I am honored to share my story with you today. It has been a challenging journey this
past five years. But along the way I have had some tremendous care and met some wonderful people
that have helped regain my health and wholeness. A number of them are in this room tonight or
are part of this family. To them I will always be grateful.
The life of a competitive athlete
I spent a great part of my youth as a competitive athlete. I wasn't happy unless I
had a 15-mile run scheduled, had a triathlon, marathon or open water swim on the calendar. While
pursuing my education and professional life, I made time for intercollegiate swimming and water
polo, to run eight marathons, to swim in from Alcatraz, ski 15 cross country skiing marathons,
and compete in a dozen or more races every year.
Then on April 14, 1998 the world that I knew collapsed. I had just completed a long swimming
workout with my team, was sitting in the whirlpool when the left side of my body went numb. I had
had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. The next day I was told I had a brain tumor. I was
pretty sure that IF I survived I would be a shell of my former self. So much for that first house
I had purchased 9 months earlier. Forget about ever running again, Goodbye red wine. Instantly changed:
- From Indestructible to Uninsurable
- From Inexhaustible to Unwakeable
- From Overly Indulgent to Overly Medicated
- From Rainmaker to Rainman
Surgery was unsuccessful, but radiation shrunk the tumor by 30%. Two months later I still
had the military cut but was very healthy for my wedding. The health honeymoon only lasted
about three more weeks and I began to have twitching fingers and toes. It got worse, and the
steroids were heaped on me. Before long I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I was belligerent. My
short-term memory was terrible. I put on 35 pounds. I was having seizures daily. Once, I was
walking across Hennepin Avenue at rush hour and my leg collapsed. It took everything I had
to get to the other side of the street. My wife Barb didn't know what she married.
Around Thanksgiving, when I was at the depth of physical deterioration, a miracle happened - we
conceived our son Max. At this time I also got a second opinion. The doctor said the tumor was
not growing. The problem was epilepsy caused by the radiation. In January 1999, I was in
the hospital for two weeks to change my medications. Within 2 weeks I was working about 80%, I had
lost most of the weight and even entered a short cross-country ski race.
The Journey Back to Health & Wholeness
By the summer my wife and I would joke: 'What brain tumor?' The only reminders were the epilepsy
drugs and the very rare twitching or numbness in my arm. Then for the most part I had three very
Along with doctors, family and friends, It was Lance Armstrong and a group I found through
him called Cyclists Combating Cancer that helped me put my life back together. CCC is an
online community of athletes that have or have had cancer. It's a group of determined
individuals who are not taking cancer lying down. CCC and Lance instilled in me the belief that
cancer limits you only if you let it.
Things changed this past year as my tumor became active again, and I just completed eight
months of chemotherapy through Minnesota Oncology. The results have been very positive, and
I am currently training for a 100-mile bike ride in Austin, Texas this October.
A New Definition of "Physical Therapy"
Part of what has kept me healthy is this "physical therapy" - training and racing. I am a firm believer
in the great medicinal value of physical activity, especially vigorous exercise. I didn't let chemo
stop me from competing in two cross-country ski marathons this winter, including the 51 Kilometer
American Birkebeiner, the largest and most difficult race in the country. I wore this Swix racing
suit in this race, and I asked my fellow chemotherapy patients at Minnesota Oncology to sign it.
My hope was and is to inspire someone to keep their dreams, to fight on and to have faith that
better days are ahead.
Support, or Lack of
I have had incredible support from family and friends. Equally important I have been blessed
with a flexible job, insurance and the resources to handle what could have been a tremendous
financial burden. Someone has always been there to lend a hand, to give me a ride, or just
to listen as the stress of diagnosis and treatment was thrust upon us. I know how enormous
the burden could be if someone didn't have all this, and that is why I am here today to
support the Minnesota Oncology Hematology Foundation. They are there to help people that
don't have the resources or support structure that I have to cope, to manage financially,
to retain their dignity, while facing similar struggles. There are so many people, with so
many needs, and it only through our generous support that they are able to deliver their
Why The Birkie
I think my family and friends finally understand me, but I am often asked why I undertake
such difficult events such as the Birkie or a bike century. I ask myself that sometimes. Perhaps
this entry to CCC after the Birkie this year says it best: