Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Running With Cancer: One Dude's Journey with Lung Cancer

Running With Cancer

One Dude’s Journey with Lung Cancer

One year ago today, I was sitting at home and my phone rang. It was the pulmonologist. She said, "Are you at home?" I said, "Yes, " feeling in my gut that this was not good news. Then she asked, "Are you alone?" I said, "No," as my gut sank even further. Her next words were, "Your biopsy results show you have adenocarcinomalung cancer." I went completely numb. I wasn't emotional or falling apart, just numb. The doctor was very kind and I'm sure she said more to me, but all I remember are her words, "You have lung cancer." Eventually, I heard her explain she was setting up an appointment at the Wesley Long Cancer Center with an oncologist. 

What the hell? I’m a runner. Been a runner for 40 years. Runners don’t get lung cancer. I’ve never smoked or vaped. Ever. Not even a puff. Nonsmokers don’t get lung cancer. I live a healthy lifestyle. I run and exercise several times a week. I eat pretty healthy. People who live a healthy lifestyle don’t get cancer. There’s no obvious link to lung cancer in my family history. These are all thoughts running through my head after I hung up the phone.

To help this make a little more sense, I’ll back up a little, back to late December 2022. Just before Christmas, I noticed I was getting a cold and a mild cough. I did several Covid tests, and the results were all negative. I just figured it was a little touch of the crud going around. 

For the past several years, on Christmas Eve morning, I’ve hosted a group run for my runners. I was planning on running the 6-mile route. During the run, I had no energy, and I was a bit short of breath. My buddies I normally run with were well ahead of me. I only made it 5 miles and walked part of the last mile. I was a bit perplexed, but I attributed it to the crud. After Christmas, my cough continued to get worse, so I called my GP. They had no openings, so they sent me (virtually) to the Walk-in Clinic (keep in mind, because of the whole Covid thing, it was a phone-in, not a walk-in).  The nurse practitioner, thought I had a sinus infection. I have them periodically, so it seemed like a pretty accurate diagnosis. I was prescribed an antibiotic. After a week, I was worse, and I was completely out of breath just walking up the stairs to the second floor in our house. I called the doc back and requested an in-person visit. I was sent to the Walk-in Clinic again, but this time, I actually got to walk in. After an initial exam and listening to my breathing, the doc thought I may have pneumonia and did an X-ray. 

The doctor returned with the scan and a furrowed brow. He showed me the scans and I could see that my lungs were filled with what looked like cotton balls. The doc explained that this wasn't pneumonia. He said he was concerned it was cancer and that he was sending me to a pulmonologist who would do more tests. Only problem, it would be about a week before he could get an appointment. I learned very quickly that waiting during this whole discovery process was almost as painful as the cancer itself. Luckily, one of my runners who works at the pulmonology center was able to get me in the next day. 

The pulmonologist did a CT scan and confirmed that she also thought it was cancer. The next step was to determine the specific type of cancer. Initially, she thought it might be melanoma. In the past, I've had two melanoma removed, and because of that, it was a possibility it could have spread to my lungs. The doctor explained she'd need to do a biopsy to accurately identify the exact type of cancer. This time it was a week that I had to wait. Tik Tik Tik....I know lung cancer is not good. All sorts of things are running through my head. The biopsy went well, and it was almost another week later when I received that phone call, "Are you at home? Are you alone? You have Adenocarcinoma-lung cancer."

Seems like it was another week before I met with my oncologist, Dr. Mohamed. He told me
and my wife that I had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. It was in both lungs, more heavily concentrated in the lower right lung. The numbness crept back in. I remember the room beginning to blur-out to me. 

Dr. Mohamed was supportive, but very direct, saying this was not good. As my head began to clear, I asked the doc how I could have possibly gotten lung cancer. I’m not a smoker. I’m active, fit, and live a healthy lifestyle. He said about 20% of those who get lung cancer get it by being exposed to environmental factors such as being exposed to radon, asbestos, second-hand smoke, diesel fumes, extreme pollution, etc. None of which pertained to me. (We even got a radon tester to check the radon levels in our house and that wasn't the issue.) Then he said that for about 2% of those who are nonsmokers, there is no apparent/obvious cause. That was me.

Dr. Mohamed explained my treatment options. There are typically 4 treatment options: surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Because the cancer was so evasive and in both lungs, surgery was not an option. (Down to three options.) Because I also have ulcerative colitis, immunotherapy was not an option. My colitis has been pretty much under control for several years, but because of that history, immunotherapy was not an option. (Down to two treatment optionschemotherapy and targeted therapy.)

Dr. Mohamed explained that Targeted therapy is a new therapy only available the past 2-3 years.  Targeted therapy does not work for everyone. It depends on whether the cancer itself has a specific genetic mutation. Nonsmokers who get lung cancer have a higher chance of the cancer having this mutation. If the mutation exists, then there’s a possibility that the mutation will have one of 11 different biomarkers. If it has one of these biomarkers, then Targeted treatment is an option. Biomarkers are what allows the cancer to grow and spread not only within the lungs but to other parts of the body and other organs as well. The treatment targets the specific biomarker keeping it from allowing the cancer to grow and spread, and helps to shrink the cancer.

We did the needed testing. To be prepared, in case the testing revealed my cancer did not have the genetic mutation and bio marker, I was slated for my first round of chemotherapy for the following Monday. Before the results came back, I also had a PET scan and a Brain MRI to see if the cancer had spread to other organs or other parts of the body. The results did show some cancer in the lymph nodes in my neck but otherwise it was localized within my lungs. While driving home one night with my wife after one of the scans, I got a phone call. It was Dr. Mohamed! He didn’t want to wait nor make us wait to tell me that he had received the results and my cancer did in fact have the genetic mutation as well as the best biomarker of the 11 (EGFR) and the best sub level marker (Exon 19), making it a best-case scenario for Targeted Treatment.

Soon thereafter, I began Targeted treatment with Tagrisso. It arrives at my house once a month in a Hazard bag. No one is supposed to touch it but me. Sounds scary, but it’s not. After the first week of treatment, I could tell a difference. It felt like one of many weights was lifted. I could breathe better. Now, after almost a year of targeted treatment, I’m doing so, so, so much better!

I started treatment at the beginning of March of 2023. By the end of March, I was able to start running again. I started with 1 mile. Each week I added a half mile to the run. It wasn’t pretty and it was slow going, but I made progress. In April of 2023, I ran in a 5K. I just wanted to know I could do it. It wasn’t about pace. It was about completion.

Adjusting to the “new normal” has been a challenge. When a 4-miler takes the same time you use to run a 6-miler, it plays with your head. I used to be a fairly speedy runner. My half marathon PR was a 1:30 and some change. I often tell my runners coming back from an injury to “Start where you are, not where you were, and you’ll get where you want to go.” I’ve reminded myself of that quite often over the past year. I’ve also come to realize that where I want to go, isn’t going to be where I was a few years ago, and that’s okay. I’m just so grateful to be able to do the things I love to do. Since that first 5K after starting targeted treatment, I’ve run two more 5Ks and a 10K. I even placed in my age-group for two of the races.

There are some side effects related to my targeted treatment. I’m very lucky that mine aren’t severe. The main side effects I deal with that affect my running are fatigue, muscle soreness, slowed recovery, muscle cramps, balance issues, and often intestinal issues. It also causes very dry skin, dry mouth, and brittle nails. All things I can definitely deal with.

Looking back, one of the things that really kept me focused on beating this cancer was not dwelling on the statistics. Actually, I just recently looked up the life expectancy stats for lung cancer. Here’s what I found:

In 2023, approximately 238,340 adults in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer. 20% of all cancer deaths are caused by lung cancer, the biggest cancer killer worldwide. The national average of people alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 26.6%. Just 19% of those diagnosed with stage 4 survive more than 12 months. According to the American Cancer Society, those with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have a five-year relative survival rate of 9%. (Info from, The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Association, AstraZeneca and The Lung Foundation)

I have to say, I was quite taken back and glad I chose not to focus on that. My oncologist was the same, he focused on treatment and beating this cancer. Another factor in fighting this disease is the fact that I’ve been in good health the majority of my life. Being a nonsmoker increased my chance of having the genetic mutation. Also, being an otherwise healthy and fit individual has helped me so much in recovery. I know some may say, “Why bother? Look he’s fit and never smoked, but still got lung cancer.” But, I know I would not be as far along in recovery as I am now without having been a fit and healthy person. I am positive that being healthy and fit at whatever age plays a huge impact when thrown a curveball like cancer or other disease. Healthy and fit doesn’t mean being in the gym every day or running excessive miles. It does mean moving several times a week. It also helps with mental health which also takes a beating when going through something like cancer treatment.

A third factor bolstering the positive trend of my recovery is the support of so many in my immediate and extended family as well as my running family and community. That support has meant and continues to mean so much to me and I’m convinced that it has played a huge part in my recovery.

So, what lies ahead? Well, I’ve started training for the Coast Guard Half Marathon in late April. This training is much different from any other training I’ve ever done for a race. A major difference it that I have no written plan. Why? Because I have learned that my body will tell me each week what I can do. Having a written plan that I'm not able to follow week-to-week would only frustrate me. I try to run three days a week, but that doesn’t always happen. Some weeks, fatigue is a huge factor affecting whether or not I can run. My recovery time is much longer now. I need at least one recovery day in between each run, but often I need two or three. Training paces are not a factor either. Some runs I feel great and run with relative ease and other days, I’m a minute or two slower. I never really know what to expect, and I’m okay with that. I wasn’t initially, but I’ve come to realize how lucky I am and I appreciate every run. Accepting the new normal doesn’t me you’re not moving forward, it just means that forward movement is a bit different.

Targeted treatment isn’t a cure, but it’s a way to extend my life as well as the quality of my life much longer than with more traditional treatments. I'll continue to have CT scans about every three months to check  progress. My next scan is later this month. There can be long term effects related to the treatment for which I’ll continually be monitored. It’s actually a miracle that I’m here one year later. Three days ago, I celebrated my 59th birthday. A year ago, I didn’t know if that would be possible. I guess you know what my birthday wish was and it will remain the same wish for years to come. I’ve got too much life left to live! Hope to see you out on the run! Trust. Believe. Conquer! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Benefits of a Running Coach

Have you ever wondered if you needed a running coach? Many runners feel they don't need a running
coach because they don't view themselves as "real" runners. Others may feel that they can get enough from online articles, posts, or training plans or from their fellow runners. Others may think running coaches are too expensive. While others feel they just don't have time.

First of all, if you are putting on running shoes and heading out for a run on a regular basis, please most definitely consider yourself a runner. Second, periodical and online articles are great and online plans are fine, but the one thing to keep in mind, is that these plan are written for the masses, not you. Third, like any service, prices will vary. Shop around and find a running coach that's within your budget that provides what you need. Fourth, most running coaches have a variety of ways to interact to meet your busy schedule.

So, what's the answer? Do you need a running coach? Well, no, a runner doesn't have to have a running coach, but having been one for over 13 years, I can share with you some of the awesome benefits you may not have thought of.

Below are some great reasons a running coach can help you with successful training:

  1. Keeping Your Accountable: Knowing that someone has crafted a plan for you and will be checking in with you ups your accountability greatly. Many running coaches also incorporate group runs into their training which ups accountability as well as build relationships with other runners. 
  2. Prevent Overtraining and Possible Injury: A common mistake of self-trained runners is overtraining. When a runner starts to make progress, they'll often get excited and begin to push themselves harder. Nothing wrong with pushing yourself, but a coach can help determine when too much of a push may be detrimental to your running mojo and/or your body. A running coach is a great first line of defense in preventing running injury. Runners are notorious for letting an ache or pain go too long before seeking treatment. I always encourage my runners to share with me when they are experiencing something beyond regular delayed onset muscle soreness, especially they if it's something they've had for more than a couple days and it's not getting better. I'm not a doctor or physical therapist, but I'm often that needed push to get a runner to seek professional medical help.
  3. Keep Better Perspective and Prevent Self-Doubt: When training for any race, but particularly a distance race such as a half  or full marathon, self-doubt can creep in pulling a runner down. There's a saying that running is often 90% mental and 10% physical, and in many cases that is true. We can be our own worst enemy. A coach can help put things in perspective. If you 've had a bad run, a coach, can help you evaluate that run and determine if the lackluster performance was due to improper fueling or hydration, over training, poor sleep, stress, or some other factor.
  4. A Real-Time/Catered-to-You Sounding Board: When I'm in a training cycle with runners, I get emails, messages, phone calls and in-person chats all the time regarding anything and everything about my runners' training. Instead of wondering if you're on the right track, you have someone well versed in your training as a sounding board in real-time.
  5. Create a Plan for You and Your Goals Not the Masses: A running coach will craft a plan geared specifically for you. Factors such as your running history, your current running, the race you've selected, your personal goals, and more will all be taken into account when crafting your plan. Often runners will use the same plan year-after-year. Most runners don't stay the same, they may have made great gains or had a set-back from the previous year. A running coach will create a plan based on your current running.
  6. Adjust Your Plan During Training: As a running coach, one of the first things I tell a runner when I meet with them to talk about their training and goals, is that the plan I create is fluid. What I mean by that is, it's not set in stone. Changes can and will be made along the way. Sometimes life gets in the way and a plan needs to be revised. Sometimes a runner will make great gains during training and training paces need to be made. A runner needs to have structure and guidance with a plan, but not feel that they are completely locked in.
  7. Explain Your Workouts and Why You're Doing Them: Many online plans will have a variety of runs, but with very little explanation for why you're running these different types of runs. If a runner was not involved in track or cross-country in high school or college, they may not be familiar with some types of run workouts. Many runners will avoid speed work because they think they need access to a track. A running coach will thoroughly explain everything in your plan. They'll also explain how workouts can be accomplished without access to a track. (None of my speed workouts need a track.)
  8. Help Fit in Cross-Training to Support Your Running/Training: Many runners know that adding in cross-training can benefit their running, but don't know what to incorporate or how to incorporate it. While other runners are unaware of the benefits of incorporating other types of fitness. A running coach can help safely add in appropriate types and amounts of cross-training to your training regimen. 
  9. Explain and Help Support You With Your Fueling and Hydration Needs: Just as important as the weekly runs, proper fueling and hydration is vital to successful training. A running coach can provide proper guidelines for fueling and hydration to support your runs.
  10. Motivate and Inspire: A running coach is your biggest cheerleader. Ongoing motivation and encouragement can often be the difference in successful race training.
In the Greensboro, NC area and looking for a running coach, click here.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Alternative Fuel Sources

 Are you a runner for which fuel sources like gels, Gu's and chews, just don't seem to do the trick. Do prepackaged fuel sources give you stomach distress or maybe you just don't like the taste or texture? Then check out my tips for alternative fuel sources. Some might be right in your cupboard!

Friday, December 3, 2021

Heathly Blueberry Muffins

A runner friend of mine brought me some blueberries from his own blueberry bush, so I decided to make some blueberry muffins. I searched for a healthier version of a blueberry muffin and came across this one. I've tweaked it a little and here's my version. Great for breakfast and/or pre-run fueling!


  • 1 ¾ cups plus 1 teaspoon white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup honey 
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt* (Any fat percentage  even fat-free will work. Higher fat Greek yogurt will make a richer muffin. I used 2%.)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (also called raw sugar), for sprinkling on top


Preheat the oven to 400° F. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ¾ cups of the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix them together with a whisk.

Combine the oil and honey in a medium bowl and beat together with a whisk. Next, beat in eggs. Then mix in  vanilla extract and yogurt .  

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a large spoon. A few lumps in the mixture is fine. Before adding the blueberries, place them in a bowl and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of flour. This keeps the blueberries  from sinking to the bottom of the batter when baking.  Fold the flour-coated blueberries into the batter. The batter will be thick.

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper muffin cups. (I use paper muffin cups.) Evenly divide the batter between the dozen muffin cups Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with turbinado sugar. Bake the muffins until golden (16 to 19 minutes). If a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, they're done.

Cool muffins on a cooling rack. 

Baked Berry Oatmeal

My running friend Cathy Jackson shared this simple to make Berry Baked Oatmeal recipe. It's the perfect breakfast or pre-run fueling for runners! 

Baked Berry Oatmeal 

1 hour - Serves 4-6

  • 2 1/2 cups Old Fashioned Oats
  • 1/2 cup Steel Cut Oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (I used canola oil)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce 
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups Unsweetened Coconut Milk (I used 1% regular milk)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Chopped Almonds
  • Coconut Sugar


Preheat oven to 400°F.

In large bowl stir together rolled oats, steel cut oats, baking powder, salt & cinnamon, set aside.

In medium bowl combine brown sugar, honey, oil, applesauce, egg & milk.  Add to oat mixture & stir until combined.

Pour into a greased 2 quart casserole dish (a 9" x 13" glass baking dish works good too).  Top evenly with berries, chopped almonds & sprinkle lightly with coconut sugar.

Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until set and lightly browned.  

Serve warm -  top with Greek Yogurt and chopped almonds 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Pumpkin Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Cookies

 Looking for an easy cookie recipe for the holidays? This recipe is perfect. Full of fall flavors this cookie will satisfy that craving for pumpkin, chocolate, cranberries and pecans all in one bite!

Pumpkin Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Cookies


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup  Pumpkin Puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries 
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 



Step 1: Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (I used a baking stone without parchment paper and it worked fine too.)

Step 2: Combine flour, oats, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in medium bowl.

Step 3: Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract; mix well.

Step 4: Add flour mixture; mix well. Stir in pecans, dried cranberries, and chocolate cihps.

Step 5: Use a large cookie scoop (about 3 tablespoons) to drop approximately 8 scoops of dough per prepared baking sheets.

Step 6: Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until cookies are firm and lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Muffins

Pumpkin Spice! You can hardly get away from it from October-December. Here's an easy and healthy
recipe what will put all that hype to shame, giving you a very satisfying and healthy muffin that's easy to make and almost guilt free! 

I discovered this recipe at Amy's Healthy Baking. The version reflected below incorporates an increased amount of Liquid Stevia recommended by Amy if you'd like a sweater muffin. Even with the increased amount, the muffins are not overly sweet making them great for breakfast, a snack, or pre-run fueling. My version also includes chocolate chips and walnuts. You can leave them out if desired. 

Healthy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins 

Yields: 12 muffins

They’ll keep for at least one week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Filling Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp. (90g) plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 6 tbsp. (84g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp liquid stevia
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients for Muffins:

  • 2 cups (240g) white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 1 tbsp. (8g) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp. (14g) unsalted butter melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp liquid stevia
  • ¼ cup (60g) plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup (244g) pumpkin purée, room temperature (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • ½ cup (120mL) nonfat milk
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup walnut pieces


Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.

To prepare the filling, beat the Greek yogurt and cream cheese with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Add in the liquid stevia and vanilla. Beat until fully incorporated. Transfer to a zip-topped plastic bag.

To prepare the muffin batter, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, egg whites, vanilla, and liquid stevia. Stir in the Greek yogurt, mixing until no large lumps remain. Stir in the pumpkin purée. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and stirring just until incorporated. (For best results, add the flour mixture in 3 equal parts.) Finally fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups. Cut the corner off of the zip-topped bag with the filling, and pipe the filling into the center of each muffin cup’s batter. (It’s okay if the filling sticks up over the top of the batter. The batter will rise around its sides as it bakes.)

Bake at 350°F for 20-23 minutes or until the pumpkin parts of the tops feels firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the pumpkin part comes out clean. Cool in the muffin cups for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Storage Tip: Cool the muffins completely, place a sheet of waxed paper inside  a 1-gallon size plastic zippered baggie. Place the muffins in the bag onto of the waxed paper, zip up the bag and place them in the refrigerator.  I've found that heating a muffin for 15-20 secs in the microwave is perfect! (May very base on the microwave and personal preference.)