PASTA PARTY SPEECH

Joy Hunkins Anchorage Marathon June-2005

 

Is everyone pumped up for the event tomorrow?I know I am.This will be my 2nd Team in Training event.I ran the full at Nike 26.2 last October in San Francisco.Boy was I nervous at that pasta party.But you know, I really didnít need to be.There is so much support for you out there on the trail that before you know it you will be here at the Victory Party dancing the night away.

 

My first connection with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was on June 13, 2001.We were living in Indiana when my husband John, was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.He was very ill at the time of his diagnosis.†† Our daughter, Lauren, 11 years old at the time was in Florida at Space Camp and after dropping her at camp I stayed in the state, not wanting to be to far from her in case of an emergency.John was an airline pilot andhad been feeling overly tired for some time but had been flying a lot of extra hours getting ready to go on vacation on June 15th.He was scheduled to meet us in Titusville for Laurenís graduation from Space Camp.Instead, he was taken by ambulance to Columbus Regional Hospital where they made his diagnosis. The ER doctor called my cell phone in Florida to inform me that John had leukemia and that I needed to return to Indiana as soon as possible.This was on a Wednesday.I picked Lauren up at camp and we were back in Indiana by noon on Thursday.The oncology doctor in Columbus gave us our options for locations for treatments.We chose St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis.It was close enough to our home that I could drive to the hospital daily and Lauren would be able to come and see her dad as often as she would like.John was taken by ambulance that afternoon and was in surgery for his port so his chemotherapy could be administered.I met with Johnís doctors and received so much information that I was completely overwhelmed.I had barely even heard of leukemia and what I had heard was that it was mostly a disease that affected children.So, how could my 54 year old husband have this?The doctors had to be wrong.I had so much to learn and had no idea where to start.

 

While John was in surgery a representative from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society came by his room.Iím sure it was a patient services representative.She basically told me that there is a lot of help and support that the Society can offer and reassured me that there was somewhere to turn.

Johnís blood counts were so bad when he was taken to the emergency room.†† His white count was off the scale in the hundreds of thousands and his red count was at 3.1.Normal counts for a male are 14 Ė 17 for red cells and 4,000 Ė 9,000 for white cells.His counts were so bad because the leukemia was so acute and was very aggressive.The doctor later told me that his blood was the consistency of foam, and as you know foam does not circulate through your body very well at all.†† His doctors were astounded that he had lived beyond that first day of diagnosis because his leukemia was so advanced but John had a few things yet to do.Through treatments made possible by research money from programs like Team in Training, money that was raised by people just like yourselves, John lived another 6 months losing his battle against leukemia on December 24, 2001.During these 6 months John spent many weeks in the hospital but also many weeks at home.While at home he was able to see Lauren make her elementary schoolís basketball team, play in games and cheer her on at a few more swim meets.Most important to Lauren and I was that John had time to write letters to both of us to be opened on important dates in the future.Like her 13th birthday, my birthday, our 17th wedding anniversary in August, Laurenís first date, high school & college graduations and on her wedding day.In his letters John gave Lauren advice that a dad would normally give his daughter in person like how to handle boys on that first date, how to be a good and honorable person, advice that the world was there for her taking and to take full advantage of each and every moment.To never waste a single minute of her life worrying about the unimportant issues.Always be kind and considerate to herself and to others.††† For these 6 months and these precious letters he was able to write to us we thank God first and foremost and secondly the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for funding the research that enabled his doctors to treat him with aggressive treatments to extend his life while still searching for a cure.

 

I became involved with Team In Training not long after we moved to Florida.Lauren, the athlete, was running a 5K and picked up an interest card, having an interest in running as well as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society being dear to her.She mailed in the card only to learn that to be a participant for Team In Training you must be 16 years old but she was happy to hear she could help in other ways like volunteering at events.Cheering, passing out water or just helping out.While she enjoyed helping at events she continued to harass Amy Young, our staff manager for the Central Florida Chapter.Amy, after being tortured for over a year, explained to Lauren that it was truly out of her power to let her participate but that her mother (me) was certainly old enough.Can you imagine the look on my face?Now you need to understand that I was not an athlete, never had been an athlete and really had no desire what so ever to become an athlete.I could not run down the block let alone a half or full marathon.Amy convinced me that I could indeed with the help of the expert coaches from Team In Training walk a half marathon and can you believe it, there was an information meeting the very next night.The next week I became a proud yet wary participant of Team In Training signed up to the walk the Ĺ marathon in San Francisco.Well, you remember I told you that I had completed the full Nike 26.2. in San Francisco.How did this happen to an absolute non-athlete?†† I donít know if many of you have been to Florida, especially in the summer.It is hot and it is humid.As you know, those of you that are running or walking tomorrow.You have to put in the miles for training or your coaches wonít let you leave to eat breakfast.I figured out pretty soon that running is a much faster way to put in those miles and finish before the sun gets up to high in the sky and the humidity reaches the norm of 100%.So, I became a runner!I completed the Nike 26.2 in 5 hours 32 minutes and 5 seconds. Now I must tell you that my running partner and I, Erica Larson, another Team In Training participant and now a staff person for our chapter were not happy just running 26.2.†† We were given bad directions on the course.†† No we did not get lost.†† It was not our fault.We ran 27.34 miles to complete our Ultra Marathon on the hills of San Francisco.But you know, as hard as that was for us it is nothing compared to what blood cancer patients go through each and every day.Treatments are so hard and if we, by running or walking in our Ĺ or full marathons can help make even one moment of their treatment easier, Iím sure you will agree with me that we will complete as many marathons or ultra marathons that it takes until there is a cure.††

 

I have realized that I will be a perpetual Team In Training participant.I will raise funds and run in events until there is a cure or until my body says enough and then I will find other ways to contribute.Lauren and I chose to run the Mayorís Midnight Sun Marathon here is Alaska because Alaska was a trip John and I had always wanted to take but didnít get the chance to do.Before our race in San Francisco at a pool party for our honorary coach, Alex, I mentioned to Michele, the better half of our coaching duo, about John and I wanting to go to Alaska but not getting the opportunity and she told me that John in fact had gone to Alaska, on her singlet the year before.She met Lauren briefly and heard about John and was running in the Mayorís Midnight Sun Marathon and honored John by writing his name on her singlet.He had completed the 26.2.I knew then that I had to come to Alaska with Team In Training.

 

When John passed he was cremated and I had his ashes separated into 3 urns.I thought I wanted to scatter them in ďMonkey Run CreekĒ, a little creek in Iowa that John had hunted arrow heads in as a boy in Columbus Junction, Iowa, in Indiana, where we were living at the time and in Florida, where we were planning to move.We did scatter his ashes in Iowa, his sister, niece and nephew went with us as we scattered his ashes from the swinging bridge in Columbus Junction but I havenít scattered the 2 remaining urns.It just hasnít felt right and I have lived the past 3 years of my life on gut feelings and instinct.Maybe I just havenít been ready to let go.That day at the pool party I knew where I wanted to scatter the second urn.Here in Alaska!Lauren is here with me, so we will get to complete that dream vacation we always talked about.I am honored that I can share this special time with all my friends at Team In Training because without all these wonderful people I am not sure I would have made it through these past 3 years without John.They have been and still are our strength & support.

 

So you see, tomorrow you can all do it too!I am sure your coaches are as awesome as the Birdwellís, our coaches from Brevard County and they have trained you physically and mentally to meet the challenge.When you are out there on mile 12.1 or 26.2 remember all those miles you have logged and know that you are prepared for this race.Think of your honorary coaches, family and friends.Know that everyone is cheering you on and so very proud of you and what you are doing for the mission of the Society and the mission of Team In Training.Know that you are improving the lives of patients and families that are suffering from blood cancers.Good Luck and God Bless you all!††† Thank You!

 

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