On March 10, 2015 I reached another milestone and turned 60 years young. I have been blessed with good health and the ability to swim, bike, and run. For over a decade I have been involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) as a board member and participant in more than a dozen fundraising triathlons/marathons for Team In Training events all over the world. My efforts will continue until cures for blood-related cancers are realized.
I am a staunch supporter of this mission because of my dear friend, Tom Zupan, whom after returning from a vacation was plagued with fatigue, swollen bug bites and inflamed lymph nodes. For two years, with no diagnosis, he battled these symptoms, among others, including severe rashes, fevers, and colitis symptoms. After countless doctor appointments, he was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma.
Treatment for this rare form of lymphoma included four months of intense chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. Initially the treatments worked and Tom returned home to resume some of his daily routines. Five months later, however, the cancer returned. Fortunately, the FDA had just approved a new oral medication called Imbruvica. Imbruvica is an enzyme inhibitor that only targets cancer cells and LLS funds supported clinical trials and laboratory studies of Imbruvica for patients with mantle cell among other lymphomas and leukemias. As a result, Tom is winning his battle.
"Every day, I pour a large glass of water and carefully swallow four large pills. I often gag but get them down. I call this my miracle drug. I am forever grateful to the researchers, physicians and fundraisers that have made this medication available to people like me. Although there are a few side effects, they are tolerable and the medication has improved my quality of life. I would like to sincerely thank everyone from the bottom of my heart who has supported me in this battle. Whether in prayer, support or research, my family and I are extremely indebted to you.” – Tom Zupan
Last August, in honor of Tom, I participated in the Ironman Championship in Mont-Tremblant. Tom and his wife Lisa came to celebrate his life and the triumphs he has overcome. After more than 15 hours, my medal was proudly placed around Tom’s neck, serving as a daily reminder of the fight that continues. Although Tom is doing well today, our work is not done. Mantle cell lymphoma has a high relapse rate so our fight is more important than ever.