“You’re going to save a life”…
That’s what the psychic told me when my friend Jennifer and I visited her in August 1996. As I knew nothing about saving lives at the time, I signed up for a CPR course…I thought it might come in handy...just in case!
In September of that same year, my brother Michael, a manager at one of the Joey Tomato restaurants, fainted at work. There was no “real” reason for him to faint other than he had been working many nights. He was otherwise healthy, active in underwater rugby, and a successful student. A quick trip to the doctor revealed a shocking discovery. He didn’t want me to worry about it as I lived in another province at the time; he thought they could sort things out. Turns out he was mistaken.
It didn’t take long for the diagnosis of Leukemia to be delivered; it didn’t take long for our world to be turned upside down. There are things I remember from all of this like it was yesterday….sleeping on the hospital floor during my brother’s first round of chemotherapy…watching as many comedies as we could…listening to as many “cute” singers with my brother as we could…anything to keep the mood positive. It had to be positive as so much wasn’t. Our parents were a wreck, and understandably so.
This was difficult for me to manage and imagine, as I lived so far away. I had great friends throughout this journey – friends I am still fortunate to have to this day. A source of unsuspecting support for me came through the students I taught. They let me be human…they let me cry…they let me be mad…they allowed me to be me. They may never know how much of a gift they were to me then. I am fortunate to call many of them friends today.
Remember that I said I was going to save a life….I was confident that Michael would be fine, and that we would be a match for donation. As nerve-racking as it was, it was nothing compared to what we would face as a family in the months to come. My brother and I were a perfect 6/6 match. We were ready to face this beast!
The minutiae of the details are not important to a degree. Hospital changes…freezing cold weather…daily trips to visit…Many times over the three rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, I watched my brother throw up. I saw him wince in pain when he swallowed, mouth sores and more wreaking havoc on his body. My friends stuck through all of this with incredible support, while, ironically, some of Michael’s friendships began to face away. I think they were afraid of what could happen.
I was fortunate that my bone marrow harvest was relatively easy. The whole Apheresis experience was somewhat new, but not incredibly invasive. I did feel achy and horrible for the week of shots, but in the big scheme of things, it was nothing. It was not even close to what Michael endured. Never once, not once, did Michael ever complain about how he felt. Still, to this day, he never has.
The bone marrow transplant was one week after my harvest. We all gathered in his hospital room. The anticipation was incredibly stressful for me. If it didn’t take, then would it have been my fault? To say the whole experience was surreal would be an understatement. I am thankful for all of the teams Michael had working with him. His main oncologist was not my biggest fan. I am fairly certain he cringed every time he saw me. This provided us with hours of laughter. It truly was an adventure of comedic proportions!
Michael has had his share of setbacks – a punctured lung and greatly reduced lung functions, inability to make tears or naturally produce Human Growth Hormone, constant battles with GVH…that would be me battling with him! Even with all of the setbacks, he still moved forward. With an MBA from Notre Dame and a Doctorate of Laws from Bond University in Australia, he has shown that anything is possible.
I did hit a bump in the road a couple of years after Michael’s transplant. Depression hit me hard and out of the blue. Again, it was the kids at school, my strong friend group and running that got me through it all. I felt like I had no control over anything. I am not ashamed by this at all. It allowed me to see life from a different perspective, and to treat many occasions with much more compassion.
Running could ease my feelings of hurt. It brought me peace and a strong group of peers. I joined clubs; I ran races. I ran. One day I discovered a Team in Training pamphlet. Oh my gosh! This was something I could do! My first event was the Vancouver ½ Marathon in 2000. I even volunteered as a speaker leading up to the event. It wasn’t until moving back to Alberta in 2007 that I rediscovered TNT and discovered that I had more to give!
Cheryl Pollock was the angel on the other end of the phone when I called for information. She launched me on this journey which has given me more than I could ever have imagined. I always say that I run because I can, and I continue to give because I can. I am lucky!
I have run many events since then, including San Diego (strong team of 3 who are still connected), San Francisco, Disney World (inaugural Princess) and Disneyland more times that I can count! With each even came new connections, new friends, new challenges and new goals. One of the most amazing and generous gifts TNT has to offer is support. The support I have received from Cheryl and my favourite coaches Theresa and Ramona is inspiring.
These three ladies were not just there for me when I was involved in an event, but they were there for me whenever I needed someone. I think they were some of the first to know when I got engaged. They were there for me with virtual hugs when my dad died so unexpectedly. They fuelled my mission to continue running and to continue making a difference in the lives of those who need it most!
Two of my last three events were not without their challenges. I’ve run with Bell ’s palsy. I’ve run with a concussion (long story!). The important thing is that I did it. I watched my brother and others I’ve run for never quit. I couldn’t quit either.
This year’s event, Disney Star Wars ½ Marathon, brought more excitement than challenge. As the only Canadian member of TNT at this event, I was embraced, once again, by “family” I hadn’t met. It doesn’t matter where you are from. When you are with Team in Training, you are with family. This year, not only I run a great race, but I had an extra special chEAR team with me. My husband, Joe, who has run 3 TNT events by my side, joined me as support on and off the course. My 12 year old son, Jamison, who has had many “fund raising” birthday parties and donated all his money to TNT, travelled with us. His words when it was all done were, “Mom, thanks for bringing me. This was the best experience. I can’t wait to do it again!” In addition to my two favourite fellows, I was so excited to share this experience with Michael. He was finally able to see, first hand, the love, dedication and commitment of Team In Training participants from across the land. He got to thank people he had never met for making such a difference in his life and in the lives of so many others!
Team in Training offers an experience like no other. I have felt a connection from the beginning. My experiences only grew more magical and powerful with each consecutive event. Each year I say I am going to take a break from fund raising for TNT. Each year I remember that I give and do because I can…each year I recommit. I value the opportunity to be a part of something that makes such a difference to so many. I have been honoured and humbled by the outpouring of support from friends, family and strangers. I am convinced that there will be a cure for Blood Related Cancers in my lifetime!... and I am thankful that my brother has been able to live a full life as a result of a lifetime’s worth of dedication to finding a cure.