On the dry side of the Big Island of Hawai’i, the sun beats down upon the stark expanses of lava that run off into the churning ocean. Heat waves rise from the pavement cutting across the lava fields and the men and women who earn the right to run, bike and swim in the Iron Man World Championship at Kailua-Kona suffer through every mile of the world's most famous triathlon. None of them, however, just came off of two brain surgeries and a summer full of experimental chemotherapy two days before the race. But then none of them are Dean Bullock.
Dean Bullock doesn't quit.
"He just has that kind of an attitude," says his wife Kris Bullock. "You can moan about it or you can get on with your life and just do what you’re going to do."
Nearly a year before the 2013 Iron Man, Dean was out on a training run with friends and "just didn't feel right," he says. "So I went home and I guess I was acting funny."
As you might imagine the modest-to-a-fault, 59-year-old label sales man from Orem, Utah, isn't the type to run to the doctor but after his family finally got him to the local clinic it was apparent that something was not, in fact, "right." After an ambulance ride to Provo Hospital and emergency surgery, Bullock woke up to a new world, in which the father of nine, devoted husband and aspiring Iron Man, had brain cancer.
Bullock was then evaluated by Dr. Howard Colman, Dr. Randy Jensen, and Dr. Dennis Shrieve – physicians at the Brain Tumor Clinic at University of Utah Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Because of an integrated clinical trials program, Bullock qualified for cutting-edge treatments for this aggressive tumor.
The program, explains Colman, is not unique to Utah but it is one of the most effective he has seen.
"There is very little friction to getting things done here," Colman says. "Our clinical trials office and clinical research team are outstanding, and allow us to offer our patients access to the cutting edge therapies."
Bullock’s tumor was tested for a specific mutation in the EGFR gene, which made him eligible to receive an experimental vaccine to prime the body’s immune system to target this mutation in the cancer cells, along with standard radiation and chemotherapy.
Bullock did well for about a year on this treatment, but then an MRI showed recurrence of tumor. The surgical team, led by Dr. Jensen, removed the tennis-ball-sized recurrent tumor and Bullock enrolled in another clinical trial using a novel combination of drugs.
It was this treatment that helped earned Dean a green light to compete in the Iron Man and the training gave him something to fight for, Kris says.
"After the doctors cleared him and he was like what's next, lets go," she says. "So our kids agreed to train with him and helped make sure that there was a carrot out there to chase. Dean thrives under those circumstances and it was a great way to spend time with his children."
So after two brain surgeries and a host of traditional and experimental chemotherapies, including receiving his most recent dose just days before the race, Dean competed in the 2013 Iron Man.
He completed the swim but he was forced to drop out in the final five miles of the 107-mile cycling leg after missing a mandatory time cutoff. But the experience gave him more time with his children and a memory laden family trip to Hawai’i.
The following day, after the course was cleared and the pageantry of the Iron Man had been swept away, he ran the last leg anyway, the Iron Man marathon course, with his family by his side.
Because Dean Bullock doesn't quit.
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