Created 25 years ago, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training is now the world’s largest and most successful endurance training sports charity program.

TNT offers people the opportunity to give to those who have been inflicted with a cancer that has no means of prevention or early screen options. It allows people to play a vital role in funding and advancing treatments and cures for cancers.

Jean Gearhart, Senior Campaign Manager for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, began volunteering for LLS as a runner in 2007 when the first TNT team was started here in the Valley, with her husband as the first coach. At the time, she had no connection to blood cancer and was involved in order to take advantage of the amazing physical training and support that they offered to help walk/run volunteers prepare for events. During that first season, Gearhart learned more about The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission—to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma and improve the quality of life of patients and their families—and was soon driven by the purpose of what they were doing and her running became the way she could help those who were fighting for their lives against blood cancers.

In 2008, Gearhart returned as a Mentor and ran her second full marathon with TNT and, on January 1, 2010, joined the organization as staff. Unfortunately, within 10 days of starting with LLS, her brother-in-law was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia), giving her job so much more meaning. Her brother-in-law underwent a bone marrow transplant that year and went into remission. In 2012, he was able to train for and complete his first half marathon with the RGV TNT!

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society offers volunteers the opportunity to run or walk a 10-mile, half or full marathon all while they fundraise to support LLS’s mission—to cure blood cancers and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. RGV TNT is excited to announce that in January 2014, it will be launching a triathlon training program to its line up! The organization’s fundraising program includes 4-5 months of training with certified coaches, clinics to make sure participants are armed with all the proper information to train (shoe clinics, nutrition clinics, tire changing clinics), coach-led group trainings twice a week, 2 jerseys, fundraising support from staff and alumni and a memorable event weekend to celebrate all of their training and fundraising accomplishments. “Now don’t be scared!” says Gearhart, “We start with a nice and slow 20-minute walk/run workout for our beginners and slowly increase the distance each week to get you ready for your event weekend!” LLS staff, volunteers and participants do all this as a way to honor those who are fighting or have had to fight cancer.

The money raised by LLS has enabled the organization to invest more than $875 million in research to advance therapies and save lives for all blood cancers patients. The local LLS office also provides critical education, patient support and financial assistance to blood cancer patients and their families here in the Rio Grande Valley. Some of the services include, but aren’t limited to, providing information regarding a patient’s diagnosis, therapy options and clinical trials through our Patient Service representatives, information specialists and website. In addition, The Trish Greene Back to School Program helps children transition back into school from an extended absence due to treatment.

Since 2007 the local RGV LLS office has raised over 1.5 million dollars for blood cancer research, patient services/financial assistance and advocacy. A majority of the dollars raised goes to grants funding research, as the organization’s mission is to find a cure for blood cancers and improve the quality of life for patients; however, locally, in Fiscal Year 2012 alone LLS funded 630 stipends to assist patients with costs associated with their care. For example, patients can use these stipends for gas, which is a cost not covered by insurance, because travel costs can be a burden to those who need to travel daily to the hospital for treatment. LLS also awarded last year over $50,000 in co-pay assistance to Rio Grande Valley patients.

“To bring attention back to why we are walking and running, and of course fundraising, we remember those who are fighting, have fought or have lost the battle to cancer. We ‘run in honor of’ those who are currently fighting for their lives. We raise funds so that one day they can be cured and live long and fulfilled lives. Although we may have aches and pains after our workouts, we understand that that pain is nothing compared to the pain patients are forced to endure with treatment. We also ‘run in honor of’ those who have battled cancer head on and are now in remission! And we ‘run in memory’ of those who lost their battles to cancer. We remember their fight and look to their strength to help us cross our finish lines. We raise funds so that families no longer have to lose loved ones to this horrible disease,” says Gearhart.

Advances in cancer research are far-reaching. Between 2000 and 2012, almost half of the cancer drugs newly approved by the FDA were developed first for blood cancer patients and many of these were advanced with funding from LLS. And many of these therapies are also helping patients with other cancers and other serious diseases.

Survival rates for children with leukemia have improved from 3%, 40 years ago, to 90% today; Hodgkin lymphoma patient survival rates have more than doubled to 88% since the 1960s and the survival rate for myeloma patients has tripled in the past decade. “Although there has been great progress, there is still a lot of work to be done, and we can do that together by training for an endurance event and fundraising for LLS’s Team In Training!” says Gearhart.

As Senior Campaign Manager for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s fundraising campaign Team In Training here in the Rio Grande Valley, Gearhart manages all aspects of this campaign, from creating awareness, marketing the program, recruiting walk/run volunteers, managing the training teams, most importantly, raising dollars for LLS’s mission. For more information about TNT, go to http://www.teamintraining.org/sctx/ or call the local LLS office at (956)664-1629.

If a blood cancer patient or family member would like more information regarding services provided by LLS, the local office can be reached at (956)664-1629 or (800)955-4572.

By Lora Incardona