“Do something that moves you forward. Just pick a spot and go to it. It doesn’t matter how far away it is or how long it takes to get there. Just get up and move towards it. Then go there again the next day and then the next.” Phil learned of his liver cancer diagnosis shortly after finishing the 2018 LA Marathon. Just three weeks later, he underwent surgery. Phil’s fitness from years of running helped him recover quickly so he could resume working towards his big dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon; “I suppose you could say that running literally saved my life.” While chasing that dream, Phil felt renewed purpose and gratitude for running. He was savoring the process more than ever and, much to his surprise, running faster than ever. He ran his fastest marathon by more than 20 minutes and qualified for the 2020 Boston Marathon. It was the greatest day of his life. But before he could run the Boston Marathon, his cancer came back. He was told a liver transplant was the only option; he’d have to wait until they found a match. Not wanting to let agony consume him, Phil kept running… and kept getting faster. He finished four marathons in the 6 months after his recurrence–and, even more importantly, he showed himself and those around him that cancer couldn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams. “I want to show that running on hope is a real thing and that it will make a difference in your life, with or without cancer.” That’s exactly what Phil and his friend and liver donor, Mark, did at the 2020 LA Marathon, just 6 months post-transplant. Not only did Phil run the LA Marathon, he put 20 runners together to run with him for Team Brave Like Gabe and raised over $10,000 to support Gabe’s passion for rare cancer research and to empower cancer survivors to continue to thrive through physical activity.
What pushes you to be the best person you can be?
As a cancer survivor, I take nothing for granted. My diagnosis could have easily taken everything away from me and stripped me of pursuing all the experiences I had piling up in my bucket list. With cancer now hopefully behind me, I've thrown away the bucket and made the decision to just go out and do all the things that make me feel alive. As a friend recently said, "Stop making bucket lists. Just do stuff!"
What does living an active lifestyle mean to you?
Prior to my cancer diagnosis I was already an avid runner. I had run over a dozen marathons and several more half marathons so running was a big part of my life. In fact when I received my initial cancer diagnosis, I had just finished running the 2018 LA Marathon and was about to embark on a training plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had to put those plans on hold to deal with living with hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare cancer of the liver. In May 2018, I underwent surgery to resect the tumor from my liver just 3 weeks after my diagnosis. The surgery went very well and I was hospitalized for only 4 days. My medical team attributes my fast recovery to the fitness I had attained from running. I suppose you can say that running literally saved my life. Once I recovered from surgery, I returned to marathon training again. My new lease on life really renewed my purpose and I used running to express my gratitude for being able to do the things I loved. In the process, something transformational happened….I got faster. In October 2018, just 5 months after my surgery, I ran my fastest marathon by more than 20 minutes and qualified for the 2020 Boston Marathon. It was the greatest day of my life. I was finally going to run the Boston Marathon. Less than a month later, the joys of achieving a lifelong dream came crashing down when I was told by my hepatologist that my cancer had returned. This time I was told that my only curative option would be a liver transplant and that I would have to wait 3 years to realistically receive a liver from a deceased donor. Rather than take a gamble on living with cancer for more than a year while waiting for a deceased donor, we instead pursued an option to seek a living donor who would donate a portion of their healthy liver to replace my cancerous liver. While we were waiting for my liver donor match, I kept running. And I kept getting faster. Rather than consume myself with the agony of waiting for someone to come forward to save my life, I chose to try and outrun my cancer. In the 6 months after my cancer recurrence, I ran 4 more marathons and qualified for Boston twice more, and also had the opportunity to run the 2019 London Marathon, all while living with cancer. Instead of using cancer as an excuse to prevent me from pursuing my dreams, I turned it into the fuel I needed to keep showing up and prove to myself and to everyone around me that it had no agency in my life. In August 2019, my liver donor was confirmed. A good friend of mine named Mark from Portland, OR. Yes, he’s a runner too. This further proves my theory that runner friends truly make the best of friends. We had our liver transplant just 3 weeks after Mark was confirmed as my match. We recovered from the surgery in less than a week and 5 months later we ran a half marathon together. Then a month later, Mark was right by my side when I crossed the finish line at the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon. That was just 6 months after my liver transplant. Thank you, running.