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A celebration for survivors; Rick Springfield helps kick off 17th Ride for Roswell Weekend

Australian singer-songwriter and actor Rick Springfield on Friday headlined an event on the University at Buffalo North Campus, where cancer survivors and their supporters joined together not only to raise funds for cancer research but also to have a good time.

It was the kickoff for the 17th annual Ride for Roswell Weekend, organized by members of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The first-ever opening ceremony for the event was preceded by the 12-mile Peloton ride, featuring 200 bicyclists who pedaled from Roswell Park to the North Campus, where Springfield and his band took the stage in the UB Stadium.

Despite having played the role of Dr. Noah Drake on the ABC-TV network daytime soap opera "General Hospital" from 1981 through 1983, the name Rick Springfield and cancer are not commonly thought of in tandem. However, Springfield, prior to taking the stage Friday, noted that nearly everyone has been touched in some way by the disease.

"I think everybody has a personal connection to cancer. I don't know anybody who hasn't been touched by it at some point," said Springfield.

"Actually, I'm going to Australia in about seven days to say goodbye to my boyhood friend who was in my first band that was successful in Australia. He has liver cancer, and he doesn't have very long left, apparently, according to what we're hearing," he added.

The Grammy-winning artist, perhaps best known for his 1982 pop hit record "Jessie's Girl," also performed three songs on his last album, dedicated to a young fan named Sahara, who died of brain cancer at the age of 13.

Springfield noted his father also died of cancer, which is what makes the research done at facilities like Roswell so important to him and why he wanted to lend his talents to Friday's opening ceremony.

"They've done some great things, the whole PSA test came from there. They're very advanced. I'd rather do something and give money to a group where I know specifically where it's going," Springfield said.

"I'm always ready to play for a cause than not. It's a very easy thing to do," he added.

Also appearing at the opening ceremony was former Buffalo Bills linebacker Chris Spielman, who shared details of the journey of his wife, Stefanie, following her diagnosis with breast cancer at age 30 in 1998. She died in 2009.

In addition to the Peloton riders, scores of cancer patients, cancer survivors, their family members and volunteers attended the opening ceremony.

Christopher Choi, director of the Therapeutic Cell Production facility at Roswell and an assistant professor of oncology at the University at Buffalo, manned one of the research booths on the campus.

"The first question that I've been getting manning the booth earlier today was, 'Is the research that I'm doing -- will it work for what they have?' which is heartbreaking," said Choi.

"We have this dendritic cell vaccine clinical trial which I'm a co-investigator on. It's used to treat all solid tumors," he added. "It's a great example of how the ride helps in terms of funding these great ideas to really kick-start great ideas and to get to implement these great ideas into the clinic."

Springfield, meanwhile, had a simple message for his fans:

"Let's have a great time and forget all the pain right now. That's what I do. My show, it's a celebration, and there are lot of people out there with some things to celebrate, the survivors out there," he said.

"I think that's very important because I know mental attitude is a major component in surviving cancer," Springfield added.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com