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Amy Donaldson: Anything is possible — even with a brain tumor

Published: Sunday, June 9 2013 11:33 p.m. MDT

Dean Bullock, 59, is honored at a Real Salt Lake game recently for his efforts to earn a chance to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, through Kona Inspired, a program that allows athletes to compete because they epitomize the idea that "anything is possible."

Courtesy Dean Bullock

Dean Bullock is chasing a dream.

He’s chasing it on foot, on a bike and through brutal open water swims.

He’s also chasing it through terminal brain cancer.

But when you’re an Ironman, cancer is just another obstacle.

In fact, the cancer that could end the South Jordan man's life has also provided him with more determination than ever to make his dream of competing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, a reality.

“It’s kind of the ultimate,” said the 59-year-old father of nine. “It’s kind of like Boston (Marathon), and I’ve run five of those. It’s the pinnacle.”

Anyone who wants to complete an Ironman — composed of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run — has to fight through difficulties. Just maintaining the training necessary to cover 140.6 miles requires a level of commitment that most people don’t have.

For Bullock, the hope of competing in Kona began more than two decades ago when he was 34. A friend challenged him to a weight-loss contest, and “at the end of the month, I was still standing.”

He was also hooked on running.

Bullock signed up for his first marathon in St. George, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Overall it’s just good for your health, good for your heart,” he said. “I would promote it with any of my kids, or anybody who would ask me.”

As it turned out, training for a half Ironman last July may very well have saved his life.

He went for a run on a Tuesday and came home with a headache.

He complained to his wife. She was out of town helping her daughter, who was about to have a baby, but suggested he go to a doctor. He declined to do so, and went for another run Wednesday.

“My head hurt again, so my wife prevailed on my kids to get me to a doctor,” he said. After a CAT scan, doctors sent him to the “big-boy hospital in Provo, where they found a bleeding tumor in my brain.”

It turned out to be terminal glioblastoma multiforme, and the Saturday after that first headache, they cut it out of his head.

He called the diagnosis “devastating” and admits he didn’t even ask about a prognosis, nor did he research his cancer.

“It doesn’t matter what they say,” he said. “It’s what I do. How am I going to react to treatment?”

Suddenly qualifying for Kona didn’t seem as important as it did when he was one place away from earning a trip two years ago.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to qualify as far as the age division,” he said.

Bullock did go back to training after he’d recovered from surgery. He was content to work, train and battle cancer.

Then his children told him about Kona Inspired, a program that allows seven people with stories that reiterate the message of “anything is possible” to compete in the event without qualifying.

So his children made a video and began campaigning for their father. They created a Facbook group called "Team IronDean," started a blog and asked anyone and everyone to vote for their father. He made it to the final round, in which voting began on June 5 and ends June 15. (You can vote for Bullock online at thismoment.com.)

Bullock underwent radiation in the fall, and he takes chemotherapy in the form of a pill once a week each month. He also has an MRI every two months. In March, doctors found “hot spots,” which they determined were larger in a May MRI.

“The only way to know if these are re-growths is to do surgery,” said Bullock matter-of-factly. “So Thursday, I’ll have surgery.”

His family hopes that when their father leaves the hospital after his second brain surgery, his dream of competing in Kona will be a real possibility.

Bullock's family and faith have sustained him as he continues to chase his dream. He believes that simply finding the tumor as early as they did was a miracle. So why not believe that strangers will help him realize his dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship this fall?

After all, anything is possible.

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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