Minute for ALL
This is a story about finding out my brother has cancer, and how my friends and I would like to help
Last May my younger brother, Casey, went from preparing for his college graduation to being rushed to Penn State Hershey Medical Center by his girlfriend, Hailey. Casey had a doctor’s appointment to check in for some prolonged cold symptoms, but abnormal blood work set off some alarms to his physician and he was sent to the heme-onc program in Hershey, which specializes in blood cancers. Casey called me on his way, “Ben…how serious is this?” I wanted to be reassuring, but I really didn’t know. “There are a lot of reasons that blood counts can be low. Let’s just take it one step at a time.” I remember ending the call and honestly thinking that it can’t be too serious – Casey was a perfectly healthy and fit soon-to-be college grad. I wasn’t aware of any family history of blood cancers and besides, cancer wasn’t part of Casey’s story. I just wouldn’t let myself believe that.
My parents called me the next morning. It was the type of phone call where you don’t want to answer for fear of what is on the other end. “Ben...Casey has leukemia.”
After a few more days in the hospital and various work-ups, Casey was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Since his diagnosis, Casey has been a rock star. From numerous spinal taps to lengthy chemotherapies and all the side effects in between, Casey has maintained his composure and instilled confidence in all of those around him. I have no doubt that Casey will beat this, and he will do it in the normal Casey Conner fashion: with poise and an effortless demeanor. Casey’s courage gives me courage, and I sometimes find myself feeling like the younger brother.
One of the hardest parts about Casey’s diagnosis for me was the lack of explanation. I told his doctor that surely, this doesn’t just happen. There must be a reason, an underlying cause, genetic predisposition, or lifestyle factor that set this whole thing in motion. But the doctor had no answers for me – they don’t know why blood cancers such as these arise, and there is almost no way to prevent them. I was frustrated. I wanted answers and I wanted to help – I wanted to DO something.
Realizing that people (much smarter than myself) dedicated their lives to finding answers to the questions I had (and still have), I knew that my biggest contribution would be supporting their work. So, I (along with my friends, Sam Beger and Andrea Fernandez) have decided to pledge a $4000 fundraising commitment to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This fundraiser will culminate in the Arizona Ironman 70.3 Race in Tempe, AZ, which Andrea and I will be racing in under the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society banner to help raise awareness and research funds for leukemia and lymphoma research. I will race in honor of Casey, and in some small way, try to emulate his fearless and persistent fight against cancer as I make it to the finish line.
In 2018, there has been an estimated 5,960 new cases of ALL. My younger brother was one of those cases…he is part of that statistic. I think it is time that we all take a minute to think about ALL. To consider the impact of ALL and other blood cancers on individuals, families, friends, and loved ones. A minute to reflect on how cancer has no biases, and people like Casey never expected their diagnosis until the day it was given to them. In an effort to raise awareness, my good friend/roommate/classmate Sam Beger and I will both bike 1 minute for every person diagnosed with ALL this year. 5,960 minutes of biking for each person whose life was changed by ALL this year. Approximately 100 hours, or 10 days of biking to support their battle and raise awareness of the incidence of this disease. We plan to start our trip in Chicago, IL and finish at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, PA, where Casey is receiving his treatment.
This is a story I wish I never had to tell, and my hope is that one day it won’t have to be told. So, please consider donating to this cause. Anything can help, but if you donate above $20, you will receive one of the following thank you gifts! Below you will find various levels of donation:
Level 1, <$20: Thank you, every penny counts!
Level 2, $20+: Gets you a handwritten post-card from one of the states we bike through
Level 3, $40+: Level 2 gift + a custom fundraising t-shirt (see logo below)
Level 4, $60+: Level 2 and 3 gifts + a bag of limited time, Blue House (personally roasted by Sam) coffee
Level 5, $100+: Level 2, 3, and 4 gifts + pictures from our bike trip!
NOTE: Please be sure your contact information is correct when donating. This is how we will get in touch with you regarding your fundraising gifts!
Committed to the Cause
I am currently a medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix. Despite learning about cancer in almost every organ block of our curriculum, I think it is difficult to understand the enormity of its diagnosis until it personally affects you or a loved one. I never expected anyone in my immediate circle to be diagnosed with cancer, but then again, who does? I feel extremely fortunate that my brother has a great team by his side at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, but I am well aware that there is still progress to be made in the fight against cancer. I hope to contribute to that progress by raising funds for the LLS.
I am excited to raise some awareness and funds for research for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Like many of us, I have had friends and family members who have suffered from these diseases and want to contribute to the progress that has been made in treatment. Alongside Ben and Andrea, I am a second-year medical student at the University of Arizona College Of Medicine - Phoenix. I also am a coffee roaster and founded Blue House Coffee, a local coffee shop. I will be riding 800+ miles with Ben and roasting “Casey’s Blend” for Minute for All. Thank you all for your support!
Last year, I was part of a group of students from the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix to participate as medical volunteers for Arizona Ironman 70.3 Triathlon. It was exciting to watch athletes of all age groups cross the finish line with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Shortly thereafter Ben Conner, a medical school colleague and friend who had also volunteered that day, and I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon. The experience up to and including race day was incredibly fun and fulfilling, so by the time Ben and I were done with our first competition, we were already looking to the next race – the Arizona Ironman 70.3 triathlon. Only a few days later, Ben revealed the sobering news of his younger brother Casey’s diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Throughout the first couple of years of our medical school career, we learn how to root out symptoms that serve as clues to inform us of a diagnosis, but sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the impact these diagnoses have on the individual receiving them and their families and friends. In many ways, I was inspired by Casey’s story. The real Ironmen and women are those who receive the painful diagnoses of blood cancer, and find the strength and perseverance, on a daily basis, to cross their own personal finish line. By competing in the Arizona Ironman 70.3 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I hope to help raise awareness of the personal stories behind a diagnosis, and the dedicated team of professionals helping support all those living with blood cancer.