Dawn Kulesa considers herself a positive person.

Her outlook on life was tested when she learned she had an incurable form of cancer.

But, the former marathon runner and owner of two local businesses bounced back.

The cancer is lymphoma, and Kulesa calls it “Charlie.”

“I see him as a crotchety old man that I just want to kick out of my body, but he keeps hanging around,” Kulesa, 47, said.

After living with “Charlie” for more than a year, she said, “Now I’m just trying to make peace with the old man.”

Such visualization techniques help Kulesa keep that optimistic side of her alive and well, even when faced with back-to-back chemotherapy sessions and their painful after-effects.

Since her June 2007 diagnosis, Kulesa said her life “revolves around the chemotherapy sessions and my cancer.”

She keeps a “goal log” where she writes her daily goals, which include ones for her workouts and a vegetarian diet. “It helps me to see I’m getting stronger and helps my attitude.”

In the past year, Kulesa’s top goal has been to help fellow lymphoma-affected Tucsonans.

She has founded the Tucson chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation, which provides patient support and monetary assistance for those affected with the disease.

The chapter meets monthly at the University Medical Center, where all living with the disease are invited to meet, get help from trained specialists and to discuss how they deal with the disease.

In starting the chapter, Kulesa “just wanted to spread that help that I got from the foundation and others in Tucson.”

In March, the chapter will hold Tucson’s first-ever Lymphomathon.

The event will center on a charity 5K walk/run at the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy track, where all are invited to participate for free and are encouraged to donate to the Tucson chapter of the Lymphoma Foundation.

So far, 14 organized teams are participating and have raised $26,852, Kulesa said.

Her own team, Dawn’s Angels, has raised a record $9,880.

With 22 members, her team complements her “network of angels,” an army of more than 50 friends who do everything from shuttling her to chemotherapy sessions to bringing dinner to her and her husband John at their Oro Valley home.

“We have this phenomenal network of people that just tirelessly give of time and means to us,” Kulesa said. “They just keep giving.”

Because chemotherapy has weakened her immune system, Kulesa remains cloistered at home, in a three-month “mini-isolation” to keep from getting sick.

She plans to emerge from isolation, with a surgical mask on for “extra protection,” for the Lymphomathon on March 7, which she has organized while juggling her brutal chemotherapy sessions and her work responsibilities.

Kulesa is a self-employed personal trainer. Given her isolation, she has tried to do online coaching, but business remains slow.

A second business, for which she provides local leadership consulting, has had to “all but stop because I cannot go face-to-face with my clients anymore,” Kulesa said.

Still, she remains focused on improving the awareness of lymphoma and the quality of treatment for people battling the cancer.

“I’ve benefited so much from the help of others, and I just wanted to give back and give people the same support and love that I have felt from neighbors and trained doctors.”

“I chose to be part of the solution,” Kulesa said.


WHAT: Tucson chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation holds first-ever Tucson Lymphomathon 5K run/walk

WHEN: Saturday, March 7, 2009

WHERE: Track at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, 9500 N. Oracle Road

DETAILS: Donations will go to Lymphoma Research Foundation, where 85 cents of every dollar pays for research

COST: Free to participate, but donations encouraged

ONLINE: www.lymphomathon.org

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