- Tim Switzer
- Regina Post Leader (www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost)
“Live strong” is more than just a yellow bracelet on Dale Bloom’s wrist. It’s how the Regina man has been forced to approach his life for the last three years.
Bloom was diagnosed with advanced stage oral cancer on Jan. 10, 2005. On Oct. 7 of this year, he finished the Chicago Marathon.
“It’s like night and day,” said Bloom, 46. “I never gave up any hope. Even though the odds weren’t that great — I was told it was a one-in-three shot — it never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the one.”
As he stood among 44,999 other runners in the starting area of the marathon, Bloom’s mind couldn’t help but wander to the previous 21/2 years.
“There were a lot of people that helped me get to that point,” Bloom said, fighting back tears. “It was crazy, but that’s who I thought about. I thought about my co-workers, who set up a dance card to each take an hour out of their schedules to come and sit with me at chemotherapy just to take my mind off things. I thought about my son’s friends parents, who got together and all organized days of cooking where they brought us food each and every day. My sisters were there from beginning to end. In 2005, I lost my mother and in 2006, I lost my father so I thought about them a lot.
“And then I thought about my wife and kids, who were the reason why I wanted to get through this.”
There were times in those first few months when it looked like running would never be an option again. By April 2005, Bloom had lost 45 pounds and was bedridden. He only got up to go to the Allan Blair Cancer Centre for radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The effect of the treatments left him unable to speak or create saliva, forcing him to use a feeding tube. He eventually underwent four surgeries to remove the muscles on the left side of his neck.
But it was during those low times that Bloom decided what he wanted most.
“We would communicate in writing and one of his goals very early on was he wanted to be able to run again,” said Bloom’s wife, Dawn. “That meant normalcy to him. I remember the day he told me all he wanted to do was run around the lake.
“I thought, ‘OK, were going to set that as a goal.’ But privately I just wanted him to live. I knew running was his passion and it would make him happy if he could run just a little bit.”
But with two radiation treatments per day, Bloom’s health started to improve. By June 30, he made his trek around Wascana Lake.
“There’s no doubt in any of our minds or from his cancer team that the key reason he is still alive is because when he couldn’t fight anymore, his body was so strong from being in shape before, that it started fighting again,” said Dawn. “That’s why it’s important for him to keep running because if that cancer comes back, he knows his body can fight for him again.”
As the months wore on, Bloom steadily improved. In September 2005, he was back at work at Crown Investments Corporation, where he is a corporate secretary, and was into a regular running routine the following spring.
The normalcy Bloom craved was evident this year in Chicago. When he woke up the morning of the race, the temperature outside was already 27 C with 100-per-cent humidity. Midway through the race, the temperature had risen to 33 C and people started dropping out of the race left and right.
“All you heard were sirens, constant sirens,” recalled Bloom. “There were gurneys and stretchers and people getting taken to hospitals. The emergency rooms in Chicago got so full that they applied the pressure to stop the race.”
At the 35-kilometre mark, runners were told to stop and that buses would be coming to pick them up.
Bloom soon realized no buses were imminent and picked up the pace. That continued until the 40-kilometre mark, where race officials stood in his way and wouldn’t let him finish unless he started walking.
Once you stopped running you realized, ‘Geez, it’s really hot!’ ” Bloom said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Dawn and two of the couple’s three children, son Connor and daughter Morgan (their other daughter, Katie, couldn’t make the trip), were waiting at the finish line, wondering what was taking Dale so long. No one had informed them that marathoners were being asked to stop running.
That didn’t make the moment Bloom crossed the finish line any less emotional.
“It was so overwhelming for him to finish because it was like we could start living our new normal life again after that day,” said Dawn. “It was very, very different from all the other marathons and our family knew it. Everyday is different than it was a couple years ago, but that moment was like a new beginning.”
They understood that even more when touring Chicago a week later. While trying to get into Wrigley Field to take some photos, Dale and Connor ran into a man outside the stadium, who noticed the scars on Dale’s neck. As it turned out, that man, Joe, had gone through the same thing in 1998. He also made sure the family got the photos they wanted.
After that, the Blooms sat and talked with Joe about what each had been through.
“We had never met anyone who has survived this cancer for more than five years,” said Dawn. “I said something about that and Joe said, ‘Now you have.’ ”
Bloom is still going to regular checkups, but there hasn’t been any sign of cancer since his surgeries. And he’s shooting for either the New York or Chicago marathon in 2008.
“Things are good again,” said Dale.