Terminally ill runner finishes Cowtown with help from UNTHSC students

March 6, 2017

By Alex Branch

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Suzanne Stone

UNT Health Science Center students who volunteered at the Cowtown Marathon won’t soon forget one remarkable runner who needed their help crossing the finish line.

Her name is Suzanne Stone, 62, and she was diagnosed 27 months ago with glioblastoma, an aggressive and lethal form of brain cancer that already has led to two brain surgeries.

But after she received her diagnosis, she made a decision.

“I decided I wasn’t going to be dying of cancer,” she said. “I was going to be living with cancer.”

That spirit has served her well. The median life expectancy of glioblastoma is about 14 months, so she already has beaten expectations.

Stone, Assistant to the Dean at Brite Divinity School, had for some time wanted to run a half marathon. She registered for Cowtown, and when she consulted later with her doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center, they had no objections.

On race day she started strong, alternating between jogging and walking. But at eight miles, she realized she was leaning to the right. At first, she wondered if it was because of the wind. Then she discovered she could not straighten her body no matter how hard she tried.

She kept going anyway.

At 11 miles, alerted by other runners, Cowtown volunteers at a medical station gave her salt tablets and helped her onto an exam table. They tried to help straighten her body.

Stone considered giving up.

“Before the race I told my husband that if I couldn’t finish, I would just let them take me off the course,” she said. “But I had made it 11 miles and was so close. I told the volunteers I didn’t want to quit.’”

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Students volunteering at Cowtown Marathon: Craig Maples, first-year medical student; Marie MacDonald and Colten Foster, second-year physical therapy students.

First-year UNTHSC medical student Craig Maples was the first to reach Stone around mile 12. He saw right away she was listing hard to the right.

Maples quickly assessed her for signs of stroke and concluded that she had not suffered one. But he worried she would fall.

“She told me she was determined to finish,” Maples said. “I said ‘If that’s what you want to do I’ll try to help you do it.’ And she hooked her arm through mine and we started walking.”

Meanwhile, Cowtown workers notified Charles Nichols, PT, DPT, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy. He was volunteering at the medical tent and dispatched two physical therapy students to meet Stone on the course and assist her to the finish line.

Just before the 13-mile mark, second-year physical therapy students Colten Foster and Marie MacDonald met Stone and Maples. They each took one of her arms and supported her as she approached the finish line. Maples ran ahead to the medical tent to alert Darrin D’Agostino, DO, UNTHSC’s Associate Dean of Community Health and medical director of the Cowtown.

After Stone was taken to the medical tent to be examined, the PT students waded through the crowds and found Stone’s husband, Robert, who was worried because he hadn’t seen her finish.

“They supported me mentally and physically across that finish line,” Stone said. “I really wanted to finish and am so very grateful they were there to help me do that.”

Her official race time: 5 hours 5 minutes 51 seconds.

Stone’s interest in time goes beyond the race, of course. With the half-marathon scratched off her list, she and Robert are busy making plans to watch the solar eclipse on August 21. She’ll travel to Nebraska and gaze into the sky, living every moment she has left.

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