Racing to remember, honor and fight

By Rich Schneider.

Steve Ellens is reminded every day.

He’s reminded when he thinks he’s reached the breaking point during a training run or a bike ride.

He’s reminded when he looks at his three children and realizes how blessed he is.

And he’s reminded when he takes the daily pill that keeps his white blood cells from turning against his own body.

That’s why Ellens will run in the Hy-Vee Triathlon. Because cancer still wins more races than it loses, and he wants to change that.

It has been nine years since doctors diagnosed Ellens with myelogenous leukemia, a slow-growing but virulent bone marrow cancer that produces white blood cells faster than the body can use them.

More than 20,000 Americans have the disease; another 4,600 will join the list this year.

“The first year was mentally unbearable,” Ellens says.
Doctors talked about new drugs. Transplants. The possibility of death.

They prescribed Gleevec, which is designed to control the proliferation of white blood cells. Gleevec worked, and Ellens was able to change his focus from fighting his disease to fighting it on behalf of the other 20,000 others who suffer the fatigue, pain and infections it causes.

Ellens, a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team-In-Training, looks forward this year to his third Hy-Vee event. He refuses to look back.

“When I run, I think about the people who didn’t make it,” he says, “I survived. I want to honor them and the commitment to try and cure these diseases.
“Every time I go out for a long run or a bike ride and think, ‘Man, I can’t make it,’ I think about the people who didn’t make it. I tell myself, ‘Quit your complaining. You’re still here … keep going.’”

Ellens, who works in Wells Fargo’s consumer loan division, meets other cancer survivors through Team-In-Training. He says they are his  greatest motivation. The team not only helps put people across the finish line but raises money to defeat disease.  Team-In-Training helped raise money for the research that produced the Gleevec that keeps him alive.

He still has cancer; he probably always will. And as long as he does, he’ll train. And run. And fight. And he’ll remind himself every day to keep going. Keep going for those who had to stop.

“There are a lot of great causes out there,” Ellens says. “I always tell people to get after something. It doesn’t matter what it is, just get after something.”

There’s something else he tells the leukemia patients for whom he races: “You’re a survivor. Keep that in your mind. No matter how bad it gets.

“Just keep fighting.”

Team-In-Training has helped raise more than $1 billion for cancer research. It provides training programs, coaching and other support for people who want to participate in marathons, hiking adventures or triathlons. In exchange for the training, members help to raise and money for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma research.
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