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April 19, 2014

Doug Hawley: Cancer will not hinder Run for John’s finish

With the seventh annual Run for John races scheduled for Saturday in Dalton, there is a community focus this week on the family of the late John Bruner.

John graduated in 2006 from Dalton High School, where he was an honors student — outside of school, he also accomplished the rare feat of becoming an Eagle Scout — and enjoyed a standout career as a distance runner for the Catamounts cross country and track and field programs. A team captain who helped lead the Cats to the Region 7-4A cross country title in 2005, he was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Cross Country Co-Runner of the Year as a senior, and he went on to compete for Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.

In the summer before his sophomore year at GCSU, at the too-young age of 19, he died tragically of a rare artery defect near the finish line while competing in Chattanooga’s Missionary Ridge road race on Aug. 4, 2007.

The memory of the young runner continues to burn brightly to this day as Bruner’s family, headed by his parents Greg and Margie, bravely march onward.

Some $10,000 worth of college scholarships is presented annually via the Run for John. As usual, this year’s races — a 1-mile fun run at 8:30 a.m. and the 5K (3.1-mile) race at 9 a.m. — will start and finish at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. On-site registration starts at 7:30 a.m., but you can still sign up online through Tuesday by visiting therunforjohn.org, where you can also make donations to the scholarship fund.

These days, Margie, 52, is facing her own medical challenges. She has been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The stage refers to the extent to which the cancer has spread, with stage 1 being the least and stage 4 being the most.

“About a year ago, I first noticed a lump in my breast,” she said. “A radiologist thought it was just a cyst. About six months later, he said the same thing. After a year I was tired of waiting and asked for a biopsy. It turned out to be cancer.”

The Bruner family is one of runners, including Margie, who has made a tradition of finishing the Run for John hand-in-hand with Greg. A former Auburn University runner, she previously helped coach distance runners at Dalton High School — she was a school psychologist for Dalton City Schools for the past eight years, but now works for Dade County Schools — and is co-cross country coach at Dalton State College, which began competition this past fall.

“I think my story is a cautionary tale for other women,” she said. “I had no risk factors and felt fine but I knew something wasn’t right. I should have listened to my body sooner.”

Despite what Margie considers “wonderful healthcare in Dalton” she has chosen to participate in a clinical trial at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

“I want to treat this as aggressively as possible,” she said, “and this trial is not available closer to home.”

Greg accompanies Margie as she goes for the clinical trial treatments every three weeks.

“This treatment is an antibody treatment that attacks the receptors on the tumor and not chemotherapy,” she said. “This will probably be a year to 18-month treatment plan. However, after one treatment I feel great.”

She hasn’t given up running, either.

“I competed in the River Gorge race a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “I’m hopeful to run through the treatment. I run four or five days a week.”

And she maintains a positive attitude, which does not surprise those of us who know her competitive spirit. Yet she is realistic.

“I am very hopeful,” she said. “I am healthy and I have a lot of family and friend support.”

She acknowledged that like most woman diagnosed with this disease, she has her down moments.

“This first month has been scary,” she said. “You have to build a treatment plan and figure out complicated material in a very short time.”

She offered advice for women regarding breast cancer awareness.

“Women need to have an awareness of their bodies,” she said. “If something is not right, check with your doctor and ask questions.”

She continues to work and said that in keeping her regular schedule she’s “not that special or different than most women dealing with this disease.”

Those knowing her best would differ about her “special” observation.

Like they have since the beginning, the Bruners will proudly take part in the Run for John this year.

They would have it no other way.

Doug Hawley has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. You can write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.

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