Young Cancer Survivor Inspires Local Athletes

Eight-year-old Connor was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 1.5-years-old. He underwent chemo for 3 years and 3 months and celebrated his last dose with a family party. For the next couple of years Connor endured several finger pokes for routine blood tests. Sadly, his family learned in February 2017 that his leukemia came back.

Connor’s mom, Jen, shared, “He didn’t even feel sick but the doctors said he had to fight the bad guys in his blood and start taking chemo again. This second time the chemo was a lot harder- it made him really sick and he had to stay in the hospital a lot.”

Connor had a bone marrow transplant on August 1, 2017, from his sister Chloe. His health continued to improve but he couldn’t be around people or go to public places because of germs. He spent most of his time at home and was homeschooled to stay on track with his school work. Connor was able to FaceTime with his class.

One year after his bone marrow transplant, a biopsy revealed that his leukemia was back for a third time. He spent over a month at Children’s Hospital Colorado getting chemo in preparation for CAR T-cell immunotherapy.

CAR-T personalized cellular therapy is a revolutionary approach to treating cancer by using genetic engineering to reprogram the patient’s own immune T cells to find and kill cancer cells. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the past two decades, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has invested more than $40 million in CAR-T research and development. Connor was the sixth person at Children’s Hospital Colorado to receive CAR-T.

Connor had a check-up 34 days after his CAR-T infusion and again most recently during the holiday season at 61 days post-treatment. The results were positive, showing no signs of leukemia. Jen shared, “This was the BEST Christmas present ever for our family!!! His fight isn’t over but this is a huge victory and we are soooo very thankful!”

You can click here to learn more about CAR T-cell immunotherapy.

Connor has been an inspiration to Denver-area teammates training for the Wildflower Experience and other endurance events through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, the world’s largest and most successful endurance sports fundraising and training program. Team In Training (TNT) offers a lineup of innovative high caliber domestic and international events, and prepares teammates for marathons, half marathons, and triathlons, as well as cycling, climbing and hiking experiences.

Since its inception in 1988, Team In Training has raised more than $1.5 billion, trained more than 650,000 people and helped LLS invest more than $1.2 billion in blood cancer research such as CAR T-cell immunotherapy.

“We all come to TNT with different our own personal stories and reasons for being involved with LLS,” shared Heather Collins, Team Captain for Team In Training Fundraising Team Connor McStrong. “Coming together to support our Honored Hero is what makes us a team. You realize that what you are a part of is bigger than just you, and your goals and your training. Watching Connor and his family go through the different stages of his treatment really brings the LLS mission to life and continually inspires me to keep doing this kind of work.”

Training for the Wildflower Experience begins on February 2, 2019. Team In Training will get you to the finish line with experienced coaches, training resources and a supportive community of athletes of all skill levels. Teammates also have access to world-class fundraising tools to help them reach their goal to fund blood cancer research.

“Before I joined Team in Training, all of my training was ‘solo’,” shared Heather. “I was hesitant about running with a team. Now I can’t imagine anything else! The encouragement and support from day one of training through event weekend helps me stay motivated. Instead of going into the event weekend nervous and uncertain, I now know I’ll have TNT Staff, coaches, supporters and teammates there to help me through. I find as much joy in cheering on my teammates as I do crossing that finish line myself!”

Join the team for the Wildflower Experience. To learn more, click here. Use code 303TRI for free Team In Training registration ($100 value, expires 1/31/19).

Why train for a cause?

Team in Training Athlete Dr. Brett Kessler at the turnaround in Hawi

By Bill Plock

Dr. James DeGregori PhD
(Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Those reasons often transition into causes and those causes are often taken on by a group of people working to help the same cause and obviously most of those causes involve medical conditions, awareness and advocacy.

Clearly many things motivate people to exercise, train and perhaps ultimately compete. We all know of someone inspired by unfortunate circumstances that might have impacted their life or of those they care about. The reasons are countless and often tear jerking and deeply personal.

This past week, 303radio sat down with Dr. James DeGregori PhD and Brett Kessler, DDS to talk about the community of like minded people they train with–Team and Training.

Team in Training is the largest charity endurance training program in the world. They have over 650,000 athletes that have raised over $1 billion to fight cancer, Leukemia and Lymphoma more specifically. Like many teams the connections and friends that are made ultimately make cause the greatest memories.

In this interview James and Brett talk about those connections, their own personal reasons and why’s, but more, they both know Leukemia and Lymphoma first hand as medical professionals that work directly with those effected and by doing research to help find a cure.

Not only will you learn how Team in Training helped them compete in century rides, marathons and even the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, but you will learn a little about the disease from people on the front lines and extremely driven advocates that will likely offer you some inspiration into your own why.

Racing for a Future Without Cancer

Brett Kessler

Brett Kessler was helping blood cancer patients long before it became personal. He did an oncology fellowship after dental school where his focus was on treating patients affected by blood cancer. Then, he moved to Colorado in 1999 and joined The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society‘s (LLS) Team In Training to meet new people, train and raise money for blood cancer research. He then went on to be a triathlon coach for the program.

Brett shared, “I did not treat this population anymore and still wanted to support them. I was hooked.”

Brett’s mom was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) eight years later. She took imatinib (Gleevac®) through clinical trials which were funded by LLS. Sadly, Brett’s mom passed away in 2016.

He shared, “I felt like I directly contributed to her care from the work I did with LLS. The universe works in amazing ways as Gleevec was not even approved when I started with Team In Training.”

The fundraising Brett has done for the LLS mission through Team In Training is in memory of his mom but is giving hope to future patients through the efforts of local researchers.

The work of Dr. Dan Pollyea and his team of clinical researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine is funded by grants such as those from LLS. Three years ago, the team began a clinical trial program for the first therapy that could effectively eradicate leukemia stem cell populations. Dr. Pollyea shared that if you can really eradicate the leukemia stem cells, then you can potentially cure this disease. The results so far have been described as “unbelievable” because they can get 80-90% of people into complete remission with their approach.

Dr. James DeGregori

The work of Dr. James DeGregori at the University of Colorado School of Medicine has also been funded by LLS. He is researching how the human body ages and its effects on how cancer cells find a way to take hold. He is looking at how can we mitigate those changes and interfere with cancer growth with clinical intervention. Dr. DeGregori’s team has done some work on mice to reduce cancer incidences but will they will be approaching their work with humans a bit differently when the time comes.

“As a practicing dentist in Denver, several of my patients have had various forms of blood cancers,” shared Brett. “Knowing that we have some of the best treatments available here in Denver due to the research of people like Dr. Pollyea and Dr. DeGregori makes me feel good that they have a chance to beat this awful disease. Twenty-five years ago, many of these diagnoses were a death sentence. Now they are manageable.”

The success of local researchers continues to inspire Brett. He earned a coveted spot in the 2018 IRONMAN® World Championship event in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, crossing the finish line this past October. He is still raising funds for this event and has raised $67,000 and counting in memory of his mom.

“This is an emotional journey for me,” shared Brett. “I am able to honor my mom by bringing awareness and raising money to help eradicate blood cancers. I am also able to honor the many people who are connected to the disease that I have met along the way.”

Team In Training is the world’s largest and most successful endurance sports fundraising and training program. Since its inception in 1988, Team In Training has raised more than $1.5 billion, trained more than 650,000 people and helped LLS invest more than $1.2 billion in blood cancer research.

Team In Training offers a lineup of innovative high caliber domestic and international events, and prepares teammates for marathons, half marathons, and triathlons, as well as cycling, climbing and hiking experiences, with experienced coaches, training resources, a supportive community and world-class fundraising tools.

Join the team for the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon or the Wildflower Experience. To learn more, click here. Use code TRI303 for free Team In Training registration ($100 value, expires 12/31/18).