biopsy, and within two weeks, Costello, now 61, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Although her mother had breast cancer and she was a volunteer for Ribbon Riders, a breast cancer fundraising organization, being diagnosed was a shock.

Nearly 200 bikers gathered for an escorted ride in Sanford, Fla., to raise money for breast cancer patients.

The Ribbon Riders is a group of women who ride motorcycles and raise money to help breast cancer patients in central Florida pay their living expenses. Costello started riding motorcycles to reduce stress after her mother died, and the Ribbon Riders seemed like the perfect way to help others through her new hobby.

On Oct. 6, Costello shared her story with an audience at the Ribbon Riders’ fashion show fundraiser. She was one of 12 survivors who modeled outfits and spoke about their experience and the organization. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and, said board member Teri Dean, the busiest month for Ribbon Riders fundraising.


This year, the Ribbon Riders celebrate 10 years as a nonprofit and more than $450,000 given to breast cancer patients in the five central Florida counties it serves. In 2018 alone, Dean said, they’ve given $51,000 to 51 recipients. On Sept. 30, they held their biggest fundraiser of the year: the Go Pink bike ride in Sanford, Fla.

Nearly 200 motorcycles gathered for an escorted ride, raising about $19,000.

Dean, a Duke Energy field services representative in Lake Mary, Fla., said she sees patients with bills that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some don’t have insurance, but even the ones who do have insurance need help with immediate expenses like co-pays, gas to get to frequent doctor appointments, and groceries.

“We tell our recipients not to worry about the bills,” Dean said. “Get yourself healthy food, pay your electric bills so you have lights and air conditioning, because of course we live in Florida. You need to be able to feel good, so you can get better.”

When Costello was diagnosed, she said she was fortunate to have good insurance and the ability to pay her bills, but the group gave her a much-needed support network. At first, Costello was nervous to tell her friends about the diagnosis.


“I didn’t want to see their eyes well up with tears,” she said. “I didn’t want anything negative – anything that would make me feel afraid.”

Costello sent a text message to her closest friends to avoid their tears, and the group started working on a secret plan to show Costello how much they care. At their next event, they surprised her by the whole group wearing shirts that read “Team Susan” and one for Susan that said, “I'm Susan.”

“When you are diagnosed with something like that, even though you try to prepare,” she said, “it is shocking. You’re not sure what your future is, and that really made me feel like they’re all behind me.”

Dean with other Ribbon Riders volunteers

Though she hasn’t made it to the five-year milestone that frequently signals remission, Costello considers herself a survivor, and as a survivor, she said, she feels like an even more valuable volunteer because she can relate to Ribbon Rider grant recipients and help walk them through the diagnosis and recovery process.

When she was diagnosed and looking for advice on how to cope, she asked her aunt, a fellow survivor.

“She said, ‘Just do something positive,’” Costello said. “Those are definitely true words.”