Coach Mike Mead

November 2008

The Ultimate Runner's Challenge

This month’s column is personal. I’ve been running all of my adult life and believe in the benefits that it provides. I’ve been fortunate to be in good health and good physical condition for an antique approaching 51 years of age.

From my high school and college days, all the way up to the present, running has been a constant that has toughened me up for those times when life is tough. I’ve survived some hellish track workouts over the years. I’ve run some gutsy races that I thought I would literary die. I attribute my running experience to being able to handle what life throws my way.

I experienced one of life’s challenges just last month. On October 23 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was a sobering bit of news, indeed. Me. The runner. Cancer. How could this be? Call it being naïve, living a lie or ignoring the facts. Simply put, just because you run does not fully protect you from things like cancer.

The combination of my faith and running background will get me through the upcoming battles and challenges I will face. Days before I received the news, I got to thinking and concluded that if I did have cancer, the Lord Almighty had a purpose for me and that was to let others like me be aware and take control.

Fortunately for me, I’m in the early stages and have a good chance of beating this. What may save my bacon is the wise runner I am, I listened to my body (for a change)! Three days after the Peachtree Road Race, I experienced not one, not two, but three incidents where I had blood in my urine. In my whole life, I only experienced that once before and that was immediately after a very hard track workout in college. However, this trifecta was much more serious and so I called my health care provider. Even though it was 8 p.m., the nurse on the other end of the phone told me to come in that night. The medical staff did the usual tests and ran some blood work.

While I did not, nor have I since experienced any additional episodes of blood in my urine – and to this day do not know what caused it -- the only questionable result from the tests was that my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was running significantly above normal for my age. For the next two months, doctors ran various tests to rule out different types of cancer in various body parts. I would have two more PSA tests and each time they came back with a higher level than the previous result. Not good. My urologist conducted a couple of exams on my prostate, but did not find anything wrong. He persisted. Finally he decided to do a biopsy in mid-October and those results concluded that cancer cells were on the left side of my prostate.

The news did not devastate me. I did not ask, “Why me?” It more than anything confirmed that I’m getting old and these things are bound to be discovered. I’m just glad to know. Had it not been for the blood in the urine back in July, I would not yet know I had this thing called cancer because I felt great, didn’t have any symptoms and I would eventually get around to getting those tests they recommend. With the exception of the high PSA level, I did not have any of the symptoms or warning signs. Divine intervention!

So, my message this month to all you runners out there; do not take for granted that just because you run that you are immune to disease and illness. If you have never had a prostate exam, or the other exams that are suggested as we age, get them done. You can start by having a PSA blood test to establish a base number. My younger brother did just that about six years ago. The next time he’s tested, he and his doctors have a comparison number.

Also learn your family history. Not the kind of history where you learn about your nutty uncle or that long-lost aunt in Peoria, but your family’s health history. The history you need to learn is who in your family has had cancer, heart disease or any other serious ailment. How close are they (i.e. father, uncle, etc.)?

Get as many details as possible. In my family history, my grandfather and an uncle died from cancer while my father passed from heart troubles. Luckily, my mother is going strong at 76 and does not take any prescription medicines!

Learn all you can and get all the necessary tests. If you have a family history of cancer, get screened sooner than what is recommended. Just like running, it is about preparation. You did not train for that marathon by avoiding distance running. Don’t screw with your life by ignoring the signs or waiting until it’s too late. If you have it and it is caught early, you can be treated, live long and prosper. Ignore it and your end will be miserable for you, your family and friends.

For myself, the journey ahead is uncertain and there will be challenges just like the next race to come. By the time you finish reading this, I will have likely had my scheduled colonoscopy and a bone scan to determine if cancer is lurking in those areas. For the meantime, I will continue to run and enjoy a healthy life with cancer. Get checked out and enjoy your life, too!