Joy Hunkins is a TNT Coach and she trains in memory of her husband, John.
My first connection with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was on June13, 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 and had 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 Lauren’s 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 John’s 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. I’m 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. John’s 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 – 17 for red cells and 4,000 – 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, 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 school’s 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, Lauren’s 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 ½ 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 don’t know if many of you have been to Florida, especially in the summer but it is hot and it is humid. 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 2005 Nike 26.2 in 5 hours 32 minutes and 5 seconds. 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 ½ or full marathons can help make even one moment of their treatment easier, I’m sure you will agree with me that we will complete as many marathons that it takes until there is a cure.