Larry Davis is scheduled for surgery June 27 at the University of Maryland’s Greenbaum Cancer Center — his fifth surgery since an original diagnosis of mesothelioma.
The prospect of another dreaded hospital stay left him searching for a distraction.
His daughter found just the right thing: Competing in a Father’s Day Weekend Triathlon, which includes a 14-mile bike leg, a 5-kilometer run and a 600-yard swim.
It isn’t exactly the typical activity for a mesothelioma patient, but Davis is far from typical.
He has lived much longer than expected. He has shunned many of the traditional treatments to fight his cancer, alienating some doctors along the way. He has worked tirelessly to promote mesothelioma awareness.
What’s more, his father died from the same cruel disease many years ago.
“It (the triathlon with his daughter) is a Father’s Day gift for both of us,” Davis said from his home in Pompano Beach, Florida. “It’s almost too good to be true, especially after everything I’ve put her through (since my diagnosis). It gets pretty emotional just talking about it.”
Davis, 66, and daughter Courtney Davis, will be in Smithfield, North Carolina, this weekend for the triathlon. That’s almost five years after his diagnosis, which left him with little hope, especially after a first surgery almost killed him.
Mesothelioma, caused by an exposure to asbestos, usually comes with a life expectancy of six to 18 months. According to one recent study, only 7 percent of mesothelioma patients in his age group live five years after being diagnosed.
“I’m an enigma in a lot of ways,” Davis said. “This thing (mesothelioma) is like going to a casino. To win, you have to be very lucky. It’s designed for you to lose. All you’re trying to do in the fight is make the odds a little more in your favor.”
Davis has been religious in his commitment to stay active, despite malignant tumors developing in the lining of his abdominal cavity.
He runs an estimated 25 miles a week. His biking has improved considerably — in part because of his participation in other mesothelioma fund-raising events — and he took 6 a.m. swimming lessons for a month just to prepare for this triathlon.
“I was a runner. I’ve always run. Swimming just isn’t my thing. I might be the only one in the race this weekend wearing water wings. I’ve become proof that a rock can swim,” he said. “The triathlon has taken my mind off the surgery, and it has forced me to become healthier and physically stronger for the surgery.”
Davis wasn’t always healthy enough for such endeavors. Two months ago he spent a week in the hospital because of complications from his mesothelioma. And the first year following his initial surgery was difficult. He checked into and out of hospitals with multiple complications.
“The health care side of this has been a nightmare,” he said. “There are too many doctors out there — some so-called authorities — who don’t really know what they’re doing, using “treatments from the ’70s that just don’t work, copying someone else’s failures.”
Davis finally shunned traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments suggested by doctors and instead turned to vitamins and minerals, including fermented wheat germ and mushrooms, to build his immune system.
“I would have been dead long ago, if I had listened to some of the medical professionals and the treatments they suggested,” he said. “I’ve learned the hard way that there are some pain medications, even some anesthetics, that (do) more harm than good.”
He credits his physical exertion, the running, walking and swimming, for some of his successes, making him stronger, both mentally and physically. He was also lucky. He still runs his own home business — Extreme Eyewear — and takes his wife sailing on his boat when he can.
He helped organize the South Florida Miles for Meso Run/Walk, which held its second annual event in February. He spends countless hours raising money for mesothelioma research and lobbies elected officials to ban the use of asbestos, along with the export and import of all asbestos products in the United States.
He will be in Washington, D.C., June 23-25 — days before his scheduled peritoneal surgery — for the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, where he will receive the Volunteer of the Year Award, along with Linda Reinstein, founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
For now, though, he’s focused on the Father’s Day triathlon with his daughter. It was, after all, her idea.
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be on Father’s Day than with him in a triathlon,” Courtney Davis said from her home in North Carolina. “With this next surgery, we don’t know what’s around the corner for him, but he’s always been a fighter. And he’s not about to give up this fight anytime soon.”