When Don Wright hits the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, fueled on gluten-free bread, peanut butter and honey, he will be heading into his 100th marathon.
He's already completed a marathon in each of the fifty states.
It's an impressive feat for the 75-year-old Minnesotan, who at age 62 was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood, and given three to five years to live.
Clearly, he's beaten the odds.
"When I'm standing at the start line, I'm often a little weepy thinking about the people I know, and I dedicate the race to somebody who might be in trouble," says Wright. "But when I get going I feel elated. It's feels like I'm floating down the street, drifting by the scenery and poking that cancer right in the eye."
Multiple myeloma affects cells in the bone marrow and cannot be cured. But for many patients, like Wright, it can be managed.
"The reason I can do this is because of the innovative new treatments that have become available in the thirteen years I've had cancer," says Wright, an attorney who recently returned to work.
For the first seven years of his disease, Wright took the oral drug pomalyst (pomalidomide) that kept his cancer at bay. When his cancer came out of remission, he entered two unsuccessful trials with other medications, then returned to pomalyst plus darzalex (daratumumab), a potent immunotherapeutic.
He schedules infusions of the drug between marathons.
"These aren't your grandfather's chemotherapies," says Wright. "I feel pretty much normal. Most people at 75 have something to complain about and I don't have very much."
Wright's running is a family affair. His wife, who initially got him into the sport, and his daughter, have followed him to all fifty states, the two women completing fifteen marathons and many more half marathons.
"It's a team effort," says Wright. "After our first race, we said it was kind of fun running marathons, and after we went to Tucson and Boston, we decided to keep doing it as a lifestyle."
Wright runs in support of "My Life Is Worth It", a nonprofit patient advocacy organization, that fights for patients to be included in healthcare cost discussions. Most insurance policies make patients pay more for out-of-pocket for pills as opposed to infusions, so Wright became an advocate for equal insurance reimbursement for all cancer treatments, no matter how they're delivered.
"I like the principles of the organization, the idea that we need to keep innovative new medications coming down the pipeline," says Wright. "The regimen I'm on is eventually going to run out and I'd like to have more options."
Wright's personal best race time is three hours and 36 minutes, although it has slowed over the years. For Philadelphia, he's aiming for six hours and 36 minutes. When he completes Sunday's contest, he's headed back to Minnesota with plans to focus on cutting his running times.
Although the family isn't scheduling a big celebration after the 100th run, a group of fellow runners back in his hometown are throwing a small party in Wright's honor in December. And, as usual, the Wright clan – who follow a gluten free, organic diet -- will celebrate after the run with gluten-free pizza.
"When I head toward the finish line in Philadelphia, I'll be thinking of all those cancer patients still in need of more research and newer treatments," says Wright. "We can't hit the wall; we've got to keep pushing medicine forward."
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