For quite some time now I have stood by the statement that my leukemia diagnosis has opened more doors than it has closed and created more opportunities than it has taken away. I truly believe that but thought it would be even more enlightening to write down just what some of these opportunities have been. The more I began to think about them, the more abundant the list became. I’ve captured a few of the more meaningful ones below over 11 years of living above and not simply with a chronic form of leukemia. The truth is there are too many people and experiences for our time in this blog but trust me, they are all remembered. I hope you can read deep enough to understand that this disease has given me opportunities to do things that have been very meaningful for me and allowed me to connect with people on a “people” level. It’s given me the chance to know people outside of their respective life stages or arenas and talk about more meaningful things that have proven to be a common denominator for the human race as I know it – like passions and compassion. Every single event below has a direct link to my diagnosis.
For starters, I have to make mention of the incredible and long list of people I have met through my work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Team in Training. This relationship has truly been life altering as I’ve been touched by so many people through the years. I signed on as a triathlon coach within a week of being diagnosed. And I cherish the relationships I’ve formed with people from all walks of life through this organization. Thank you leukemia.
In 2009 a mutual friend and former fellow goalie by the name of Shep Messing introduced me to a guy named Ethan Zohn. Shep told me that Ethan had just been diagnosed with lymphoma and that we were like-minded and would be good for each other. An instant friendship with Ethan was born and we continue to partner on all kinds of cool things, including life. My connection with Ethan has also enabled me to race the NYC Marathon 6 times and travel to South Africa to race the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in support of his charity, Grassroot Soccer. Thank you leukemia.
Through my association with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society I became connected with a FOX 29 news anchor named John Anderson. John was very active with LLS and this was another connection that quickly became and remains a good friendship. John and I have been able to do some cool things over the years including riding in the American Cancer Society Bike a Thon as well attending the 50 year anniversary celebration of the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles championship season. John’s wife wasn’t particularly excited about attending and thought I would make a much better date and suggested that I go in her place. What a night. I got to hang out with some of the players that I watched as a small boy with my dad and listen to them reminisce about their playing days and talk about their lives. Thank you leukemia.
And on the subject of the Eagles, my experience with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man / Woman of the Year campaign (I was the 2010 winner) drew me to support the campaign of a friend who later ran for Woman of the Year. My support of her then led me to a speaking engagement with several former and current Eagle players. And it was pretty damn cool to stand in front of folks like Brian Westbrook, Doug Pederson, Jon Dorenbos, AJ Feeley, Harold Carmichael, and Conor Barwin as they intently listened to my story and later rallied around me wanting to know more. Thank you leukemia.
My initial diagnosis sparked the idea to publish a book. Once having successfully done so, four more books followed. And I was lucky enough to recruit contributions from folks like Ethan Zohn, Shep Messing, Scott Tinley, Dave Scott, and Vicki Huber Rudawsky. These are all individuals who I admire and respect for a number of reasons who agreed to be a part of my writing process and project. Thank you leukemia.
When I was first diagnosed and blogged a lot about my experience, I received an email from a woman who applauded my tenacity and told me that I reminded her of her husband Vince who was also a survivor. The email was signed Janet Papale and yes a friendship with the “Invincible” one himself, Vince Papale, and Janet was born. Thank you leukemia.
Also in my blood cancer family is Lauren Hart. Not Lauren Hart the talented recording artist and famous voice of the Philadelphia Flyers, (although she is that and then some). But Lauren Hart the caring and compassionate soul who is very philanthropically involved, has adopted 4 children from Ethiopia and his herself a lymphoma survivor with a vested interested in my health. Thank you leukemia.
And while racing has been a passion for thirty years, my diagnosis has only given me more opportunities to race with an even great sense of purpose. That experience has only gotten better as a result. And through it all I’ve shared my story through countless TV, radio, internet, and print media outlets including an Emmy nominated segment on Comcast Sportsnet written by Gregg Murphy and produced and narrated by John Boruk. All of these experiences, and many more, have allowed me to look at my leukemia as a gift and afforded me the opportunity to be the architect of so many bridges; connecting people, causes, organizations, and opportunities. Thank you leukemia.
Most importantly, I think I’ve given my family something to be proud of. I think I’ve given them an example of how to find opportunity in adversity and how to turn a potential mess into a message.
For every single person I have touched, and have been touched by as a result of this journey, Thank you leukemia.