Friday, February 22, 2013

Meet Saeed, My TNT Inspiration

I was so pleased to see the amount of traffic to my blog the other day after posting an interview with Marie-Chantal Marchand, our Team In Training (TNT) Honoured Teammate. Thank you for reading her story and for supporting my TNT journey with your encouragement. The very reason for all of this are people like MC.

Saeed after San Antonio half marathon

I want to introduce you now to my cousin, Saeed. I've not seen Saeed in about 25 years (give or take) but we will reunite as we run together in San Diego in June. He is the very reason why I learned about Team In TrainingIn 2010, Saeed was diagnosed with B-cell follicular lymphoma and while undergoing treatment, he got involved with Team In Training, completing two half marathons and raising over $7,000 for his local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chapter. I admit that we lost touch over the years prior and it was his diagnosis and TNT journey that was the impetus for me getting back in touch with him. It was me recognizing that life is short, unexpected turns can happen at any time, and family should always stick together.

At that stage in my life, I was just getting back into running, having completed my 5km race, looking ahead to when I could run a half marathon again. Saeed's story captured my attention and allowed me to believe in my dream to run long distances again. And I also wanted to learn more about his experience with lymphoma, knowing he would have a unique perspective being in the medical profession. Let's face it, cancer is scary stuff. It's something that's hard to talk about if you don't know anyone well enough to ask questions to. And cancer is unbiased and completely inclusive. Blood cancers can happen to anyone and can't be prevented. There are little known risk factors. I'd always been curious to learn more, even well before I started working at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC). I have been very touched by Saeed's willingness to be open with me, and despite the many years of not being in touch, to allow me to fundraise in his honour for the LLSC.

So on June 2, 2013, we will be running together in the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2. It'll be such a special event, and likely quite emotionally charged. Honestly the race itself couldn't be a better setting for this reunion and party to celebrate Saeed's remission and the hard work done in fundraising efforts with TNT. The entire race in San Diego benefits the Society, and the beautiful city is geographically located halfway (more of less) between Vancouver, and Saeed's home in Houston, Texas. His parents and brother all reside in California as well. This race too will be a big party, literally thousands of TNT purple jerseys, a big celebration of the strides we've made in combatting cancer, and a spirit of solidarity, all of us moving forward relentlessly in search of a cure. This race is also the original of the Rock 'n' Roll series and in its 16th year, a history of partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I cannot wait! It'll be really special, AND my first ever international race. Perfect setting for marathon #3, right?

Anyway, please enjoy this interview with Saeed and please follow our journey! I'll have lots to report over the coming months, I am sure!

ZJ:    Thank you so much for your willingness to share and your openness. It's one thing for me to tell people the importance of funding cancer research. I am really curious to know your opinion, both as a cancer survivor and a medical doctor. Can you explain from both perspectives, what the power of this work that the LLS does?  

SA:    Cancer research has made enormous strides not only in improving outcomes, but also in making treatment safer, with less toxicities. Research needs to continue as there is still no cure for many types of cancer out there and many patients still experience horrible toxicities. The general consensus about the Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma I have is that there is no cure other than bone marrow transplant, although it can be successfully treated for some time with relatively long periods of remission in most patients. Though I am very happy to be in remission, it does weigh on me that it is likely that this disease will resurface in the future. I empathize with the fear and anguish that so many patients who don't have good treatment options must experience. 

ZJ:    When we last chatted, you explained to me about how your experience with treatment is an example of how far oncology has come. Obviously we still have a ways to go as there's no cure yet. Yet you said that your experience hasn't been all that bad, relatively speaking. Can you explain how your actual own experience with cancer and/or treatment compares to what your perception of cancer/cancer treatment was prior to your diagnosis?

SA:     During my pediatrics training, I took care of many children with cancer. May of these kids have very rough experiences with their treatment- terrible toxicities including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, painful rashes and oral ulcers, hair loss and other disfigurement. Taking care of those children left a big impression on me. Of course, I always knew that the children I took care of were the sickest of the sick. There were many children who got treated as outpatients who I never saw, since my training focused on inpatient medicine. They did great and were never admitted. However, when I was initially diagnosed with lymphoma, my memory of caring for those very sick children haunted me. My experience so far with chemotherapy has been very mild, such that I almost felt guilty about doing so well, that I had not suffered enough to really deserve remission! :)

 ZJ:     The remission is fully deserved and all yours! I'm so pleased to celebrate it with you. Can you tell me more about why you got involved with Team In Training? What was it like completing those races while undergoing treatment?

Yuna and Mohsen, Saeed's 2 beautiful children

SA:     Well, I first got involved, thinking it would be a good way to both stay in shape and give back for all of the care and support I was receiving at MD Anderson Cancer Centre. I trained while undergoing chemotherapy and though tough at times, it really helped me get through those months. My wife was pregnant and my son was born during that time, and on all my training runs I would visualize that I was staying strong for them. There is a hill at the end of the San Antonio half marathon, which is really a bit cruel if you think about it, but I was able to sprint up through the end. I had this huge adrenaline rush, thinking about all I had been through in the last six months, about how I so wanted to be healthy and strong for my family, to be with them and grow old with them. I didn't expect it to be so emotional, but I finished the race with tears in my eyes.

ZJ:    I'm already getting emotional thinking about running with you! And I can't wait to meet your wife and kids too. I bet you're excited about running the San Diego race with your awesome cousin, me :-) Right?

SA:     I am really looking forward to it! I have been really touched by your support and caring and so honored that you would think of me- can't wait to meet and catch up and run the race with you!


If you wish to make a donation toward my fundraising efforts in Saeed's honour, please visit to make a secure donation. My goal is to raise at least $5,000 and I'm getting closer with your help! Thank you to everyone who's contributed so far.

Do you want to join us? Consider joining Team In Training and train with the help of supportive teammates and a certified coach to complete your own endurance race while raising lifesaving funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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