November 2004 Palm Beach, Florida
Welcome to Team in Training
My partnership with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) began when I joined Coach Lisa of the Palm Beach chapter of Team In Training (TNT) on a November Saturday morning. At age 57, I ran a mile for the first time in my life! It was the initial step toward running the 2005 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon. This event is the single largest annual running fundraiser for LLS. I am here because my CEO, Greg Bellomy, invited me to join him as an LLS fundraiser and to run the marathon with our daughters. Raising money for research to find a cure for blood cancers with the LLS gave meaning to what otherwise seemed like an outlandish idea given that I had never even run a mile before today.
Months later, we run the Shamrock 10 mile race on St. Patrick’s Day in Lantana, Florida to familiarize ourselves with the logistics and atmosphere of a race. I amaze myself by sustaining a 9:00 minute per mile pace. I begin to believe that I can perform well in San Diego. I’ve exceeded my fundraising target thanks to the generosity of so many donors who were moved by the stories of how LLS is such a powerful positive force in confronting and overcoming cancer for patients and their families.
June 2005 San Diego, CA
Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon
Greg and his daughter Lindsey and Melinda and I line up on Sixth Ave. I raise my hand as a first-time marathoner at the race announcer’s prompting. I recall my daughter’s first marathon in L.A. two years ago. I have no idea of what to expect. Twenty-two miles into the race, I am still on a 9:00 min/mile pace. I begin to have thoughts of qualifying for Boston in my first marathon. Such dreams are shattered in less than a half mile when severe cramps in both my calves render me barely able to stand, let alone run or even walk. I stagger through the last four miles crossing the finish line in 4:39:42.
My physical and emotional distress was trivial compared to the experiences of those dealing with leukemia and lymphoma and the pain of chemotherapy. My thinking of them and their families is what kept me moving after my body had signaled otherwise. I have so many blessings. I’m alive; I’m healthy; I’ve completed a marathon. Twelve years ago, the odds of such a reality happening were exceedingly slim. It is here that I connect at a visceral level with those for whom I was running to support in their fight for life.
April 1993 Oceanside, New York
Death Comes Stalking
“Your husband is very, very, very ill.” My wife Elli asked Dr. Franklin, the ER Medical Director, “what are his chances?” He looked dejectedly at her, saying: “only three in a hundred make it.” Elli shared that the hardest part of these hours was being honest with our kids when they asked, “Could daddy die?” Patients whose cancer is deemed terminal and their loved ones would grasp at such odds as a glimmer of hope.
I contracted a pathogen at my 46th birthday dinner that led to food poisoning and bouts of violent vomiting. In the early morning hours, I experienced a severe pain while vomiting that felt like a very bad muscle pull. I have a high pain threshold, so I tried to go back to sleep. The “muscle pull” was the tearing of my esophagus at its junction with the stomach. This unleashed a flood of partially digested food and gastric acids into my abdominal and chest cavities. Had I waited another 15 minutes or so to get to the hospital ER, I would have died. Emergency surgery, followed days later by complete cardiopulmonary arrest and another major surgery, left me barely alive, with a prognosis that in the words of the cardiothoracic surgeon was “grossly guarded and poor with a very high mortality rate noted for this spontaneous rupture disease process.” I would later say that I had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
Sixty days later I left the ICU, and, after a few more days in the hospital, I flew cross-country with my wife and two kids to our home in Coronado, CA. I would spend the next months connected to a feeding tube 24 hours a day. My one reprieve was on days when my wife would bring me to our friend Tom Smisek’s house, and after disconnecting from my feeding line, we would walk along the beach for about an hour. Two and a half months later, I returned to work.
Two more surgeries and months of not being able to eat or drink due to complications internally were needed to avoid compromised lung function for the rest of my life. I was discharged from Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta on Christmas Eve 1994 for continued recovery. Remission from cancer is often followed by complications as well as the real possibility of a return of the cancer. Survival means embracing every minute in which “normal” living is granted. My trials with complications pale in comparison to those faced by those with cancer and their loved ones, colleagues, and friends.
October 2005 Long Beach, CA
Long Beach marathon
The TNT experience taught me to be grateful for the opportunity to enter the process of long distance running. After my “meltdown” in San Diego in June, I did what most cancer survivors do. I picked myself up and focused on what I could accomplish rather than on what had been taken from me. At my surprise 50th birthday party in April 1997, I gave voice to what I had been contemplating for weeks prior to my birthday. For the second half century of my life, at each five-year milestone I wanted to be in better shape physically and emotionally than I was at the prior five-year mark. TNT opened the door to long distance running as a path to fulfilling that audacious aspiration. I would work to learn how to train better to rebound from my San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll collapse. I almost made it in Long Beach. Once again, I was done in by leg cramps at mile 25. However, this time after lying on the pavement for what seemed like an eternity, I was revived by my daughter’s getting salt and chocolate from a spectator. I was gradually able to resume running and I sprinted across the finish line, finishing in 4:09:24.
June 2006 San Diego, CA
San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll
I return to the scene of last year’s initial marathon. Cancer robs one of certainty about the future. Each day is an opportunity to learn what we are made of and what we value, especially in the face of health scares. Last year my daughter Melinda and I lined up for the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll; this year she is not at the start. Just weeks after she accompanied me on my first marathon, we received a call from a co-worker that she was in the ER at Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown L.A. She had experienced a yet-undiagnosed cerebral thrombosis that provoked a major seizure at her office a few blocks away. She could only utter two words regardless of what she was attempting to say. My wife and I were in South Florida where I was working. While she flew cross country on the last flight of the night back to L.A., I waited for a call from my former colleague, Dr. Ron Greeno, a pulmonary/critical care hospitalist at Good Samaritan. I then flew to L.A. on the first flight the next morning. Ron told me that the seizure was associated with a hemorrhage likely due to a thrombosis in the posterior cerebral artery. He was awaiting pathology results but he suspected that it was caused by a birth control agent that she had recently begun to help regulate her cycles. Pathology results confirmed his suspicion.
Melinda recovered, but is now dependent on blood thinners and anti-seizure medications to prevent a recurrence of either seizures or thombotic events. In fact, she did have additional seizures. Cancer survivors know that there are no guarantees.
This is my fifth marathon. I am on track for a Boston Qualifier (BQ) at mile 20 when Melinda steps off the sidewalk to join me for the last 10k. It energizes me for I have been struggling in the last mile. My calf muscles are twitching threatening another race-limiting outbreak of cramps. She keeps me focused on moving. She needs to peel off as we approach the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot where the race ends since she does not have a race bib. I cross the finish line in 4:01:40, my personal best time (PR). I miss my BQ by 41 seconds. I will crack the code perhaps in Toronto in September. Melinda is running once again. We count our blessings, just as every cancer survivor and their family do, in times of remission.
November 2009 Philadelphia, PA Philadelphia marathon
My second LLS fundraiser I did qualify for Boston in Toronto in my sixth marathon. I have run 19 marathons and six ultramarathons since Toronto, reducing my marathon PR to 3:47:24. TNT opened an entirely new world to me. This is why today’s race is so important. One of Melinda’s grammar school classmates, now a 27 year old emergency medicine resident was recently diagnosed with Stage III lymphoma. I reached out to the San Diego LLS chapter to arrange a private fundraiser in conjunction with my running the Philadelphia marathon. The race is on the 46th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, a watershed event for me and for most Americans. I raise over $9000 and finish in 3:52:56. Life is a gift. The young woman is now an emergency medicine physician helping to restore health to countless thousands of patients thanks to the treatments developed in part with LLS funds.
I have just completed my seventh San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, my 66th marathon. In April on Easter Monday, I completed my seventh Boston marathon. Resurrection is something I know from experience as does every cancer survivor. I have been blessed to experience an additional 24 years of vital living, one day at a time. I don’t know what the future holds; I live intentionally in the present, giving gratitude for each additional day. This is the way cancer survivors thrive in remission. I finished 11th among American men in the 70 – 74 year old age group, barely missing my goal of placing in the top ten by 26 seconds. I achieved my goal in San Diego of posting my best finish of the year (4:00:03), placing first in my age group. Upon returning from Boston, I learned from my friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Dixon, that Mr. Dale Eazell, who was the visionary CEO at Casa Colina Hospital for Rehabilitation Medicine in Pomona, CA when I joined the staff in 1977 is fighting lung cancer. Dale was very supportive of my work as a clinical neuropsychologist with persons with traumatic brain injury and strokes. My 39 year career as a psychologist began due to the opportunities afforded me by Dale.
LLS and TNT provided me the opportunity to develop a life-long love of distance running that has contributed greatly to my achieving ever-increasing fitness over the two decades since my 50th birthday. I, like all humans, was designed to run. Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run describes a 50 mile footrace organized by ultramarathoner Micah True (aka Caballo Blanco) between the best runners of the legendary Tarahumana Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon and American ultra specialists led by Scott Jurek. The author sought out Eric Orton to prepare him to join the event.
I read Eric’s The Cool Impossible after completing my most recent Boston and San Diego marathons. He ends his training guide with an invitation. “I want you to start to understand how amazing it is to just know you have this ability to live freely and create anything you want for the future. In the creating comes the sizzle, the buzz, the happiness. See how fun and insanely brilliant it is to think beyond your wildest dreams. This is what the Cool Impossible is about: creating this experience and just going with it.”
My Cool Impossible has crystallized. I want to help LLS meet its mission of finding cures and ensuring access to treatments for patients with blood cancers. I want to complete the three international races of the Six World Marathon Majors by 2018, the 25th year of my second life. I will compete in Berlin in September 2017, Tokyo in February and London in April, 2018. I want to join former Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot by raising $66,000 for LLS. The goal represents $1000 for each marathon I have completed in the 12 years since that first TNT event in San Diego in June 2005.
Please reflect on how precious life without cancer is to you, your loved ones, your colleagues. Please listen to the stories of those who are living with cancer and its effects by accessing the Their Stories and the Videos navigation tabs at the top of this page. Every dollar raised gives hope for a cancer-free day to those with blood cancers whether in treatment or in remission. This is an incredibly exciting time in the fight against blood cancers due to the combination of new genomic technology, new and deeper understanding of the biology of cancer, and to the development of new drugs. Every dollar you donate is a lifeline to another human being.
If a loved one has died from cancer, please consider donating as a memorial to your loved one. Please include the person’s name and any details you may wish to share that helps me know the person. Please feel free to use the Contact Me tab at the bottom of the Home page to send me the info. Or give me a call on my cell (858 750 0674) to share your and their story. I will carry the person and you with me in every training session and in the three World Major marathons. If someone you love is currently fighting for another day of presence with you, let me know. I will keep them and you in my intentions every day.
Raising $66000 is an audacious goal and a colossal undertaking. The goal represents $1000 for each of the 66 marathons I have completed since my first in June 2005 with Team in Training. I have also completed races longer than the marathon's 26.2 miles. There's a lot of heavy lifting to do, so if you are able to make a super generous donation, you could use the ultramarathon list below to select a figure that links your gift to one of these completed races.
No donation is too small. A marathon comes down to putting one foot in front of the other. When all those steps are strung together, the goal of finishing the race is realized. Select any portion of the marathons I have completed as your gift amount.
You can also help by sharing this exciting process with your friends, business/professional colleagues, investors. My fundraising goal will be realized only by touching many hundreds of individuals who will choose to make a donation. Ask them for me and for those needing a cure or a life-extending treatment to help fund the research whose fruits give hope to patients and families. Your networks are far broader than mine. They often include people of means who share their resources with worthy charitable causes.
Be an LLS Champion yourself by encouraging others to join My Cool Impossible team. Please endorse the campaign to your Facebook friends. Ask them to do the same. Together we can give life to countless people who will survive cancer due to your generous donations. I know how invaluable a support team is to me when running very long distances. Our fund raising target needs your reaching out to your networks to help us realize my dream.