INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Warren Kendall remembers pretty vividly when, where and how he heard the news.
It was at the end of his fall semester at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 18, 2008, he got the phone call.
“The doctor told me my bloodwork was outrageous and that I needed to see a specialist right away about my white blood cell count,” Kendall recalled.
After a biopsy, doctors told Kendall some of his chromosomes mutated — a phenomenon known as the “Philadelphia chromosome” — and diagnosed him with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
While it’s not as dangerous as others forms of blood cancer (like acute myeloid leukemia), it’s still life-threatening. According to the American Cancer Society, people with Kendall’s diagnosis had a 58.6 percent survival rate between 2003 and 2009.
“That news hits you hard, for sure, especially if it’s a rare case of it,” said Kendall, 26, who’s lived in Incline Village since 2011.
Now, more than five years after learning that news, and spending month after month on special medications to control the disease, the environmental policy student at Sierra Nevada College is serving as the honoree for “Team Warren,” a group of Incline residents in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program.
‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
The team includes Kendall’s girlfriend, Kelly Brennan, a registered dietitian with Incline Village Community Hospital Physical Therapy, along with residents Brittany Vidal, an SNC grad; Rebecca Taylor, an Incline AmeriCorps alumna; and Sabrina Bellici, also an SNC grad.
People apply to become TNT groups through their local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society branch (Sacramento, in Incline’s case) and pledge to raise money through training for endurance sports such as marathons, triathlons, cycling and hiking.
Brennan is raising money and training to run the full Lake Tahoe Marathon, while Vidal, Brennan and Bellichi will each run the Lake Tahoe Half Marathon, both taking place Sunday, Sept. 14.
“I don’t have cancer, and I’m not a researcher in the lab developing drugs, but we all still want to make a difference,” Brennan said. “The Lake Tahoe Marathon is a challenging race. It’s at altitude, it’s hilly, and it’s not a typical runner’s choice, so to be out there running and training, it puts things into perspective. Yeah, this is hard, but I’m lucky that I can do this, because there are so many people who are burdened beyond their control.”
Since beginning in 1988, the TNT program has helped more than 600,000 people raise more than $1.4 billion for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in its fight to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
According to the society, those three blood cancers are expected to cause deaths in more than 55,000 people in 2014, which equates to roughly 9.4 percent of all cancer deaths by year’s end.
“I have every reason to raise money for an organization like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society...” Taylor said. “I’m impressed by the research they have been able to fund, and I’m confident there will continue to be advancements that will increase the quality of life and the life expectancy of individuals, like Warren, with blood cancer.”
‘I DON’T LOOK AS BAD’
Money raised through TNT goes to fund procedures like chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, as well as manufacturing of drugs such as Gleevec, Velcade and Dacogen that take aim at cancer cells and, in cases where the body reacts well, destroy them.
Upon his diagnosis, Kendall was automatically prescribed a form of Gleveec.
“I was lucky enough to have insurance to cover it, so I don’t have to go through chemo, so, unlike a lot of other cancer patients, I don’t look as bad,” he said. “I have my hair, I don’t look emaciated.”
Kendall’s disease is “very maintainable, and not as acute as some other versions,” he said. But, after more than five years of fighting and medicating, his body still struggles at times to respond favorably to the Gleevec, and he suffers from the drug’s side effects by way of bone and muscle pain, swelling, and chronic fatigue.
While he’s on a path toward remission, it could be a long ways off.
“Sometimes, people hear the word ‘remission’ and think it’s gone,” Brennan said. “But we want it to be clear that it’s not. His blood levels are still far from normal, it’s still trying to be stabilized. It’s not like the cancer is gone and waiting to come back.
“We’re in maintenance mode … we are at a precipice right now,” added Kendall, who said he still gets out as much as he can to soak in Lake Tahoe, and enjoys hiking, biking, snowboarding and playing hockey.
‘GETTING THE COMMUNITY INVOLVED’
In the meantime, while Kendall doesn’t have the strength these days to endure a marathon, he’s doing what he can to assist with Team Warren’s mission.
As of press time Wednesday, Team Warren had raised $7,442. Its goal is $12,000, and the deadline to raise funds expires Wednesday, Aug. 27.
Aside from donating online, residents can attend a fundraiser from 4-9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25, at the Hacienda restaurant at 931 Tahoe Blvd. There, restaurant owners Scott and Shawn Comstock will donate proceeds from dinners and a raffle to Team Warren.
While the minimum fundraising goal to participate in TNT was $2,200 per person, Brennan said she set a personal goal of $5,000 to bump it up to $12,000.
“Something like this, it combines running and training, teamwork and getting the community involved and raising awareness for an important cause,” said Brennan, who’s run three marathons and eight half marathons in her life.
Considering Kendall’s condition, while not ideal, is treatable and maintainable, perhaps the most important thing for residents to remember is all money raised by Team Warren goes to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society — and not to Kendall, who said he sees himself as merely a supporter, and perhaps the inspiration, for the Tahoe team’s larger cause.
“I haven’t really done much, just helped when I can — it was Kelly who really wanted to do a TNT event,” he said. “I look like a normal guy, so in a way, I appreciate not having the pity card sent my way. A lot of people actually don’t believe me that I have cancer. They think I should be 80 pounds lighter, and don’t have any hair.
“I’m in a much different position than other cancer patients.”
“I was lucky enough to have insurance to cover it, so I don’t have to go through chemo, so, unlike a lot of other cancer patients, I don’t look as bad. I have my hair, I don’t look emaciated.”
Incline Village resident