He had barely finished the San Diego Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in June and struggled through some of his regular 8-mile training runs. He had episodes of slurring. His balance was a little off. And he started getting what he thought were little seizures, with the taste of metal in his mouth and what felt like jolts of electricity zinging up and down his spine.
Then one July morning, the 43-year-old construction worker became violently ill. His wife of 20 years, Laura, initially chalked his ailments up to working in the summer heat or the fact he wasn’t taking his blood pressure medication. But she couldn’t shake a strong feeling that he needed to get to the doctor immediately.
He got in to see the nurse practitioner, who told him he was exhibiting pre-stroke symptoms. Either he going to the hospital that minute, she said, or she was calling an ambulance to take him.
That was July 9.
And nothing has been the same since.
Alfred was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, known as an anaplastic astrocytoma, affecting his left temporal lobe. His radiation oncologist was frank: Survival rates were slim with this type of aggressive cancer, with life expectancy spanning about three years.
But the couple has deep faith and felt reassured by their unshakeable confidence in neurosurgeon, Dr. Abhay Sanan, who removed as much of the tumor as he could at Tucson Medical Center a week after his diagnosis.
Since the tumor had woven itself into the brain in ways that made it difficult to remove surgically, Alfred was assigned a regimen of radiation, followed up by a year of oral chemotherapy.
That wasn’t going to stop him from completing his running goals. As a former Marine, Alfred thought he’d had his fill of running, but in 2011, his doctor got after him about getting in shape and losing weight. He started lacing up his running shoes again and participating in races.
In fact, before he was diagnosed, he had already signed up for a half marathon in Las Vegas. “I said, ‘Let’s make this our goal. Let’s keep it in our thoughts that we are going to complete this,’” Laura recounted.
Alfred agreed. “I just want to help other cancer patients, to show them that they can get through it.” It’s not about competing with other racers, he said, but about setting a goal and finishing it. “I’m running for me. For life,” he said.
And, for Alfred, whose ever-present smile was even on display in the recovery room after surgery, and who loves races in large part because of the friendly chats with other racers, it’s also about friendship.
On Labor Day, despite the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, he ran a 5K, following up with another 5K in October. In November, he completed his goal of going to Las Vegas to earn a triple crown in the Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series.
In December, the couple received the best gift they could imagine. The tumor had responded so well to the treatment, that the MRI came back clear, with no evidence of an enhancing tumor. He’s tested every eight weeks to make sure it doesn’t reappear.
The anticipation of waiting for results is difficult. And Alfred is still working through some challenges. He sometimes substitutes words for the ones he is looking for. His memory can be a little fuzzy and his balance is still unsteady. “We keep each other going because we’re in this together,” Laura said. “Never once has he asked why this happened to him. Never once has he had a bad attitude. Even on his bad days, he still smiles.”
Earlier this month, he earned his first medal for finishing the three races in the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown, after completing the May 31 TMC Meet Me Downtown 5k and the TMC Saguaro National Park Labor Day 5k in September – the same one he did last year in the middle of treatment. The final leg of that trilogy was Sunday, Oct. 19, at the TMC Get Moving Tucson event. He crossed the finish line at just under 40 minutes for his 5K bid.
The two are convinced that Alfred’s running, and his work with a nutritionist, helped strengthen his body for the arduous work of healing. And aside from feeling like God has carried them, they’ve had support of friends, family and even strangers. Said Laura: “We feel that we’ve been blessed through this.”
The Arizona Daily Star followed Alfred’s race journey this weekend. Read it here: http://tucson.com/news/local/tucson-man-checks-off-milestones-after-devastating-diagnosis/article_0f67161d-5c53-5b72-8842-4c9496807d68.html