Published on October 25, 2017
I was on the phone with a friend during my last infusion when I mentioned the name of Mike Levine. I’d seen his photo the day before in a magazine while in flight back home. Medical personnel in the room with me looked up and said, “He’s treated here.” His name is obviously well-known at this San Diego area cancer center, and why not?
On October 14th, Mike entered the grueling IRONMAN triathlon despite having stage IV pancreatic cancer.
Mike’s is a story about coming back from the darkest of dark days. To be sure, at Patient Power we believe everyone fighting cancer is engaged in a heroic battle. We also believe we each have to make a personal decision about when we’ve reached our limits, and when enough is enough. But we’d like to share Mike’s story to offer some inspiration and perhaps help someone—patient or caregiver—to convert hopelessness to hope. Because exactly one year before Mike dove into the ocean off Kona, Hawaii, at dawn on October 14th, he couldn’t even walk down the hill to watch what he thought would be his last IRONMAN.
IRONMAN is a grueling triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile marathon—all raced in that order—without a break under the burning Hawaiian sun. Mike had entered the event in 1982 and 1983. He remained an exercise aficionado until two years ago when he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and was told he had a very short time to live. As Mike tells it, he felt “resigned to eventual doom.”
Then three things happened.
Medication: His doctor prescribed a relatively new combination of innovative medications to treat pancreatic cancer, a disease that used to defy treatment. (If you are curious, gemcitabine [Gemzar] + nab-paclitaxel [Abraxane])
Inspiration: He reconnected with an old friend, 1982 IRONMAN World Champion Kathleen McCartney, who insisted Mike get up off the couch and come for a bike ride with her.
Perspiration: Mike liked that old feeling of being active, and Kathleen encouraged him to push on and on and on.
Mike went from being “resigned to doom” to facing the physical challenge of a lifetime.
In the end, Mike did not complete this year’s IRONMAN event. But he went farther than many people expected, and he’s right to be proud that he tried.
At Patient Power, we’re not suggesting everyone can or should become an IRONMAN. But as our friend Don Wright, the “running man of myeloma” says, “Do whatever you can: take a walk, go up a flight of stairs, have sex.” Don completed 100 marathons during the 13 years he was being treated for multiple myeloma. And Esther would insist that I mention my own 21 years with cancer during which we created and continue to run Patient Power and where we jog together often.
Perhaps this will encourage some of you not give up too soon. More importantly, perhaps, this will educate our friends and family, co-workers and employers, that a diagnosis alone is not the end of the road.
At Patient Power, we speak often about the value of medical innovation. Let’s add to that the value of personal inspiration. Mike’s story inspires me, and we hope to meet Mike and Kathleen very soon.
Wishing you and your family the best of health,
Co-Founder, Patient Power
Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.
Your site is AWESOME! Thank you all so much for this incredible resource to families who are in crisis/affected by cancer.