As of February 17th 2009, Leesa reports that she is entering remission! Even with a few setbacks, like a quick trip to the ER to fight an MSRA Staph infection, she has beaten Leukemia!
This is her awesome story.
Jason: If you could encourage someone right now that is battling cancer, what would you say?
Leesa: You are not alone. There are so many people and organizations out there that are ready and willing to help you throughout your entire ordeal. The kindness and caring of even complete strangers is amazing and will probably overwhelm you. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help….don’t be afraid to admit that you’re scared or that you have questions.
Jason: So, what is the deal with cancer? What do you have? When did you find out? How are you doing right now?
Leesa: I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) on May 28, 2008. It’s the 65-year old man’s disease in a 37- year old woman’s body – it’s kind of the underachiever of leukemia (in my opinion). Finding out was a bit of a relief…I know that’s an odd thing to say….I had been feeling so extremely tired for such a long time (along with other symptoms) and my doctor kept telling me there was nothing wrong. I didn’t believe her, so I kept pushing and was starting to feel like it was in my head. Finally, a blood test with odd results prompted additional testing by a specialist (an oncologist) and a reason was discovered. To finally learn that there really was something wrong and that I wasn’t just imagining symptoms…well…that was a relief. Now I know what’s causing me to be so tired. Of course it opens up an entire new set of worries, but I just take it one day at a time. As of today, Feb. 17, 2009 – it looks like I’m entering remission.
Jason: What is keeping you strong?
Leesa: My faith in God – I know that whatever happens, it’ll be okay, I’ll be okay. The support of my family and friends – they help keep me focused on the positive. And laughter – I’ve tried to approach having cancer with humor.
Jason: What in the world is WOBO? How did it start?
Leesa: WOBO – Walking Our Butts Off. We were telling our friends about our decision to join Team in Training and train for a marathon. Someone said, ‘you guys will be walking your butts off’ and that’s all it took. It started as a simple website for us to use to track our fundraising progress and to blog about the experience and my health. We have family and friends spread out between numerous states and calling each of them with updates was exhausting – so the blog has come in very handy. But as we continued with our training, we realized that WOBO has the potential to become more than just our way to stay in touch with those around us. We’re still trying to figure out exactly what WOBO’s purpose is. We’ve now added Team WOBO to the mix. Team WOBO will be used to join together our friends and family and participate in various ‘team awareness events’ like March of Dimes or Relay for Life. We’ll put info up on the website with how others can join us for such events – either in person as a participant or as a financial donor. And we’re still brainstorming about the future….there are just so many possibilities.
Jason: How has walking changed your life?
Leesa: It took a cancer diagnosis to change my life. Literally. I never realized how a thing as simple as walking can have such a positive effect on you. I also have type 2 diabetes, and because of all the additional exercise – which honestly isn’t that much – I’ve seen my A1C levels go from 8% to 6.5% — my endocrinologist is very happy with me!! Plus walking just makes me feel good!! Sure it was hard at first; I had led such a sedentary lifestyle, that the first mile was hard. But after about four months….saying I’m going to go walk 8 miles seems like nothing at all.
Jason: Tell us about your husband, Craig. What is he doing to stay strong for you?
Leesa: Craig and I have been together since 1986….we married in 1992. I have more memories with him, than without him. Craig has always been the calm one – he makes sure I don’t over-react and that I try to see the positive in a situation. When I had to go back on a chemo pill and was feeling discouraged, he reminded me that it was a lower dosage and less frequent than before – he helped me see the positive. This whole experience – the cancer, the marathon training – has really taken our marriage to a new level. There are days that I am just overwhelmed by my feelings of love and appreciation for him – it’s so hard to even put into words. He most definitely blesses my life.
Jason: If someone wanted to give money to help you, what should they do?
Leesa: Log on to www.TeamWOBO.org – there’s a donation page that will list all the fundraisers we are currently doing. The links on the page go to secure sites where you can make a donation.
Jason: Did you find the LLS (The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) after your diagnosis or were you already aware of them?
Leesa: I had a vague awareness before. I had heard of various events that they sponsor, but I had never had any direct contact with them.
Jason: Tell us about how the LLS is helping you?
Leesa: Right now, they’re just there for me. Whether I use their services or not, it’s good knowing that they are there. I’ve been an active participate/volunteer for a few events. I like being able to give back – guess I look at volunteering at LLS like putting into a savings account – I keep making deposits (my time as a volunteer or fundraising) and one day I may make a withdrawal (use of patient services). I know there will be a day when I need to take advantage of the assistance programs that are offered, but until then I can keep giving and helping the programs. The staff that I’ve had contact with have all been so supportive. When I call about volunteer opportunities I don’t come right out and mention that I’m a leukemia survivor…but it eventually comes out…and when it does, the atmosphere of the call changes. I can hear the compassion in their voice – it’s nice.
Jason: What advice would you give to any one that is helping to care for a Cancer Patient?
Leesa: Help them to see the positive. Don’t let them stay ‘down’ for long. Having a positive attitude even in the worst situations can be hard, but it’s so helpful and beneficial to healing. Let the patient do as much for him/herself as he/she is able. They know their limitations. Don’t be afraid to let them talk about the “what if’s” – sometimes discussing the worst case scenarios has a positive effect….because you can always turn it around and look at the best case scenarios. Learning you have cancer and dealing with it is a process. Coming to terms with it won’t happen overnight. Also, think about finding someone to talk to yourself – being a caregiver is hard work. You’re not alone either.
Jason: You just finished the Walt Disney’s World Marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Tell us about it.
Leesa: Although I wasn’t able to finish the marathon [read Leesa’s post on her blog] – I had to take myself off the course due to an injury – being a part of Team In Training and getting a taste of a marathon definitely ranks in my Top 5 life experiences. It’s so hard to capture with words the experience. I highly, highly recommend signing up for at least one event at some point. It changes your life – and it’s such a positive change. My husband has already signed up for another event – the Hy-Vee Triathlon in June. I’m actually a bit jealous that I’m not able to do it with him because I see how excited and motivated he is. I’m now an alumnus for TNT and can attend any of the weekend trainings even though I’m not signed up for an event. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I’m looking forward to getting back out there with my former teammates. There’s a bond that forms even in the short amount of time that we’re together. These strangers come together for a common cause – to help raise money to fund blood cancer research – they give so much of themselves for others they may never meet. I loved being an honored patient – especially one that was also able to be a participant. Like I said, it was a life-changing experience that is so hard to put into words.
Jason: What is next for you?
Leesa: I thought I knew. I had planned to do the 5K in the Olathe marathon in March, but a recent MRSA Staph infection and subsequent surgery and hospital stay put an end to my training. So right now I’m concentrating on healing. The infection was a real eye-opener. It came on so suddenly and spread so fast – it really made me mindful of how careful I need to be when it comes to protecting myself against germs and keeping healthy. But I won’t let it get me down. As soon as I’m able (or allowed by my doctor) I’ll get back out and walk – the weather is getting better and better. There’s plenty of time to train for the KC marathon in the fall. Plus….I believe another trip to do the Disney marathon next January is in the works!!
A great big thank you to Leesa and Craig for sharing their story.
Follow Leesa and Craig on their blog: www.WalkingOurButtsOff.com
Donate to Leesa and Craig’s fundraising site: www.TeamWOBO.org