Fort Bragg leader, wife embrace 'new normal' in fight against cancer
April 7, 2014
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (April 7, 2014) -- Fort Bragg Soldier Col. Lenny Kness, chief of staff, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), is an avid runner.
So, it was no surprise in October 2011, that he would stay the course, as planned many months before, and run the Army Ten Miler.
Just days earlier, he had arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., after receiving the devastating news that no one wants to hear -- he had brain cancer.
With his doctor's permission and the unexpected company of his wife, Heather, Lenny stayed on track and they ran side-by-side through the streets of the nation's capital. For the first time that they could remember, the couple slowed down to enjoy the scenery, wave to people and slap hands along the way.
"It was a nice way to feel normal," said Heather, an Army lieutenant colonel and native of Troy, N.Y.
After watching her husband of more than 20 years suffer a seizure in Afghanistan, where she was deployed as the 44th Medical Brigade's executive officer, she accompanied him home to the United States, by way of Germany, for further testing and treatment.
The couple said one of the hardest moments for them was when the doctor in Germany broke the news and hearing his best survival prognosis -- 18 to 36 months.
A biopsy and extensive testing confirmed that Lenny had Stage 2 cancer in the left lobe of his brain, called astrocytoma. As one doctor explained to him, "It's sprinkled throughout the brain like pepper in mashed potatoes."
According to the American Brain Tumor Association, "Astrocytomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes -- star-shaped cells that make up the 'glue-like' or supportive tissue of the brain."
Lenny was referred to the National Institute of Health, and in April 2012, with the help of Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center's Medical Oncology Department, he began radiation and chemotherapy.
After hearing the news, the Kness' made a decision to continue living what they describe as their "new normal."
Throughout his treatments, the Chadwick, Ill. native, planned his race schedule to keep the two in step. In 2012, Lenny timed his chemotherapy treatment cycle start date so that he could run the Marine Corps Marathon. Two days after his last radiation and chemotherapy cycle, he won his age group at the 2013 Fort Bragg Ten Miler and was selected for the Men's Masters team.
Every day for 30 days, starting the last week in April until the first week in June 2012, he took a low-dose chemo pill. During the week at 3 p.m., following his regular duties as the 1st Theater Sustainment Command Support Operations officer, he would receive radiation treatments at Cape Fear.
He completed 12 months of treatment finishing in May 2013. Since then, doctors have done quarterly checks and have not found any new cancer activity.
"For me, I count this as a thankful event. We found out early, have been able to adjust, treat and go after it. It is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives," he said.
Lenny considers himself fortunate. Other than being a little tired and losing his left eyebrow, part of his right eyebrow, and having to keep his hair short to hide the patches, he has been able to continue working, exercising and living life to the fullest.
"I continue to live on and live a great life. For me, the quality of life is everything over the quantity. What a waste to live to be 99 [and be] miserable," Lenny said.
Lenny and Heather feel this experience has taught them a great deal and helped them to put life into perspective.
"I had to stop looking things up on the Internet and researching," Heather said. "As a caregiver I had a desire to be empowered and control things, but I learned that I could not control the tumor. Slowly I learned I could control diet, exercise and a good state of mind."
Although they were already considered healthy by most standards, following the diagnosis they cut meat and dairy from their diets, only eating fish on rare occasions. The couple is doing all they can to live a better life and control what they can, Lenny added.
"I've really become more aware of the impact of cancer on Soldiers and their families, realizing how many people it affects, especially in the military," said Heather noting that cancer not only affects the patient, but so many families and friends of those with cancer.
Lenny and Heather enjoy running as couple and logging countless miles competing in races ranging from 5Ks to marathons. They started out competing in local races, such as Fayetteville's Cinco De Mayo and Dogwood Festival runs, and now do their best to participate in two national marathons a year. Often you will find them training on the Cape Fear River Trail or the familiar roads of Fort Bragg and Pope Field.
Since 1997, they have called Fort Bragg home, only leaving for a couple of years in between.
On May 4, Lenny and Heather will lace up their running shoes once again and run 26.2 miles in the All American Marathon. The race will begin in downtown Fayetteville and proceed through the city streets and up the All American Freeway until reaching the gates of the Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces on Fort Bragg.
Heather said that after a decade plus of serving here it will be nice to run a marathon on her home turf and she feels running local races are a great way to see Fayetteville and the community. She said their support and encouragement gives her the motivation to keep going and stay strong through the miles.