Commentary

Jeff Goad: 'I've got way too much living to do'

Originally Published: April 14, 2017
By Jeff Goad | Special to ESPN.com

Courtesy of Jeff GoadJeff Goad lived out his childhood dream by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro last year.

Jeff Goad is one of many inspiring stories at this year's Boston Marathon. He shared his journey with ESPN.com, as told to reporter Aishwarya Kumar.

During a softball game about seven years ago, I headed to my real estate league 16 softball game. While I was up to bat, swung pretty hard at a ball and I felt like I pulled a muscle in my back.

I came back home and I gingerly walked through the front door. In the middle of that night, I got up to go to the bathroom and I fell to my knees. My legs just gave out from underneath me.

I didn't know what was going on. My wife, Ramona, and I have been married for 17 years. We have had an extremely active life -- outdoor trips, backpacking, camping and hiking. We rejuvenate our souls by getting out into the wilderness. And I had always gone for my annual checkups, and every year was the same thing from the doctor: "Everything's perfect. See you next year." I had that conversation the previous September prior to my April injury.

But after four weeks of tests and X-rays, exactly one week before my 50th birthday, I get my official diagnosis: I have multiple myeloma, a rare, incurable form of bone marrow cancer. Less than 1 percent of all cancers are myeloma.

It was traumatic and incredible to hear the diagnosis. Wait a minute; this happens to smokers and people who don't take care of themselves, I thought. But of all the cancer I could get, I got a cancer I could manage and reach an agreement with.

I will never forget what Jayesh Mehta, the husband of my doctor, Seema Singhal, jokingly said to me before my first stem cell transplant: "We are going to kill you a little bit and then bring you back." I said, "That sounds intriguing, let's do it."

Your immune system dies and then gradually regenerates to a minimal level in approximately two weeks after the transplant. On the seventh day, I remember the nurse came in, looked at the chart -- it was at 0.1 -- and wrote down "TLC." I was thinking "Tender Loving Care; huh, that's an interesting thing to write." And then she said, "No, hon, that means Too Low to Count." My immune system was at zero. That was an eye-opener.

A week later, I came back for my follow-up. Dr. Singhal asked how I was doing, and Ramona said, "Well, we did a one-mile walk yesterday." She looked at me incredulously and said, "What? People say things like 'I did my laundry' and that is an accomplishment, and here you are walking a mile."

It was after my second stem cell transplant in March 2011 -- I was bald, lost 20 pounds and my appetite by that point -- that I had an idea.

I think I'd like to try and run the Chicago Marathon again.

I had finished 11 marathons before the diagnosis, my first being, yes, the Chicago Marathon, in 1987. There were a whopping 7,800 people at the starting line. And here I was, 25 years later, in a crowd of 45,000. To just be standing there was so unique because I get to relive that first marathon all over again. I took 5 hours, 55 minutes -- twice as long as normal. Crossing the finish line was extremely emotional; I never imagined a year before when I was lying in a hospital room that I was going to get to run again, let alone finish a marathon.

Courtesy of Jeff GoadJeff Goad on his life with wife Ramona: "We have had an extremely active life -- outdoor trips, backpacking, camping and hiking. We rejuvenate our souls by getting out into the wilderness.'

I ran that marathon, and every marathon I've done since -- two Chicago Marathons, one New York Marathon and one Big Surf Half Marathon -- for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). I also get out there to raise money for research, raise awareness and inspire others that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence unless you make it one. With all the events we've done for MMRF with my brothers and wife, we've raised $140,000 and counting the past seven years. When I first got diagnosed, there were three drugs; there are now 10. MMRF has been a beacon of hope -- so the activities that we do, the money we raise, it's personal.

One of the most gratifying things I've done since my own diagnosis is mentoring new cancer patients. I didn't have anybody to talk to when I was diagnosed, and I feel like I get to be a guide to new patients and give them realistic advice, helpful hints and hope.

I also didn't let my diagnosis get in the way of another goal. Back when I was in fourth grade, we were asked to write a book report about a place we wanted to travel to. I had a fresh new set of encyclopedias at home, and there were these beautiful pictures of the Serengeti in Africa and Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was mesmerized by it, and I wrote about Mt. Kilimanjaro. Forty-six years later, my dream came true. We climbed Kilimanjaro in January 2016. Just the thought of going to Africa, to Tanzania, and seeing, smelling and touching all these things I had dreamed of as a little kid, was incredible. And our team raised $250,000 for myeloma research and got to climb the mountain with a team of 17, including four myeloma survivors.

Now, my focus turns to the Boston Marathon. It has always been the pinnacle of races because of its rich history and heritage. It's not just a race; it is a whole weekend of celebration. To see it from that street level is going to be a special experience. I am excited to experience it with my wife and two of my brothers, David and Brad (we raised $33,000 as of now for Boston).

I knew last October that I would get to run Boston. A few weeks later, I found out I had a relapse as my numbers were off again. I had to go on a high dose of chemo and steroids. I tell people I'm doing "cross-chemo training," because regular training is too easy! It is the hardest training I've had to do for any race. My local training team, the Fleet Feet Boston 365, has been instrumental in physical and mental prep for this race.

Bottom line: I've got way too much living to do. I am only 56 years old. I have so much left to do. I have this terrible thing happen to me, but who is the boss? I am.

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