Should you have been at Madison Square Park (MSP) in New York City on a Saturday morning, you may have seen a group of mothers wearing purple t-shirts running through the park pushing various baby strollers. These mothers weren't focused on losing "baby weight," but rather they were warriors battling cancer on all fronts.
The purple-clad women were training for today's Women's Mini 10k through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Team In Training (TNT) program, the world's largest endurance sports training program benefitting blood cancer research and patient services.
One member, Cynthia Gormezano, knows all too well the importance of raising funds for LLS through TNT. Cynthia is a 3-time Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor and long-time TNT participant.
"In May 2000, I felt a lump in my neck and knew right away it was cancer," recalled Gormezano. Her doctor found she had cancerous tumors all over her neck and chest. "I hoped it was Hodgkin's Lymphoma -the good cancer. It's an oxymoron - but you hear that a lot," she said. It was. Gormezano underwent chemotherapy and went into remission for two-and-a-half years.
In June 2001, she had another scan only to discover that her cancer was back. "I was thirty when I relapsed," she recalled. Her doctor told her if she had the standard treatment, "stem cell transplant," she would never be able to have children because "it kicks you into menopause." She chose chemotherapy and radiation.
Gormezano then met her future husband, Meir Suissa, who promptly proposed to her on their second date. Her oncologist advised her to see her OBGYM immediately if she ever wanted to get pregnant. Nine months later, Gormezano gave birth to her son Haym, named after her father and which means life.
When Haym was 6 months old and still breastfeeding, Gormezano decided to do a check up since she had not done one while pregnant. She had relapsed again, but this time opted for the stem cell transplant. "It was really rough. It was more grueling physically but emotionally more bearable because of my husband and son," she affirmed.
Her recovery was physically exhausting. Gormezano stayed home for four months and could barely do more than lie down on the couch.
"I would literally spend the time watching my son or reading him books. I couldn't feed him or put him to sleep. I just sat with him," she said.
A year later, Gormezano decided to undergo IVF and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl called Anat. "I breast-fed her for a year. I took off work for six months and just reveled in her," she recalled happily.
In three weeks time, Gormezano is going in for another scan, "I'm so anxious - I have never gone to four years before - this is big!"
Gormezano got involved with LLS after her first bout with cancer and has raised over $100,000. Since 2001, Cynthia has completed five 100-mile (century) rides and six triathlons and one 10K.
Jessica Oliver, a divorced mother of four, also belongs to the MSP group, whose weekly training sessions are led by certified trainer Meri Treitler, founder of Mommy & Me Fitness. Treitler, a mother of three, offers her services to LLS pro bono. Oliver runs for one of her twin daughters Kate Davis, who will turn 10 on July 1.
On January 31, 2004, Kate was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). "Kate had one too many bruises. That day I noticed she had a bruise on top of her shoulder and I knew that something was not right," Oliver recalled. "She was diagnosed with ALL - the good kind of cancer! I refused to learn how to spell it because I didn't want it to remain part of our life," she exclaimed.
Kate underwent 28 months of chemotherapy at Sloan Kettering Hospital and lived there for over 4 months.
"It was very tough. We took no risks. She couldn't eat out for two years. We eliminated all bacteria - no play-dates at home. My daughter couldn't go to school for a year and a half so we had a friend who volunteered to be her teacher twice a week," she recalled.
Oliver said she met many children who weren't as lucky as her daughter and lost their battles with cancer. "We are involved in LLS with the hope that someday every child will make it. We volunteer in the memory of those kids at the hospital, our friends who we loved, who didn't make it," she said tearfully.
Since her diagnosis, Kate's family has raised over $350,000 for LLS.
According to Helena Scott, LLS' Senior Campaign Director, the survival rate for childhood leukemia in 1949, was zero, while today it is 90 percent. Scott added, "LLS is relentless to find a 100 percent cure rate not just for leukemia but all cancers."
Moms have made huge contributions to LLS. Out of the 200 TNT participants in today's race, 25 are mothers. "Overall the Moms In Training team have raised over $30,000 and the Team In Training team overall are estimated to raise over $130,000!" said Scott.
For more information on LLS and its Team in Training Programs, visit www.lls.org/nyc