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Running through adversity

Submitted Photo From left: Jeff Meyer, Keith Abels and Tim Meyer take time for a photo before the start of the Turkey Day 10K.

WORTHINGTON -- The scar on Jeff Meyer's head stretches eight inches, from the top of his left temple and across his forehead to his right ear.

Meyer said the cancerous tumor removed from his brain May 21 was about the size of "a little smoky weenie" and that, after the five-hour surgery, he looked as if someone had placed "a huge nightcrawler" that stuck up "a quarter-inch" on top of his head.

Doctors used four titanium screws to reattach to his skull a bone that was removed from Meyer's forehead to allow them access to the brain. He then suffered through 31 chemotherapy treatments, most of which lasted 25 minutes, while wearing a mask that was bolted to the table underneath him.

In many ways, the pain and suffering that Meyer, 48, endured over the past five months can be measured.

In many ways, his heart, strength, will and dedication cannot. But, in just over six miles and in less than an hour last Saturday, Meyer proved his resiliency, determination and success.

About five months after undergoing serious brain surgery, Meyer completed the Turkey Day 10K in Worthington on Sept. 13, crossing the finish line amid a chorus of cheers from friends and family, and accomplishing a feat many thought impossible.

"I made that a goal quite a while ago," Meyer said. "After I first got home from the hospital, I told everybody that I was going to run the 10K race. And they kept telling me that I shouldn't, but I wasn't going to let anything stop me from running this year.

"It's something I put my mind to, and I got it done."

Meyer finished the race in 58 minutes and 30 seconds. It was his worst finishing time in the 15 years he's competed in the race.

It also was his most impressive.

"It was my poorest time, of course; I usually run in the mid- to low-40s," Meyer said. "But, this year, I wanted to run under an hour. I didn't know if I could even make that, but I knew after I got to the fourth mile, when they gave me my time, that I could make it in an hour.

"My whole family was (at the finish line), and everybody was cheering me on; it was really nice having them there. And a lot of other people, too -- friends from work and others. There was just a whole bunch of people there cheering me on, so that was a real good feeling."

Nearly five months earlier, Meyer and some of his friends and family members were spending a Saturday night in Worthington, talking, laughing and singing karaoke, when the unexpected happened.

"My family said that, when I walked into the garage that night, something just didn't look right about me, but they didn't really say anything," Meyer said. "I sang a couple of songs, and they looked at me and asked if I was all right. I said, 'Yeah.' Then, all of a sudden, my speech started going on me; I couldn't even talk."

Meyer began to suffer seizures, and his family quickly rushed him to the hospital. Within an hour, he was being transported to Sioux Falls, S.D. in a helicopter.

In the following days, MRIs and CAT scans revealed the unthinkable: A cancerous tumor had been growing, unchecked, in Meyer's brain.

"They asked, 'What were the symptoms?' I said that there weren't any," Meyer said. "I was on my motorcycle on Saturday, during the morning, did some yard work, went to a benefit that night around 7:30, and then we went over to a friend's house on the motorcycle. We were only there for an hour before it happened. Up until that point, I never knew anything was wrong."

The news was shocking, but Meyer didn't have much time to think about it. Just four days after the start of what appeared to be a normal Saturday, he underwent brain surgery.

"I really didn't think about it too much," Meyer said. "It had to come out; it wasn't something they could leave in there and try some other stuff.

"You just go in there, they put you to sleep, and you hope you wake up when they're done."

Meyer awoke the next day, in obvious pain, with bandages wrapped around his head.

"(The doctors) cut all the way across the top of my forehead, and they said they took the forehead part and pulled it down toward my nose," he said. "There was a bone in there that they took out so they could get in there."

While doctors removed a big chunk of Meyer's tumor, they couldn't remove all of it.

"They said they took out what they safely could because it was kind of imbedded in the brain, too, and they didn't want to dig too deep and have a chance of wrecking something else," Meyer said. "They got out what they could, and they said they used four titanium screws to put the bone back where it came from, sewed it up and that was it."

Intense and frequent session of chemotherapy followed five days a week for six consecutive weeks. Meyer will have an MRI on Oct. 28 to find out if he's in complete remission or partial remission, which would demand even stronger doses of radiation.

Meyer couldn't return to his job at Swift & Co. for two and a half months after the surgery. When he returned, he only was able to do light office work. Eventually, he was able to work a half-day shift, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. He's now back to working full-time.

The most bothersome post-surgery order the doctors gave Meyer, however, was not to run.

Prior to the surgery, Meyer made the five-mile run around the lake in Worthington six days a week.

"It was like clockwork," he said. "You get off work, and the first thing you do is change clothes and get the run done."

It was a routine he went through every day for the past 16 years - ever since his brother Tim, who also has frequented Turkey Day races, convinced Meyer to start running with him.

"I thought he was nuts for even asking me," said Meyer, who ran track at Fulda High School but soon lost interest in running. "But I did it a couple of times, and once I started doing it, I just got hooked on it. You kind of get addicted to it, like anything else you like doing."

Suddenly, the routine ended -- but not for long.

"The first month or so, they didn't want me doing any running," Meyer said. "In the second month, I started asking. And they said, 'Well, if you feel up to it, you can get back to it real slow.'"

Meyer began running around his block, which, in his estimation, amounted to about an eighth of a mile.

"I was used to running five miles, and running around the block wore me out," he said. "But I just continued to run, and I increased a little bit each day. Finally, about two weeks ago, I realized I could run the 10K if everything went well."

Everything worked out better than Meyer hoped. Now he has his sights set on next year's race.

"It's already been four months since I first got sick; time went pretty fast, when you think about it," he said. "I plan to keep on running as long as I can."