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It was one-eleventh of a mile around the nurses’ station. Within the first week he was hospitalized at IU Health University Hospital Greg Tamer completed 15 miles.
What may seem like a simple accomplishment for a guy who once ran the 500 Festival Mini Marathon (13.1 miles) in 95 minutes, the nurses’ station “race” was perhaps Tamer’s best time on record.
In October of 2015, Tamer was training for his 31st running of the Indianapolis mini marathon when he began to have trouble breathing. Halfway into his three-mile run he knew something was wrong.
“Because of my running, I know what my body can do,” said Tamer. “The healthier you are, the more you can recognize when something isn’t right.”
Initial tests showed he was anemic. What they didn’t show immediately is that his anemia was a result of cancer. Tamer was referred to Dr. Hillary Wu, a hematologist at IU Health who told him the diagnosis: Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer that accumulates in the bone marrow. It was the same disease that claimed the life of Tamer’s father 55 years ago.
A New Kind of Race Begins
“Hearing that was a death sentence. I made it to the exam table and passed out,” said Tamer. But that was only the first mile for Tamer. Every mile thereafter became a sprint.
“Dr. Wu said to take the word ‘cancer’ out of the diagnosis and look at it as a disease that can be treated. They gave us hope,” said Tamer’s wife, Jan. From the starting line, Wu helped calm the couple’s greatest fears.
A year ago, Tamer met with IU Health hematologist and oncologist Sherif Farag and Dr. Wu to plan his course of treatment – a tandem bone marrow transplant. The process involved collecting Tamers healthy bone marrow stem cells, administering high-dose chemotherapy and then giving him back the healthy bone marrow.
It was after the first course of chemo followed by the stem cell transplant that Tamer was making laps around the nurses’ station.
“Some people didn’t even come out of their rooms and here he was walking laps,” said his wife.
It’s hard to keep a good man down
For two weeks, Tamer spent time in the hospital asking nurses how he could get out. The couple postponed a trip to Maui but created their own paradise in their hospital room. An inflatable couch was “shaded” by a plastic palm tree from a party store. Tamer, who is a program manager for 3M Company, continued to work from his bedside even when his supervisor told him to relax and get well.
“Greg has done very well. He has been very positive and extremely motivated to get treatment and to recover well,” said Dr. Wu. “I am sure that his previous workout routine placed him in good physical condition at the time of diagnosis.”
Tamer just couldn’t sit still. “I walked, I played my guitar, I walked and I waked some more,” he said. In the back of his mind was his dad and the fact that Tamer was six when his father died. He also knew that another mini marathon was on the horizon and he was determined to be at the starting line.
Christmas in May
Tamer’s son-in-law once said, “It’s like Christmas when it’s the mini marathon.” He was describing the anticipation and the excitement that binds the Tamer family.
It was 1975 when Greg met Jan at the University of Dayton. He rode his 10-speed bike to school and made a special effort to catch up with Jan as she walked across campus lugging a thick organic chemistry book to class. The day before his 21st birthday, July 31, he finally got the courage to make an introduction. They talked for seven hours. A year later they were married and had four kids in six years.
Their kids, their spouses and even their children who call their grandfather, “Giddee,” enjoy a hobby near and dear to Tamer’s heart – running.
It was in 2006, when their youngest child, Daniel “DJ” collapsed during a run in a park near their Fishers home. The night before, he had played ultimate Frisbee and appeared the picture of health. When he didn’t return home from his run, Jan went searching. Police in the park met her, and her first thought was her son had broken his leg. It was worse. He died of a viral infection that had settled in his heart.
There were no symptoms. It was another cause for anxiety, like the death of Tamer’s father. “There is no genetic test, they don’t even know if it’s
hereditary,” said Tamer of the multiple myeloma that took his father’s life. “What we learned from DJ is that no matter what the situation, you need to get busy living – that may not mean one day at a time it might mean one hour, one step at a time.”
As he prepares to enter this year’s race, Tamer says the hardest thing for him will be patience. “In the past I wanted to cross the finish line as early as possible. Now I’m going at a moderate pace and I’m going it alone,” he said. “I know my body and I don’t want to hold anyone back and I don’t want anyone trying to slow me down. I can do this. I can finish the race.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.