John F. Russell: Coming face to face with cancer

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— Bryan Fletcher knows what it’s like to come face to face with cancer.

He understands the fear it can cause, he understands the threat it presents and he understands that despite beating acute lymphoblastic leukemia, his battle with cancer is far from over.

The hometown skier has found a place with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and has never forgotten what it was like to face the disease.

He wants people dealing with leukemia to know there are people like him who care. Today, he hopes to use his status as a U.S. Ski Team member to have a positive influence.

He has made it a priority to find ways to raise money and offer support to people who have cancer. A few years ago, he helped organize the Walk of Hope near his home in Utah, where he lives when training with the U.S. team. It included a walk and a 5K run.

This off-season, Fletcher was named a team hero for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training Program. Fletcher said Team in Training offers participants a comprehensive training program led by certified coaches. The program helps participants prepare for athletic challenges such as marathons, half-marathons and triathlons. 

Fletcher worked with the Rocky Mountain Chapter and joined the group for a century ride Sept. 18 and 19 in southern Utah. The group used his story for motivation, and he offered his name and support.

Participants of Team in Training find sponsors to support their athletic activities to raise funds for clinical research.

Fletcher said it’s a great idea because it’s not a single fundraising event but rather a coordinated effort by a group to raise money throughout a period of time. This year’s effort by chapters across the country brought in $450,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Don’t be surprised if he’s modest when you ask Fletcher, who grew up in Steamboat Springs and considers it home, about his story and his efforts to help.

He was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia just before his fourth birthday. His battle included regular trips to Denver for treatment at Children’s Hospital. He underwent treatment after treatment until 1997, when doctors declared that the cancer was in remission.

Throughout the years, I’ve talked to the young man, now 24, about his battle with cancer and why it’s so important for him to stay connected to organizations like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

He always has downplayed his role in raising money and his efforts to reach out and help those who are dealing with the devastating effects of leukemia. He will tell you that riding 100 miles and helping the Team in Training group reach its goal is no big deal.

But deep down, he understands the fear cancer brings, the threat cancer presents and how important support can be when you are the one dealing with it.

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