For Tracy Parent and Lynne Pekuri, fighting cancer is more than a personal battle, it's a way for them to make a difference. Parent has survived the disease and Pekuri is still battling it with her 10-year-old son Grant, who has leukemia. While they might shy away from being defined by the illness and how it has touched their lives, both embrace the direction in which it has taken them.
The two women didn't know what to expect when they signed up for the world's largest endurance sports training program, Team in Training, also known as "TNT." United by a common desire--to raise money for cancer research and to provide support to families and patients struggling with the disease--these women found empowerment, friendship and redemption during the most trying times of their lives.
Saying Parent's life has changed since the first day she felt the lump growing in her breast is an understatement. On June 1, 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She immediately started treatment including a double mastectomy and intensive chemotherapy. Now, cancer free just a little over one year later, she is preparing to run the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco in October. She's running to honor her friend, Chris Wood, who was diagnosed with lymphoma shortly before Parent received her diagnosis. The two women, along with another friend and neighbor who also had cancer, went to chemotherapy together. They watched cooking shows together, because watching was easier than eating at that time. They talked and laughed; they fought cancer together.
When Wood died one year and one month after her diagnosis, Parent was shocked. She was expecting them to all beat cancer together.
Parent was struggling with recovery and Wood's death hit her hard. She says, "I did a few things [to help] and then Chris died--it was shocking and very profound. She was 51." Parent suddenly felt an urgency to do more, to give more, to fight harder. "The big thing was the feeling that I have to do more for cancer research because people should not be dying from this." She had heard of TNT from a friend, and one day she found herself turning her car into the parking lot of the Boise headquarters. "I look at life a whole lot differently as far as what really is important and what is not so important; it became very clear to me after recovery. You're so grateful that you have another day that you can do something on this earth to make a difference in humanity, and you know you have that other day because you're blessed because you survived."
Parent tears up when she talks about her friend. She has raised money for TNT and is anxious to run in October to honor Wood's memory. "Everything in my life should be meaningful. Everything needs to be very important because I feel a finite amount of time that I've got to do the important things in life. Now I look at it and ask how am I going to spend my time for the greater good of humanity." Parent has never run a marathon before and she admits that it isn't something she ever would have imagined herself doing. "When you're running you see your mentors and TNT people and they're cheering you on. It makes you able to run when you're just a regular person who hasn't ever run a marathon in your life."
Lynne Pekuri's 10-year-old son Grant was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2003. For three years Grant has had chemotherapy treatments every day. He goes into a clinic once a month. He's had 21 spinal taps. Grant's motto is, "I'm kicking cancer's butt."
TNT named Grant a "patient honoree" (a local patient who is going through treatment or has been in treatment and becomes a connection to the cause for TNT members). Pekuri went to her first meeting not knowing that it would change her life. As she listened to everyone speak, she realized this was something she could do. Pekuri was inspired to do something on a larger scale. She raised over $10,000 and did a 100-mile bike ride in California two years in a row. Last January, Pekuri went to the society's office to help with a fundraising clinic because she'd been so successful at fundraising and she wanted to do more. They just happened to be looking for a part-time assistant. The hours were flexible, and it was a cause she believed in. She's been the campaign assistant ever since. Pekuri says it's a perfect fit.
"I identify with the role of the mother of a child [with cancer]. It yanks your whole world apart. You can't imagine the road that you have ahead of you. You go through all the treatments, all the horrible things and there are still no guarantees. You can do everything you're supposed to do and it can still go wrong. My son has done pretty well with treatments, but we've had our scares. It looks like we're getting through it relatively unscathed--we're lucky. But there are so many families who don't get through this.
"I'm doing this for all those families who will sit in the doctor's office, not knowing what they're going to say, not knowing that the next sentence will change their lives. Hopefully what I do will make a difference for the people to follow."
TNT began in 1988, when Bruce Cleland of Rye, New York, formed a team to raise funds and train to run the New York City Marathon in honor of Cleland's daughter, a leukemia survivor. TNT has raised over $500 million since. Over 30,000 TNT runners, walkers, cyclists and triathletes will participate in marathons, triathlons and century rides this year.
Signing up for TNT is easy, so people of all experience levels can receive the best training and support program available. Participants are provided with a four- to five-month training program to get ready for their chosen event. Clinics on everything from nutrition to injury prevention and fundraising are part of training. Coaching, training schedules, mentors and everything they need to cross the finish line successfully are also provided.
The Boise TNT office is currently recruiting for two races, the Walt Disney World marathon and half-marathon on January 6 and 7, 2007, and P.F. Chang's Arizona Marathon in Phoenix on January 14, 2007.
Pekuri says about TNT, "It's definitely saving lives." She and her coworkers joke that they all hope to eventually work their way out of a job, that someday a cure will be found.
Interested in participating in TNT? Upcoming informational meetings are:
Downtown Family YMCA (1050 W. State St.)--Tue., Aug. 8, 6 p.m.; Thur., Aug. 10, 6 p.m.; Tue., Aug. 15, 6 p.m.
St. Luke's Meridian (520 S. Eagle Rd.)--Wed., Aug. 16, 6 p.m.
Boise First Community Center (3852 N. Eagle Rd.)--Tue., Aug. 22, 6 p.m.
For information contact TNT at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Idaho and Montana Branch Office in Boise at 658-6662 or visit www.teamintraining.org/id.