On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the world stopped and watched in open-mouthed horror at the images shown on TV. For Montana residents Rob and Sassy Giles, that day will be etched in their minds forever, as despite being nowhere near the east coast, that was the day Rob was diagnosed with Squamish Cell Carcinoma on his tonsils. He had cancer.

Advised immediately to find a doctor that specialized in this field, they happily stumbled across Dr. Jeffrey Haller MD, an otolaryngologist who had been working precisely in the field for the past ten years that Rob needed help with. What made everything click that little bit more easily was that he had recently moved from Salt Lake City to Missoula, Montana – practically on the doorstep of Rob and Sassy. The surgery was done at St. Pat’s hospital – a procedure that took 14 hours.

The operation went well and Rob spent the following 4 days heavily sedated in order to recuperate. Another 6 days passed before the decision was reached that he was well enough to go home. The medical team advised him that they wanted to keep him there until he could swallow.

Their remarkable cheerfulness they attribute to their unwavering faith. Even while Rob was having therapy in Arizona, Sassy flew home to have her own fight against melanoma cancer removed from her leg. This impossibly strong couple fighting hard against obstacles put in their way knowing that He was with them the whole time.

Although he was now in familiar surroundings, he noticed that his ability to swallow was diminishing. It turned out that his treatment of chemotherapy and the radiation had destroyed his epiglottis. Sadly, tumors continued to grow in Rob’s mouth, so he was unable to open his mouth. Halfway through his treatment, spots were found on Rob’s lungs. Since then, Rob has now been fed entirely by way of a tube fitted to his stomach.

Reflecting on his nutrition, his wife Sassy explained, “I make all of his food.  Rob eats very healthy food.  I am a fitness instructor as well as a figure competitor and Rob uses the same food as me. So for example for his breakfast he will put in the blender – yes all together- oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, kale, bananas, strawberries, quinoa.  Puree the whole batch and seal-a-meal it to freeze.  So I made 11 seal-a-meal bags for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Dinner will be fish, beef, chicken or salmon, lots of veggies (broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.), brown rice or quinoa and fruit.  I add avocado or hummus too!  He doesn’t eat sugar at all, no reason too, can’t taste any of the food since it goes directly to the stomach. We put it all in the cooler, frozen and he just thaws them out under hot water and uses a syringe to push the food into his stomach.  Interesting way to eat huh!?”

The treatment hit Rob so hard that he was, for all intents and purposes out of commission in regards to work. This didn’t, however, ever stop him from going to church, even if it meant leaning on a friend or family member so that he could attend. His remarkable humor was evident throughout, especially when he would refer to the outpatient clinic as, “The Recliner Club”. Despite being understandably frustrated, he would never complain to the nurses and would crack jokes and always maintained his jovial sense of humor.

To this day, Rob hasn’t swallowed for seven and a half years and continues to fight battles on all fronts. Anemia, Shingles, foot and hand damage from the treatment he went through have all made life difficult for Rob, but throughout it all, he’s driven on, fought back and continued to smile the entire time. In March of 2007, Rob and Sassy visited Israel where they were baptized in the Jordan river and even renewed their wedding vows in Cana.

It was around November of 2008 when Rob noticed that he wasn’t getting enough air to breathe. He was concerned another tumor was growing. After being rushed to the hospital, a doctor saw that scar tissue had been growing and was effectively closing his windpipe. The treatment for this was to fit a tract tube. Yet another blow to the man already fighting immeasurably high odds.

While what he gained with the tract made breathing easier, his sodium and iron levels in his blood left him feeling weak. After 4 transfusions with iron and salt put into his system he was right back on track. Not long after this, he was presented with a new mountain bike on Father’s Day. Although understandably hesitant given what his body had gone through, he sat on the bike and went for it. His iron counts were good and after a while, finding he had gained 25 lbs. and was feeling a little stronger, his rides now measure between 20-30 miles at a time.

“Suffering comes. It’s bound to happen”, says Sassy, “but it’s how we respond to it that makes all the difference in the world. Rob chooses to remain faithful to God, committing himself to his faithful creator and continuing to do good with as many days as he has.”

Rob’s strength and will of steel will be tested this weekend when he tackles the Montana Sprint. Never one to shy away from something put in his way, he’s ready for a fight. Sassy smiles when she hears people shrug off a Spartan Race as, too difficult. Having already brawled with whatever demon that came across his path, he’s rolling up his sleeves and clenching his fists for another round. He’s already learned what it is to persevere, as Sassy knows.

“He did say to me that the one thing he would like to see from this, is that when people hear the most horrible words you could ever hear, which is “You have cancer”. Rob wants them to know there is always hope, but you have to fight for it and you have to believe.  His motto during his treatment was, “I just have to beat it by one breath and I win! And he did win!”

See you at the finish line…

Tags: , ,

On July 14th in Pennsylvania, a guy crossed the finish line of the Palmerton Spartan Sprint in an impressive time of 1 hour and 24 minutes. That time placed him 273rd overall. A quick time indeed given *those* hills and the small detail of the fact that in In Sept of 2001, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and given 6-8 years to live.

Jim Mullane explains, “After 12 months of intensive chemotherapy, I briefly reached full remission only to relapse a short time later. After 4 additional years and 4 different types of treatments I finally reached a sustainable remission and enjoyed living cancer-free for 5 full years. During this time my wife Lori and I expanded our family and added our two beautiful daughters: Amelia and Addyson. In early 2011 I relapsed and reentered treatment, a maintenance therapy which I have been on until recently.”

It was around this time that he decided to make some big changes in his life to get his body and spirit in the best shape possible to assist in the battle of his life. “This fight was no longer about just me; it was also about my wife and our beautiful girls. From a nutritional standpoint, I focused heavily on clean eating and added tons of veggies, fruits and lean proteins to my diet. I also gave up alcohol and caffeine, sticking primarily to water and decaf green tea at night.”

“From a fitness perspective, I teamed up with Rob Reddick and we enlisted the support of Jason Moss and his group, N-Motion Fitness. The purpose of this group is to motivate, inspire, and drive people to take control of their lives in a healthy way. A lot of the group members are Spartan Elite: Jason Moss, Heather Powell, Tina Landis, Justin Worthington, Jon Nicholson, Joey Parente, Harry Turner,Dave Leggitt, Brandon Seale and Keith Genko to name a few. The Group also consists of Several VPX Team Extreme members: Dan Krueger, Gretchen Krueger, John Sales and David Homa. With their motivation and support, I put the July PA Spartan Sprint on my race calendar and began the training process. We would get together every Wednesday morning and run the mountains of Valley Forge. Jason and his fellow trainers also put together N-Motion Fitness Camps which are designed to prepare participants for the challenges of OCR.”

“While preparing for my 1st Spartan Race, I was going through treatment for my NHL. All scans were reporting the disease as stable. The Thursday before the PA Sprint I was scheduled for a routine treatment and check-up. Upon examination, my doctor found there were notable lymph nodes in both my neck and groin and they elected to cancel treatment and scheduled me for an emergency PET scan on Friday. The scan was scheduled for 4pm so my pre-race fueling involved an 18 Hour fast! The scan results while showing cancer progression, thankfully also showed slow growth involvement.”

Working on around 2 hours’ sleep for the race and showing support for all his team members that all finished in the top 50, Jim lined up in the 10.45am heat and laid waste to the course. Those that remember the course will agree that it was arguable the hardest Sprint to date. The relentless incline taking no prisoners. But he powered through and placed 39th in his age group after keeping an average pace of 16.36.

“The feeling when crossing that finish line was amazing. It felt great to conquer the mountain and share the experience with some amazingly motivational people. There are parallels between my cancer battle and a Spartan Race… Both are mentally and physically challenging and require an enormous amount of courage and strength and perseverance to overcome.”

Following on from that remarkable weekend and breaking the seal on his Spartan Race journey, he explains where he is now with his treatment.

“My follow-up Biopsy showed that the Non-Hodgkins had spread and I just started a 5 month cycle of Chemo on 8/19. My thanks to the Spartan Family for providing me with the fitness tools clean eating suggestions and overall Motivation to Fight This Fight!!! AROO!!!”

Jim’s positivity is plain to see, his attitude towards everything in his way highlighted perfectly when asked where he draw his mental toughness from. “That is tough to define. There are so many negative emotions to battle with a cancer diagnosis that it’s easy for people, myself included at times, to spiral into a state of depression. I try to surround myself with motivational and positive influences. I feed off of their emotions when I’m out of sorts. By nature I’m a glass half full person, so I inherently try to find the positive in all situations and focus on that. I also understand that this fight I’m battling is no longer just about me; it’s about fighting for Lori, Amelia and Addyson and for them I WILL NOT and CANNOT quit fighting.”

But Jim is quick to make sure that his message of hope is the last thing he shares. We he agrees that any Spartan Race is tough, there is a greater message at stake than just dragging a few rocks and crawling through mud. “These races are designed to test every aspect of your being. Rest assured though, the feeling of crossing that finish line is life changing. For me the Spartan Experience is much more than the race itself; it’s about a living a healthier lifestyle and providing a strong and positive influence to my family and friends.”

No matter what the fight is, he offers a few final words of encouragement and hope. “No matter how tough things may be or how difficult the challenges are NEVER give up. Dig deep within yourself and find that one thing worth fighting for and focus on that during the tough times… Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage and support you through whatever is thrown your way but more importantly, pay it forward. I draw a lot of personal strength from talking to and helping others who are going through what I’ve been dealing with.”

Jim knows what it means to, “know at the finish line.”  Do you?

Tags: , , ,

by Carrie Adams

Jim Goeke-Morey was given news that most would consider a death sentence.  In 2009, he was told he had cancer and the tumor that couldn’t completely be removed surgically was going to force him to undergo a series of additional treatments with uncertain results. Not one to take the news lying down, Jim, with his wife Marcie by his side, decided to fight the cancer and he still fights today.  With a new approach to health and a quest for bigger and badder challenges, Goeke-Morey is marking the three year battle with a Spartan Race in Leesburg, VA.  And while he isn’t cured, he’s stable and optimistic about his future.  Here is his story….

The Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan race is coming up this weekend. I am entering this race because it looks like an awesomely fun challenge. More importantly, this race is a gift to my family and me. It will continue to prove that I am not just a brain cancer fighter, but also a brain cancer warrior.

In August 2009, at 39 years old, an MRI revealed that I had a brain tumor that needed to be removed. Following the surgery the news got worse: the tumor was brain cancer. I sat speechless with my wife, Marcie, in the doctor’s office. The surgeon was not able to remove the entire tumor, which meant I would need radiation and chemotherapy. The prognosis was grim. After a few days of shock and soul searching, we gained clarity. We would fight this cancer with a vengeance!

I knew that I needed to be in better physical shape to fight through the radiation and chemo. I was not horribly out of shape, but I was overweight and exercised infrequently. That had to change. As soon as the neurosurgeon gave me the official clearance, I began to exercise slowly. Ironically, I had ruptured my Achilles tendon a week before the brain tumor discovery. I may be the only person to have had Achilles surgery and brain surgery in the space of a week. The Achilles rehab actually became a focus that took my mind off my brain cancer.

Throughout, my incredible wife and wonderful daughters gave me the support and space and patience I needed. I continued working out through the three months of daily radiation and chemotherapy.

As the calendar moved to the summer of 2010, still taking monthly chemotherapy, I was back on my bike again and doing laps in the pool. We decided to mark the first anniversary in a meaningful way. So, my wife and I teamed up to complete a half-iron triathlon. I swam and biked while she did the half-marathon. (Her first!).  It was powerful to have come so far in a year and to have done it together.

I continued exercising and added a new sport in 2011: I raced in several cyclocross races. Despite finishing close to the back in the race, I had a ball in the mud and the cold!

Now this year, I am feeling even stronger and in better shape. I have completed two years of chemotherapy–the maximum the doctors will allow. I still have cancer, but the tumor is stable. This Spartan Race is a fitting way to mark the third anniversary of my battle against brain cancer. I have been a fighter from the start, but now it’s time to be a warrior.  My wife will be right beside me in this race with our girls cheering us before they do their own Spartan Kids Race.

So you may see me on Sunday at the race. I will not be near the front of the race but I will be fighting through until the end. Aroo!

Jim Goeke-Morey
Cheverly, MD

Want to join Jim and his family in Virginia?  There is still time to register! Get signed up HERE.

Tags: , ,