Friday, February 11, 2011

Light The Night Goes Purple by Jessica Reijmer

TNT Mentor Nicola with Mary, Jessie and Whitney.
Working for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I get an insiders view of each of our unique campaigns that play a crucial role in our mission of finding a cure and improving the quality of life for patients and their families. As a recent addition to our Light The Night department, my role is to encourage and teach participants on how to raise funds for blood cancer research and patient services programs every day, but I have never actually fundraised for anything myself.

When I was first approached about joining the TNT Disney Princess Half Marathon Team, I thought hmm maybe, but then I asked the crucial question, “Exactly how long is a half marathon?” In my mind I was thinking 6 or 8 miles, but after hearing 13.1 miles, my mind was made up or so I thought. Not being an athlete and despising even the thought of running; my immediate answer was “NO WAY JOSE!” Even after the peer pressure from my fellow co-workers, I stood firm in my decision. It was not until a meeting with the mother of our 2010 Light The Night Honored Hero, Jordan, that I began to change my mind. I thought of Jordan and every other person I have met throughout my journey at LLS. I’ve heard so many stories since I began my career at LLS; stories of hope and inspiration, stories of tremendous faith and strength, but also stories of loss and grief. Some fight and lose, but others battle and come out victorious.

On Saturday, November 13th at approximately 2pm, I decided to sign my name on the dotted line and run for a cause. Although I was determined to finish, my mind was heavily filled with self doubt. Reaching the fundraising minimum of $2,800 seemed like a very lofty goal. So let’s face it, I was really nervous. But I felt like I needed to do this. I desperately wanted to show my support for the mission and prove to myself that I could stick to my guns and finish. That was nearly 3 months ago. Today, I can tell you that because of the support of my family, friends, coworkers, coaches, my team and a few complete strangers, I have reached my fundraising goal. Not only have I reached it, I have actually increased it twice and set a new goal, which I plan to exceed!

The TNT Disney Princess Half Marathon team
Last Saturday at our GTS, I ran 12 miles for the first time in my life! Shortly afterwards I called my Mom with both tears and an enormous sense of pride. Never in a million years would I ever have thought that I could accomplish this task, but as I struggled and huffed and puffed up the hills in the cold, I remembered why I was doing this, not just for me, but for every single person who has been affected by cancer. I didn’t let my mind get the best of me! It has definitely not been an easy road. At times I swear I might have become a hypochondriac, name an injury and I have overcome it while training. I have cried, complained and not been able to move on numerous occasions. I have persevered and now I am almost at the finish line!

I have met some of the most amazing people since beginning my journey with Team In Training. This experience has touched me inside and out and opened my eyes to life’s possibilities. I could not have done it without my team and I am so excited to run in the Disney Princess Half Marathon on February 27, 2011. While I can’t say that I have fallen in love with running, I can say that I will never forget this experience and look forward to participating in future TNT events!

Jessica Reijmer, Mary Martin and Whitney Schaffner are all LLS staff that normally work on The Light The Night Walk every year. For a few months, they have also dedicated themselves to furthering our Mission by participating with Team In Training in the 2011 Disney Princess Half Marathon. Jessie, Mary and Whitney, we are so proud of you! Good luck at Disney and Go Team!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Surviving and Thriving by Dan Gennari

Dan and his friend, Joe
It was March 16, 2010, and I was panting like a German Shepherd on a hot July day, but I was standing straight up, at the top of a snow covered mountain in Colorado. Approximately 6 months before, I was seated in a big recliner, a clear tube running from an IV bag into my chest port and wondering if I would ever enjoy skiing the way I always had after 16 doses of bleomycin and other toxic chemo drugs had been pumped into my veins. I had followed my two friends off the top of the chairlift as they unclipped their skis and began hiking to the peak at around 13,000 feet. The climb took about 20 minutes but felt like hours to me. After pausing a few minutes to catch my breath and take a few pictures of the moment, we all clipped back into our bindings and plowed into the powder of the open bowl, and then the glade of trees. It was a liberating experience for me.

That was when I knew, or thought I knew that I could overcome the evils of cancer and continue to live a thriving life. I knew that despite the things I had lost and the pain I had suffered, Hodgkins Lymphoma was only a part of my life and that I still had unlimited potential to succeed in pursuing my dreams. I also knew then, that it was time I responded to one of those numerous purple brochures and postcards hitting my mailbox and trying to recruit me for Team In Training. That day on the mountain renewed my confidence in myself and my body and I was ready to take on the world. Before I would get that chance though, I would have to take on cancer once again.

After only an eight month break, scans revealed that my mediastinal mass was growing aggressively, and my doctor recommended beginning salvage treatment in preparation of a stem cell transplant. I was devastated that I would not get to train for the century ride, because I think I wanted it for myself, as much as I wanted to help the Society. I wanted to validate the feeling of health and recovery that I felt on the mountain in March. I had already started my fundraising, and decided I would go ride with the TNT team on their first cycling ride of the summer, even though I knew it would be my only ride with them.

Although my memory of that afternoon high in the Rockies is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, the summer that followed is a fuzzy patchwork of recollected moments and feelings. I was in and out of the hospital several times, and visited the clinic almost daily from June through August. I finally completed my stem cell transplant process in mid September and checked out of the hospital for the last time.

I got through my first 100 days post transplant with several colds and a brush with pneumonia, and I am starting to feel good again. I started to ride my bike at the tail end of December and joined the TNT Georgia Chapter once again and will be training for the America's Most Beautiful Bicycle Ride in Lake Tahoe this June.

Throughout my 2 year cancer experience, I have received an incredible outpouring of goodwill from friends, colleagues, family, neighbors and even strangers. So, with the fundraising minimums of TNT looming, I am hesitant to once again ask for help from those who have already done so much for me. Instead, I have partnered with The Ski Channel, to premier their documentary, "The Story" in Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb).

The film will be shown on February 17, at Studio Movie Grill and tickets cost $25.00 per person. The $25.00 ticket gets you admission to the movie, food and drinks, and benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. If you or someone you know are interested in supporting my fundraising for the Society, please link to the ticket sales portal through my blog site, If you cannot attend the film, it is also possible to make a direct TNT donation through that website link.

Dan Gennari is riding with TNT for the 2011 America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride at Lake Tahoe, NV this coming June. Dan, you inspire us and thank you for sharing your story! TNT'ers, please support "The Story" movie screening on February 17th.