Teaming up to fight leukemia

The Baltimore Sun

After a gnawing pain in her left arm brought her to the doctor last year, Carlie Marvel, then 12, learned she had a rare, life-threatening form of leukemia.

The cancer cells had eaten away nearly half of the bones in her upper left arm. The Eastern Shore girl spent two months at Johns Hopkins Hospital undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister.

Yesterday at the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore, a healthy 13-year-old Carlie and her mother, Caryn Marvel of Trappe in Talbot County, shared their story with about 100 cancer patients, survivors, family members and friends of the Maryland Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The society is celebrating the 20th year of its Team in Training program.

Through the program, family, friends and supporters of blood cancer patients compete in endurance competitions to raise awareness of and funds for research into diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Since 1988, about 340,000 people have run, walked, biked and skated in competitions.

Each Team in Training participant raises thousands of dollars as a member of a local team. Members receive physical training four to five months before the event from a coach and get encouragement from a mentor. Each team is paired with a patient, so the members are connected to someone fighting the disease.

"Carlie's now doing very well, and all the people in Teams in Training had a lot to do with her survival," said Caryn Marvel.

While Carlie battled chronic myelogenous leukemia, her aunt, Tracy Frase of Trappe, wanted to help her niece. In June, Frase raised money and ran in a half-marathon in San Diego with a picture of her niece and her daughter sewn on the back of a purple shirt.

"The purpose is to find a cure," Frase said. "That's what it's all about."

Yesterday's event brought teams across Maryland together for a motivational boost. Approximately 110 runners from Maryland will begin five months of training today for marathons scheduled for January in Orlando, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz.

"If you get discouraged, think of our family and other families dealing with blood-related cancers, and we thank you," Marvel said.

After hearing Marvel's speech, Jennifer Patrizio from Crofton was encouraged to run the 26.2 miles. "Just sitting in there makes me want to run a marathon," the cancer survivor said.

Two months ago, Patrizio had walked a half-marathon in San Diego. The marathon route was lined with people cheering and holding signs to thank the Team in Training runners.

"After I was diagnosed with leukemia, I thought it was a death sentence," Patrizio said. "When I saw people training and running marathons for people like me, I had to prove to myself that I could do it."

Funds from the leukemia society have helped develop Gleevec, an oral drug that in many cases can put leukemia in remission. The drug increases the chances of surviving a certain form of leukemia for five years from 50 percent to 95 percent, according to the organization's news release.

Team in Training started in 1988 when Bruce Cleland, a Ruxton resident, assembled a team of 38 that ran the New York City Marathon and raised $320,000 for the Leukemia Society.

His young daughter, Georgia, had just been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and had a 90 percent chance of developing a brain tumor. Since Cleland's initial run, more than $800 million has been raised for the society in marathons and races.

With Georgia, now 23, standing by his side, Cleland thanked the runners, the cyclists and the supporters in his first public speaking appearance since a battle with oral cancer. Cleland is recovering from throat surgery he had in April.

"It's humbling," the 59-year-old said. "It began as a simple idea. We had a modest objective to begin with. It seems to find a place in a lot of people's hearts. It has grown beyond what we imagined."

Cleland plans to jog in the New York City Marathon with his two oldest children to mark the 20th anniversary of Team in Training next year.

"I'm determined to find a way to do it," he said. "I've got lots of friends, who participated originally in 1988, who are keen to do it again. That'd be kind of special."

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