Dear Joe,

My story starts in spring of 2012.  At that time I was in great shape and led a very active life.  I was running, doing Crossfit, and any other endurance event I could.  I didn’t smoke or drink excessively. I ate healthy but did indulge in a burger and fries once in a while.  I developed a wisdom tooth infection and started to feel unmotivated. After a few weeks I had a hard time running even a mile or two. This should’ve been a warning sign but it never occurred to me that I was sick. I had my wisdom tooth removed and was given antibiotics. My infection started to get worse when the roof of my mouth started swelling. I was fatigued all of the time. I went back to the oral surgeon and he suggested a blood test after I told him I was feeling worse and getting fevers and night sweats.  I went for a blood test and the results came back abnormal.  They needed to do more tests.  The next call I received was to pack a bag and head to the Kaiser Permanente emergency room. Still not realizing what was to come, I threw three pairs of underwear in my backpack thinking I would be home in a few days.

Once admitted I heard those three words…”you have leukemia.”  Everything moved quickly after that moment.  A biopsy needed to be done to determine what type and the treatment protocol.  When the results came back, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.  I knew very little about this disease but learned a lot about it really quick.  Luckily, my girlfriend and best friend, Dee, was there with me every step of the way. I could not have survived this without her.  The seriousness of the situation still didn’t register with me.  My biggest fear was the fear of the unknown. One of the first questions they asked me was if I had any siblings. In mind I was thinking “yes, I have a sister, we get along, I’m all set.”  Little did I know that a sibling being a perfect match as a marrow donor was less than 30%. My induction phase of chemotherapy started the next day and I was introduced to my new best friend my IV pole.

There are so many details I can’t remember but Dee helps fill in the blank spots of what occurred. So what I thought was going to be a short stay ended being an extended stay of almost 27 days.  Most of that time was waiting for my body to recover and achieve remission. I received confirmation that my sister was a perfect match and that the next step for long term survival would be a marrow transplant. This was the next chapter in my wild ride. After being discharged, I needed to complete numerous tests to prepare my body for the upcoming challenge.  Target date for the transplant was 10/11/12 so I had about a month to get my affairs in order.

One thing that helped me prepare for this was meeting survivors.  Hearing their stories about what was to come eased my fear of the unknown.  Looking on the internet didn’t help because there weren’t that many good endings to this story.  My whole attitude was I’m sick, let’s do whatever it takes to fix me.  I traveled to City of Hope on 9/30/12 for my transplant. I went through radiation 3 times a day for 4 days, and a round of VP16.  Transplant day came and my rebirthday was 10/10/12. The next step was waiting for my counts to rise so every morning when the nurses wrote on that whiteboard, it was like waiting for lottery numbers.  I was discharged on 10/29/12. The next 100 days were crucial.  Hopefully my body would accept my sister’s cells without too much rejection.  I remember a lot of sleeping and fatigue.  Eventually I started feeling better and returned back to physical activity in early March when I completed the Urban Warrior Dash in San Diego.  This was huge for me because it is what I missed most.

Being in isolation for almost two months was very humbling. I admit taking my good health for granted. 

I am now 19 months post diagnosis and this experience has opened new doors for me.  I realize I’m lucky to have come this far.  I’ve met amazing people and have learned to appreciate everything I have especially family and friends that have supported me.  I’ve started a nonprofit called b.strong to help promote awareness about marrow transplants and living an active lifestyle.  I’ve made a promise to pay it forward in any way I can.  I volunteer at local events.  I speak at events for City of Hope and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society to share my story and let them know that their fundraising efforts have helped save my life.  I am currently campaigning for the LLS Man of the Year.  I want to help find a cure so no one else has to endure what I have gone through.

My relationship with Spartan started with the first race in SoCal. I wanted a challenge and that was it. My active lifestyle continued with other events including various races, obstacle races and Crossfit. After completing the first Spartan military sprint in fort Carson, CO I started to feel fatigued. A few months later I was diagnosed with leukemia. Going through treatment has some similarities to training for Spartan races. A lot is mental fortitude and I was lucky to be in pretty good physical condition to endure the intense chemotherapy and radiation. I did everything in my power to help myself fight the disease. I made a promise to myself that when I was better, I would find a way to pay it forward. The b.strong foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for leukemia and the importance of joining the marrow registry. It is a passion of mine to help save lives by sharing my story.

Thanks to Joe Desena and the whole Spartan Race family for supporting those that have to fight a little harder and inspiring people to come out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves. Aroo!

Bernard Llave

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