After months of rigorous training, all five LLS Team In Training teammates finished at the 2017 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on October 7. The team came together from across the U.S. and Canada to compete in the 140.6 mile iconic triathlon – raising an incredible $435,000 and counting, for blood cancer cures.After months of rigorous training, all five LLS Team In Training teammates finished at the 2017 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on October 7. The team came together from across the U.S. and Canada to compete in the 140.6 mile iconic triathlon – raising an incredible $435,000 and counting, for blood cancer cures.
KONA is one of the world’s most demanding athletic events – featuring a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. The team joined more than 2,000 athletes from around the world. Each of them went above and beyond to raise funds to cure cancer, as the cause is personal for all of them. Here are their stories…
Chris Wilno – Orange County, California
Chris has experienced a whirlwind of tragic events in the past several years. His father, Al was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2002. Shortly after, his pregnant wife, Crea lost their daughter Isabella at birth. Then, after a 16-month battle, Chris’s father passed away.
Chris saw light at the end of the tunnel when he learned his wife was pregnant again, but soon they learned she had cancer too. Thankfully, she gave birth to their healthy son, Jaden, and Crea is in remission today.
This adversity fueled a fire in Chris to make a difference. “My story is born out of sad events but my story is about hope. It is about believing anything is possible,” said Chris.
He joined Team In Training, has completed 12 endurance events and raised more than $350,000 for cures. He also serves as a marathon coach and has led hundreds of individuals across the finish line while at the same time raising millions of dollars towards cancer research.
Eric Braate – Houston, Texas
In 2010, Eric completed his first marathon with Team In Training in Paris. More than 30 marathons and triathlons later – including two IRONMAN triathlons – the Houston NBC meteorologist was elated to pair his passion for endurance sports once again at KONA this year. He even used his media platform several times to help raise awareness and drive donations.
Eric saw the devastation that blood cancer can bring early in his life when his childhood friend lost a long battle with leukemia. He’s since witnessed the impact of blood cancer many times throughout his life as both sides of his family have a long history with various forms of cancer.
While training on his bike for his first IRONMAN triathlon in 2014, he was hit by a truck and broke his neck. After a long and arduous recovery, he came back a year later to cross the finish line of IRONMAN Canada.
Eric completed the KONA race in just over 14 hours and said, "We crossed the finish line today. Hopefully we cross the finish line sometime soon in the battle against blood cancer.”
Sonya Heitshusen – Des Moines, Iowa
Sonya, an NBC affiliate news anchor in Iowa, first got involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society when her co-anchor’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 1999. Ten years later, her brother was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Sonya has completed multiple endurance events in honor of her friend’s daughter and her brother —both who are cancer free today — but says that KONA was her most difficult race by far.
“My training and the competition was challenging, but nothing in comparison to those facing a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatment,” said Sonya.
Keith Ramon – Aurora, Ontario
Keith is currently a teacher at St. Andrew’s College, an all-boys private school, in Aurora, Ontario Canada where he also coached the school triathlon team. In addition, he coaches cross-country running, Nordic skiing, biathlon and weight training athletes.
He has completed numerous IRONMANS and triathlons, but this year was his first time as a fundraising participant with Team In Training.
Keith’s entire family was involved in helping him reach his fundraising goal for KONA 2017. His father-in-law, Paul passed away in June 2016 after a battle with acute myeloid leukemia. Keith completed KONA 2017 in his honor, and finished at an incredible time of 12:32:51.
Teri Abrahamzon – San Francisco, California
Teri first got involved with TNT in 1997, and since then, she’s been touched by blood cancer in many ways. Her sister-in-law, Tina has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia since 2005 and inspired her to take on IRONMAN Arizona in 2014. Also, her good friend Lindy was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Teri works as an architect at Genentech and says that her passion for LLS and her job align perfectly. “TNT will not only help you realize your athletic goals but more importantly, it will help you find a way to help so many individuals and that will bring you gratitude,” says Teri.
Teri completed IRONMAN Kona in honor of Tina, Lindy and friend, Stacie.
Team In Training's triathlon program allows multisport athletes of all experience levels to support the LLS mission through a variety of challenging event experiences – from elite Ironman events to Olympic and Sprint triathlons. To learn more, visit TeamInTraining.org.
On Friday, October 20, 1944, Robert “Robbie” Roesler de Villiers was only 16 years old when he died from leukemia. Robbie’s parents, Rudolph and Antoinette, were stricken with grief and frustrated by the lack of effective treatments for what was then considered a hopeless disease. In his memory, the family started a foundation in 1949.
Today, it is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). In our 68-year history, we have invested more than $1 billion in research to advance lifesaving treatments and cures, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. This investment has led to remarkable progress in treatments for patients.
Robbie’s legacy continues to live on in the progress we have made. To mark this date in LLS history, below are excerpts from a 1945 letter written by his father published in a book his parents wrote to preserve his memory…
From Robbie's Father:
I admit that it is my greatest delight to speak of our boy, as it was when he was still with us; but I feel that to do so here is also my duty in order to preserve his living picture as well as I can. In addition, it is a small expression of our thanks for the sixteen-and-a-half joyful years he gave us.
I am writing this at his desk in our home, where he put many of his thoughts on paper. On May 14, 1944, just a year ago today, he came home from Millbrook School happy to be on the Honor Roll. And therefore permitted to spend an extra weekend with us. In June 1945 he would have graduated from Millbrook and entered Yale, to which he was looking forward with such eager anticipation….
On Friday, October 20, 1944, Robbie left us forever – a victim of that terrible disease, leukemia. On October 24, we buried him at Ferncliff Mausoleum in Ardsley-on-Hudson. The following Christmas Eve, he would have been seventeen years old….
He had unlimited confidence in us. He was certain that we would find means to bring him back to health. He therefore accepted the painful and often exasperating treatment stoically and like a hero when we told him that it was necessary if he was to get well. We had hoped that we would succeed in keeping our Robbie alive until a cure for his illness had been found. Alas, our efforts and prayers were in vain.
Fortunately, he did not suffer much. ‘Everything will be well if my parents are with me. I do not understand why they seem worried,’ he told his nurse. He did not know how desperately ill he was, and how small the hope was to save him. Probably children and young people cannot conceive that they may be taken away. We felt the same….
He was our joy, our life, our future. He was gentleman in character and manner. We lost our best friend, a delightful companion, and in this book we would preserve his memory as it is preserved in our hearts.
Rudolph Roesler De Villiers, New York, May 14, 1945
To honor Robbie and others lost from blood cancers, please share memories of your loved ones in the comment section.
Brittany Daniel is an actress best known for her role in the television series “Sweet Valley High” and the film, “Joe Dirt,” and a lifestyle blogger at The Sweet Life By Brittany + Cynthia Daniel. She and her husband, Adam, will participate in The Leukemia Cup Regatta in San Francisco (www.sflcr.org) on October 22.
In the summer of 2011 life was pretty perfect for me. I was 36 years old, happily getting ready to move into a new house, and gearing up to begin production on my television show. That’s when I suddenly started experiencing flu-like symptoms, back pain and night sweats. I went to the doctor not knowing exactly what was wrong. After a few tests, they diagnosed me with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. My entire life stopped in an instant.
I started chemotherapy and R-CHOP immediately, and with the support of my physician — and my amazing family — I began my journey to beat cancer. I spent the next 100 days in and out of the hospital. In those 100 days, I learned what it really means to fight for your life. I went through chemo. I lost 30 pounds and all of my hair. I was on a feeding tube. And, I suffered many life-threatening infections. I remember there were days when I looked in the mirror and I did not recognize the frail, bald woman looking back at me. In just over three months, I had gone from being carefree to being someone who required a caregiver.
I know that all of the other incredible medical treatments that I was fortunate enough to have access to played a gigantic part in me beating cancer. Equally important was the support of my family and friends. Sharing fruit punch popsicles daily on the front porch of my sister’s house with my then 3 and 7-year-old nephews likely played an equally important role in why I am here today.
I also knew that I had to keep moving my body. Even though I was fighting for my life, I had to push just a little bit harder. I would go for walks around the hospital floor at least three times every day. I would even wake my mom up in the middle of the night to go walk the hospital floors with me. Once I was well enough to be at home, I would go on walks with my mom, sister and nephews every day.
I kept setting larger goals for myself. There was a hill near my sister’s house, and every day I would walk a little bit further knowing that one day I would get up that hill. My commitment to physical activity never stopped. Once I was in remission, I started going to gentle yoga classes to slowly rebuild my inner and outer strength. That was one of the best gifts I gave myself. It helped me reconnect with myself in a whole new way.
Beating cancer takes an unbelievable toll on you both mentally and physically. My body and mind were in constant survival mode. I experienced some depression, which is very normal for someone fighting cancer. Yoga and meditation really helped me reconnect with my body and spirit. It helped me process what had just happened to me and work through all of my feelings. I highly recommend gentle yoga and meditation during and after treatment. I also explored alternative medicines like acupuncture and Chinese medicine, both were a huge help in restoring my body once I was done with chemo.
Early on in my cancer journey I understood that this was going to be a physical and mental fight. How I thought about my fight with cancer was going to be just as important as my physical fight. I had a vision board that I kept in my room during my treatment to remind me of all the things I loved, and what I was fighting for.
I filled the board with images that represented what I envisioned for myself when I survived cancer. I had pictures of my family, of a woman walking on the beach in Hawaii, and one of a couple getting married. My vision board represented hope and a beautiful future. It kept me motivated and focused on all of the wonderful things that life still had to offer.
I also subscribed to the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. Comedy became such an amazing outlet and relief for me while I was going through treatment. My favorite memories with my family during treatment were watching rerun episodes of "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." Daily laughter was so therapeutic and healing to my spirit, and it really helped me take my mind off of all the heaviness around me.
I never gave up, even when I was scared. I think that was because of the will my dad instilled in me. I come from a family of fighters. We believe anything is possible once you set your mind on it and we are willing to work hard to achieve it. My father passed away from cancer in 2009, and his courage inspired me every single day.
Six years later, thanks to the advanced treatments I received, I am so blessed to be able to say that I am in remission, and that life gets better and better every single day.
Meeting my husband Adam was a dream come true. When I was sick I remember thinking, "I will survive this, and I will marry an amazing man one day." Not only did I survive cancer, but I met and married a strong, kind, smart and compassionate man. I have to say, my life looks a lot like that vision board that I assembled in my hospital room. We even celebrated our honeymoon on the beaches of Hawaii.
If I can offer any piece of advice to other cancer patients going through what I went through, it would be for them to know that this is the scariest ride of your life. It’s going to be terrifying and sad, but survival is possible. You can get through this and go on to have a beautiful life. Please just hold on and fight with absolutely every ounce of your mind, body and soul.
Adam and I are so thrilled to be participating and raising money for the Pacific Union Leukemia Cup Regatta the year. Adam is a real estate broker at Pacific Union, and he is proud to be able to involve his brokerage in the cause as well. This is a cause that means so much to us, and I am so excited to be involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) so we can help fund lifesaving research, which is one of the reasons I am here today.