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Doug Robinson: South Jordan cancer patient trying to run in famed Ironman triathlon

Published: Monday, June 10 2013 11:15 p.m. MDT

Dean Bullock rests in the hospital after undergoing surgery to remove a tennis ball-sized tumor from his brain last summer. He is flanked by four of his sons, from left, Jeff, Ryan, Sean and Greg.

Kim Bullock

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As your friendly neighborhood columnist, I've never asked a favor for a reader.

But I'm asking for one this time.

Dean Bullock needs your help, and it won't cost you anything.

All you need is the Internet.

Bullock, a 59-year-old South Jordan man with nine children and 17 grandchildren, is an avid triathlete and marathoner. Last July he went for a run and came home complaining of a headache. Four days later he underwent surgery to remove a tumor the size of a tennis ball from his brain. That was followed by six weeks of combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments, followed by 10 months of chemotherapy.

Bullock never saw it coming. He had no other symptoms; just that one headache. "It was a tender mercy they even found it," he says.

The diagnosis: a grade IV glioblastoma multiforme. Translation: He has the most aggressive, malignant brain cancer. It's considered incurable and median survival is counted by months, not years.

Ask Bullock about the prognosis, and he says, "I don't know. I've never asked. I'm afraid I'd get doctorspeak. Anyway, they don't know. They're doing all they can at Huntsman (Cancer Institute) so I'm around for a few more years."

Everything looked good until a couple of months ago when a CAT scan revealed some potential abnormalities in the area of the original tumor. Doctors have been monitoring it closely since then. On Thursday morning, Bullock will undergo a second surgery.

"I never did do any poor-me," he says. "It was, 'OK, I've got it. Let's go take care of it.' It is what it is. I'm living with cancer, but it doesn't define me."

What does define him is his yen for endurance sports. About 25 years ago he took up running after making a weight-loss bet with a neighbor. He won the bet and lost the weight, dropping from 200 pounds to 160. After that, he decided he would continue to run, and in 2004 he began running competitively. He's completed 23 marathons in the last eight years — including five Boston Marathons — 13 half-marathons and three Ironman triathlons, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

If anyone can face the physical and mental beating of cancer and chemotherapy, it's an Ironman. He doesn't flinch from pain and discomfort; he almost embraces it.

Some men who are staring at mortality might dream of a Caribbean cruise or European travel or a week on the beach. Not Bullock. He dreams of competing in the legendary Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Marathoners aspire to run Boston; climbers dream of scaling Everest; triathletes yearn to take on Kona.

"If you get there, you've done something," says Bullock.

He has made several attempts to qualify for Kona in an Ironman event. He missed qualifying by one place a few years ago. With his recent medical treatments, he hasn't attempted a full Ironman, although he has managed lesser events. In May he completed the St. George Half Ironman, accompanied by five of his children, despite his looming surgery and the threat of a tumor. In November, family and friends organized a Team Iron Dean 5K and raised $12,643, which they donated to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation for brain cancer research.

For his part, Bullock resumed training one month after undergoing his first surgery, even while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. "I've gotten most of my strength back, not all of it," he says. "But I don't want to push myself too hard. I want to save it in case I need it to use it for something else." He would've made another attempt to qualify for his dream race this year, but his condition has precluded it.

Perhaps Bullock will never qualify for the Ironman World Championship, but there is another way he can gain entry into the event. Each year seven at-large entries are reserved for the selection of triathletes based on subjective criterion — namely, to those who embody the Ironman's "Anything is possible" theme. Candidates submit 90-second videos that can be viewed on the Internet, giving the public the opportunity to vote for their favorite athlete. The top vote-getters advance to the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 12. Bullock is one of those candidates.

I was told to pass along a tip: You can vote for your favorite candidate once a day from all of your electronic devices.

So go to konainspired.thismoment.com and listen to Bullock tell his own story. You can watch his video there. If you feel inclined, vote for his dream trip to Kona.

EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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