The Back Page with Bruce Steinberg
Just over ten years ago, I wrote a column for Silent Sports titled “Running Through Cancer,” about Greg Stock, husband of my good friend and fellow Fox River Trail runner, Jennifer Waaler-Stock. Greg had then recently completed (or so he thought) his battle with thyroid cancer, all the while determined to keep on running during treatment when his seven-minute-mile training runs slowed to 10- to 11-minute miles, or slower. As the end of that column described, fellow runner Sandra Byrd recalled seeing Greg, then 46, return during an out-and-back half-marathon on the Great Western Trail, and said of him, post-surgeries, as running like the proverbial bat out of hell, completing the race in an hour and thirty-one minutes.
I decided to find out what has happened to Greg since then.
Greg had been a professor in the Northern Illinois University School of Business. In May, 2008, he and Jennifer moved to Colorado Springs, Col., when a business professorship position opened at the UC-Colorado Springs. He recalls his treatment procedures beginning in 2004: the four surgeries removing thyroid tissue, the post-surgery body scans in which he’d have to ingest radioactive iodine (which detected any remaining thyroid tissue); the long periods during which he could no longer take his thyroid replacement medications; the resulting extended and intense feelings of sluggishness; and the joy of completing successful treatment, running well, living well, but with the nagging understanding that, to be sure, he’d have to be checked again and again…
While settling into his new life with Jennifer in Colorado, Greg had to suddenly cope with the fact that his new doctor found a small something during an ultrasound scan, something that could very well be a diseased lymph node. A biopsy showed a cancer marker, probably diseased. Given the small size of the node, Greg took some time to go to other doctors for more opinions on what the best approach would be.
“It was so very small,” Greg said, “but the testing procedures over the years since my first diagnosis have gotten so sensitive, so even the smallest traces could be found.”
Yes, the new cancerous node could, and would, very well progress, but there was time before surgery would be necessary. In fact, on August 16, 2009, Greg completed the Pike’s Peak full marathon in 6 hours, 32 minutes, at age 49, with a sub-four-hour assent time – that’s running an uphill half-marathon from 6,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level – and underwent his fifth thyroid cancer surgery a week later.
These days, Greg’s doctors believe there is no thyroid cancer tissue left. Still, he was checked out one time per year for four years, now once every two years, to be reduced eventually to once every three years. Although his doctors are convinced the thyroid cancer is gone, Greg’s cancer screens, as infrequent as they may be, will still continue.
So will Greg’s running and his healthy life.
He and Jennifer have been married 14 years now, and both are dedicated runners. He’s feeling fine, running 40 miles per week on average and, at age 56, completed the Colorado Springs Marathon in September, 2016, in 3 hours, 34 minutes, and The Slacker Half Marathon in June, 2016, in 1 hour, 36 minutes. “Okay,” Greg admits, “the Slacker is a downhill race, from 10,800 feet above sea level to 8,800 feet, hence its name, ‘Slacker.’”
Greg’s philosophy after his cancer fight, the five surgeries, is “to try to maintain physical fitness as a huge part of my life. I can’t control many things, but this a person can control even during cancer treatment, which helped me handle the treatments better. I’m first to recognize that other forms of cancer can involve a bigger, more dangerous fight. But at least for myself, and maybe others, running through cancer helped me with my fight.”