Run for your life
In February of 2011, Iram Leon qualified for the Boston Marathon by running the Livestrong Marathon in less than 3 hours, 10 minutes. His time puts him in a fairly elite class of distance runners – a rather remarkable achievement. Considering that the race was about one month after he was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and only a few weeks before he underwent brain surgery changes his achievement from remarkable to the superlativest of superlatives.
A little backstory is in order…Leon was living a fairly standard life for a 30-year old Austinite. He had steady job, great marriage, active lifestyle and a young daughter for added daily inspiration.
Then, on November 5th, 2010, while at lunch with co-workers, Leon had a seizure. The CAT scan showed something, so an MRI was ordered. The MRI showed more and it was enough for doctors to admit him to the hospital. Fast forward through a couple of weeks, which included a biopsy, and the diagnosis was in. Leon hit the lottery – Grade II Diffuse Astrocytoma…that’s medical-speak for 3 in 1,000,000. His initial reaction to the diagnosis was to tell the neurologist to “rub some dirt on it” because he had things to do.
Over the next month Leon sought out as many opinions as possible from family, friends and doctors. Eventually he settled on the choice to have surgery to remove the tumor. The surgery was performed by renowned neurogurgeon, Dr. Henry Friedman.
Speaking of things to do, it was only 11 days before brain surgery that Leon competed in and finished the 2011 Livestrong Marathon. Running has always held a special place for him, and after committing months to a training regimen, no tumor was going to prevent him from participation. And it turned out to be well worth the risk – a 3:08 finish, good enough to qualify for the king of all marathons, Boston.
Leon’s neurosurgeon initially recommended an immediate surgery. However, like most brain surgeries, Leon’s carried a risk of speech, language and physical deficits. With this in mind, Leon and his medical team recognized that there may not be another marathon in his future, so they scheduled the procedure for a few days after the race.
Surgery was considered a major success and post-op news was better than expected – 0% of cells were found to be actively cancerous. There were some minor deficits from surgery (memory and recall issues, right side nerve/signal weakness, minor scarring at the surgery site, etc.) but Leon had defied the odds again. The first time it was his rare diagnosis, this time it was that his diagnosis wasn’t going to be a death sentence.
As if the physical and financial side effects of brain surgery weren’t enough, Leon’s wife filed for divorce soon after the surgery. Rather than allowing himself to wallow in a cesspool of negative emotions, Leon willed all of these changes, emotional and physical, into what he has labeled “Life Part II”.
A piece of Life Part II was getting involved with Hawktober. Leon met one of our founders at a 5K that benefitted brain tumor patients and the two stayed in contact. Last Fall, as we launched our initial campaign in Austin, TX, Leon joined us at Floyd’s 99 Barbershops and got his mohawk.
Now, just days after finishing the 2012 edition of the Livestrong Marathon, Leon has notched a new achievement. At a race sponsored by a global organization that promotes cancer awareness, Leon finished in 1st place in the “Survivor Division” – his time, a “disappointing” 3:16.
About his finish, Leon said, “I got my second best time. And I’m proud of the time but last year when I put off the surgery, I ended up qualifying for Boston and I wanted to repeat that and break a 3 hour marathon.” Continuing, “Still, Boston’s coming up. I am grateful to be alive and glad to still be able to do this.”
Yes, that’s ridiculously incredible perspective coming from someone that survived massive brain surgery. Although Leon does not view his outlook as inspirational, others certainly do.
Leon will run with Team Livestrong on April 15 in Boston. When asked about his goals for the race, he said, “I put off brain surgery to try to qualify for the world’s best Marathon, so I want to leave it all out there.”
And that’s exactly the way he lives his life – mindful of the present and hopeful of the future. “I’m hoping to keep making the future better.” Perspective, indeed.
He beat tiny odds in getting his diagnosis. He’s still smashing post-surgery odds with each new achievement. What will happen in Boston? No one can be certain, but don’t bet against him.