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Mike Wooldridge

Cancer survivor takes fight against disease to the streets

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SFGate.com reports on the the journey of Mike Wooldridge after getting a devastating diagnosis and being turned away for surgery by M.D. Anderson, and being told it was incurable, only to get treatment at UCSF that enabled him to run in a marathon not long after that.

Running a marathon without a third of your right lung might seem impossible, but for Mike Wooldridge it's just another day on the road. 

Diagnosed with a fist-sized tumor in his right lung a year ago, the Pleasant Hill Web site designer was initially given a 10 to 15 percent chance of surviving. Today he's running 30 miles a week, training to compete in his first marathon. 

"At this point, strange as it may seem, I'm probably in as good shape as I've been in my life," says Wooldridge, 35, who will run in the Wellness Community's Strides for Hope fund-raising marathon next month in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

The Wellness Community is a national support group for cancer patients and their families. Wooldridge attended meetings specifically designed for those suffering with lung cancer at its Walnut Creek center. 

For the past 10 years, Wooldridge, who had never smoked, had suffered from a cough every winter that he figured was just a seasonal thing. In the winter of 2002, though, the cough was starting to keep him up at night, and people were beginning to notice at work. When asthma and allergy prescriptions didn't clear it up, his doctor ordered a chest X-ray. 

On Valentine 's Day last year, just as he was making preparations to propose to Linda, his girlfriend of nine years, the results of the X-ray came in. 

"I'm like, 'Oh my God. I got the ring, I'm going out to dinner with Linda tonight to propose.' It was just surreal. It was like this strange nightmare, really. I was like, the doctor's going to call and tell me this is all a mistake," said Wooldridge. 

Undaunted, Wooldridge went ahead with his plans that evening, and Linda said yes. But, he didn't tell her about the diagnosis for a week. 

"I tried to put off telling her as long as I could," Wooldridge said. Once he did, they "really were a team. We attacked this." 

While the easygoing Wooldridge was optimistic, the first doctor he visited at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was not. 

"He said the tumor was so big and invasive that there wasn't a way they could do surgery on it, and surgery happened to be the best chance to really give me a cure," Wooldridge said. The doctor then half-heartedly recommended chemotherapy. "We left there pretty down." 

Upon returning home, Wooldridge went to Diablo Valley Oncology in Walnut Creek where he was immediately referred to Dr. David Jablons, chief of thoracic surgery at UCSF Medical Center, where they specialize in handling difficult lung cancer cases. Highly regarded as one of the country's leading lung cancer surgeons and researchers, Jablons' reaction to Wooldridge's tumor was 180 degrees from the earlier diagnosis.

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Tags: Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
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