Professor and marathoner helps put blood cancer on the run

A distance runner since high school, Adam Wende now has a more powerful reason to run 26 miles.

Crosscountry1The Wendes on a run. From the left, Kaitlyn, Sandra, Adam and Kristen. Shirts donated by UAB Women’s Head Cross Country Coach Matt Esche. Credit: Sandra Wende.Adam Wende, Ph.D., is grateful. Very grateful. 

Five years ago, at age 36, he got a diagnosis of leukemia. It came as a blow for the University of Alabama at Birmingham associate professor of pathology and his wife, Sandra.

“My reaction was disbelief,” said Sandra Wende (pronounced ‘wen-dee’). “My mind could not compute how a healthy and active 36-year-old, who had just completed a marathon, could suddenly be hit by such news. Disbelief turned to shock, and shock turned to fear — the fear came from having lost my mom to another cancer, breast cancer.”

But Wende was fortunate. UAB doctors, including Ravi Bhatia, M.D., interim director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, were able to control his chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, through daily medication. Now age 41 and five years into remission, Wende is expressing his gratitude with his goal to raise $20,000 for blood cancer research. He is a member of a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising running team for the 2020 London Marathon next spring. 

“We realize that, if this had been 10 years earlier, CML likely would have killed him,” said Sandra Wende. “But thanks to advances in medical research, the drug dasatinib has saved his life.”

“Last year,” Adam Wende said, “I was reminded that not all people have been as fortunate as I am. I found out one of my friends from St. Louis, Emily McCay, had been battling acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, since 2016. The amazing videos she posted on Facebook describing her journey moved me.” 

“Unfortunately,” Wende said, “that November AML claimed her life. A couple of months later, I reached out to her husband, my old friend Dave McCay. After talking, I knew I wanted to take on a new challenge.”

So, Adam Wende is combining his passion for running with a place on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. “I was really inspired by Emily’s courage, and it motivated me to raise funds to help those not as fortunate as I was with CML.”

Details of his story and motivation — including photos of his friend Emily during her AML journey — are on his donation website, which is dedicated to her memory.

Some of the specific groups Adam Wende is sharing his story with include the men’s group and congregation at Grace United Methodist Church in Jefferson County, the Birmingham Track Club, friends and neighbors in Liberty Park, where Adam Wende runs many mornings before 5 a.m., family members in the Chicago area, and colleagues he talked with at the recent American Heart Association meeting.

“I am extremely thankful Adam’s treatment has been so simple, in that he only takes one daily pill by mouth and then moves on with his life,” said Sandra Wende. “Though I do not discount the 2,039 pills Adam has taken as ‘easy,’ I am thankful we have not required hospital visits, ER visits or a change in our lifestyle.”

“Adam’s new purpose came out of pure gratefulness and empathy for those who find themselves struggling with cancer,” Sandra Wende said. “And also,” she added, “for those who have lost their lives.”