Brain tumor doesn’t slow marathoner’s desire
BY MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporter September 6, 2013 7:56PM
Despite being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last year, Bob Oshefsky, 48, trains every day on Lakeshore Trail for October's Chicago Marathon. This will be his 15th marathon but, given his type of tumor, it could be his last. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2013 7:36PM
You might think that after 11 previous Chicago Marathons and three others elsewhere, this next one in Chicago in October would be nothing special for Bob Oshefsky.
But this one will mean more, Oshefsky said, because the upcoming Chicago Marathon will be his first since being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last year.
And given the poor prognosis patients usually have, there’s a chance it could be his last.
Yet it’s clear that Oshefsky, 48, of Lake View, doesn’t think that way.
“When I leave here, I personally don’t believe it’ll be brain cancer, because I’m not . . . going to change my risk profile on things that I would do. If I want to go ziplining, I’ll go ziplining. In all likelihood, I’ll probably get hit by a bus before this brain cancer can take me out,” he joked. “I’ve got a lot of life to live.”
On his list of goals is to finish the 26.2-mile Chicago Marathon within 3 hours 20 minutes, so he can qualify for the Boston Marathon, taking place in April 2014. The closest he has come so far is 3 hours 28 minutes.
Oshefsky was at his job last August when a nagging headache turned into the worst headache of his life, he said. His wife, Peggy Oshefsky, took him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, thinking he had had a stroke.
Instead, Bob Oshefsky was eventually diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, which occurs when a malignant tumor arises from the brain’s supportive tissue.
It is the most common brain tumor in adults and also has one of the worst prognoses.
More than 22,000 Americans were estimated to have been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in 2010. Patients usually survive less than 15 months following diagnosis, the National Cancer Institute said.
Oshefsky had to have his first tumor — “the size of a Twinkie” — removed in September 2012 in surgery at Northwestern. A second tumor was removed in July, this time the size of a blueberry.
Removing the tumors affected Oshefsky’s ability to multitask and his short-term memory. As a result, he has not been able to return to his job as operations director at GoPicnic in Chicago.
Oshefsky also hasn’t been able to train at the vigorous level he usually does to get ready for the marathon, because until this month, he was getting chemotherapy to keep from getting another tumor. So he’s just getting back to the level he was before the tumors were found.
But he still considers himself “one of the few, one of the fortunate, one of the lucky,” he said, because he’s seen people with brain tumors who are in wheelchairs, can’t talk or have limited movements.
“What do I do? I go run. . . . That’s when I can think, that’s my me-time, that’s when I bear my stress,” Oshefsky said.
There’s a chance that the next time he gets a tumor —which is almost always inevitable — it could rob him of his ability to walk if it affects the part of the brain that controls the body’s movements, said Dr. Bernard Bendok, a Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute neurosurgeon who removed Oshefsky’s tumors.
Oshefsky said that would “obviously be emotionally devastating” because he’s an active person.
Even so, Bendok says Oshefsky has an incredible human spirit.
“If I had to rate patients on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of attitude, meaning determination, optimism and I like to use the term rational optimism, I would rate him a 12,” Bendok said.
The Chicago Marathon is on Oct. 13. Regardless of whether Oshefsky is able to qualify for Boston Marathon, he said just competing will mean a lot to him.