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Leukemia, Lymphoma Marathon Hits Home for Teachers

Several staff members at Chatham Middle School have seen their spouses, children, friends and colleagues affected by blood cancers.

As 14 staff members from the School District of the Chathams train and raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training Marathon in November, they do so with the knowledge that they are not merely serving a good cause.

They are also showing direct support for their colleagues, their families and their friends who have struggled with these diseases in their own lives.

"We have people that we work with [whose] immediate family currently undergo the challenge of these diseases," Peter Trebour, assistant principal at Chatham Middle School, said.

Thirteen of those who will run in the marathon in Philadelphia on Nov. 18 work at Chatham Middle School. The fourteenth runner is Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa. The runners are training regularly for the marathon, and fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Debby Connon, who works in the CMS main office, spoke candidly about losing her nephew Skipper to leukemia 24 years ago, when the boy was 16.

"It was devastating for the family. It was my brother and sister-in-law, and they lost him and they still had a 12-year-old daughter they had to get up for every day. You don't have a choice," Connon said.

Teacher Doree Kesselbrenner's son Joey, now 27, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 6. "It's so frightening when they're so young," Kesselbrenner said. "They don't know what's going on, they just know that their world is turned upside-down. There's almost no real way to explain it to a young child."

At the time, Kesselbrenner said she and her husband did everything in their power to keep their son's life as normal as possible.

Kesselbrenner said, "It's like you get an invitation to this party that you didn't request, and there's no refusing the invitation. You just kind of have to figure out a way to deal with it. It alters everything in your life."

Joey was "one of the really blessed ones," Kesselbrenner said. An anonymous donor was found after none of his family matched Joey's bone marrow, and four months after the transplant Joey was home and completely off medication. "He's been a survivor, free and clear ever since," Kesselbrenner said.

Joey now works at Memorial Sloane Kettering. "No ironic coincidence there," Kesselbrenner said. She is grateful he does not remember most of what he went through.

This is Kesselbrenner's fourth Team in Training event.

Teacher Gail Walsh has done marathons before, but this is the first one she's done for a cause. When she went to her local police department in Middlesex County to obtain a permit to solicit funds outside a Dunkin' Donuts, the police officer behind the desk happened to be in remission from stem cell disease.

"It was his first month back," Walsh said. "While I was standing there outside the Dunkin' Donuts, he came by with some of the other policemen and gave me money."

When training gets tough, Walsh said, she thinks of the person she's running for and others with blood cancers.

"I came across a donor who said just to get up and get a tissue was painful. Those kinds of things resonate with me," she said, because "the run seems effortless compared to the time these families have put in for the pain and suffering."

Like Walsh, this is Trebour's first Team in Training event, but he has done five other marathons in the last 12 months "for fun. But this one is very different, because I have this goal for it," he said.

Trebour plans to run in honor of his friend Fran Dwyer's mother Gloria, who died of lymphoma seven years ago.

"We all have something we can relate to," Connon said.

The runners will go down to Philadelphia the night before the race, which begins at 7 a.m. "It'll be good incentive to run and stay warm," Connon said.

The members of the team are:

  • Kelly Bray
  • Sue Butler
  • Nick Cicarelli
  • Debby Connon
  • Stephanie Coviello
  • Lauren Flood
  • Megan Keown
  • Doree Kesselbrenner
  • Michael LaSusa
  • Lisa McTague
  • Carole Soder
  • Peter Trebour
  • Julie Ullmeyer
  • and Gail Walsh.

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