In 2015, Athlinks interviewed Randy Kam, known in the running community as the guy with the cancer sign on his back:

Advanced Prostate Cancer
Chemo Starts Next Week
Guys Get Checked

Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2015, Kam persevered, continuing to do what he loves: running marathons. Kam has been an advocate for prostate cancer prevention since, spreading his message all across the running world. Athlinks had the pleasure of sitting down with Kam again, catching up on life after chemotherapy, his involvement with the organization ZERO, and his new purpose for running.

This interview was slightly edited for clarity.

Athlinks: Last time we talked to you, you were looking forward to the Chicago Marathon and your last chemo treatment. How have things been going for you since then?

Kam: Yeah, that first blog was in August 2015, I did the Chicago [Marathon] in 2015 and 2016 and it was a great time for both races. Also, I got hang out with my daughter, who is at University of Chicago for Law School. Four days after the Honolulu Marathon 2015, I had my fifteenth and last chemo [session] and brought a bottle of Chandon to celebrate with my Onco[logy] Ohana.

In 2016, I completed eight marathons: Surf City Marathon, Big D [Texas Marathon], OC [Marathon], Rock n’ Roll San Diego, Santa Rosa [Marathon], Chicago [Marathon], and NYC [Marathon].

In February 2017, on Super Bowl Sunday, I did the Surf City Marathon. That was the first marathon I did after the initial diagnosis in 2015. This is where I first started to wear a sign on my back.

My PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) had been stable at 0.3 for ten months and my Medical Oncologist considered that to be in remission. Last month it went up a tick to 0.4, which may be an outlier. It was 0.4 again, so this could be the start of an uptick in cancer activity.

Athlinks: You’re very involved with ZERO (a nonprofit for the awareness and prevention of prostate cancer). Tell us a bit about the organization.

Kam: [Zero was] founded over 20 years ago, providing info, support, aid, outreach, and money for research revolving around prostate cancer. I found them on Facebook and Google and decided to participate in the Fun Run in June 2016. There were over 600 participants and they honored prostate cancer survivors at the start. Vanessa from ZERO emailed me after and informed me that I came in third for the Survivors and had a memento for me. That started this great relationship and my advocacy.

Athlink: Tell us about your role with ZERO and the upcoming LA Zero Prostate Cancer Run/Walk on July 16th?

Kam: After the Long Beach 5K and raising $3,421 for Team ZERO to do New York, I became more involved and Vanessa added me to the ZERO LA planning committee. I may meet people in Hawaii, when I visit home in May, to tell them about ZERO and hosting an event out there.

Athlinks: Zero is a huge community of people, 76,000, across the globe. Can you tell us about how this community of people sharing a similar story has helped or encouraged you?

Kam: I want Athlinks members to see that race times don’t matter. It’s just finishing an event, especially with a not obvious disability. We all have some kind of demons, physical or psychological, that we have to deal with. It’s how you take those on, not giving up the fight and keeping on trucking, that matters. I’ve read other inspirational blogs and those have given me strength to soldier on and feel that I am not so bad off.

 

Athlinks: What do you like about Athlinks? Have a favorite facet?

Kam: I really love the collation of the races and being able to see what and when I did an event, being able to have an easy access to all of those races. There are too many for me to remember the specifics or, sometimes, that I even ran that one! It is such a great way to have all of your results easily accessible.

Athlinks: After being first diagnosed, did you immediately think, “I’m not going to be able run,” or “This will push me to run even harder”?

Kam: My Medical Oncologist, Nilesh Vora, told me that maybe I should take six months or so off. I had already signed up for Surf City on Super Bowl Sunday. I had already done research and was expecting nausea, hair loss, fatigue but was ready to try and continue the marathons.

Athlinks: Was there ever a time where you were about to run a marathon and thought, “I just can’t do this”?

Kam: During the OC [Marathon] in 2015, the one three days after chemo, I was dragging and definitely in the back of the pack. The water stations were starting to shut down and there were no spectators. At one point the Highway Patrol came up on bike and told me to get onto the sidewalk, as I was now a pedestrian. The neighborhoods near the last few miles were lonely and I just kept slowly making my way to the finish. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop. If they had a SAG wagon (a vehicle meant to pick up runners who can’t finish the race) to pull me off, I would have waved them off.

It was an arduous undertaking, but I had a new purpose, to show people that cancer would slow me, but, damn it, would take a lot [more] to stop me. The Race Director greeted me at the finish, he knew my story, and it was a really long morning.  Honolulu is the only marathon that doesn’t have a cutoff. It’s the Aloha Spirit to have everyone who finishes get a medal.

Athlinks: You’re a bit different in the fact that you didn’t catch the racing bug right away. You did your first marathon at 29, and then waited 12 years to do your second. Why was that?

Kam: That first marathon was Los Angeles and I was really well trained, I had even done a 1:36, half marathon weeks before it. But my mental state wasn’t as steeled as it is now and I believe I did a 4:25, felt horrible, and vowed, ”Never again.”

Then I heard about the Rock n’ Roll San Diego [Marathon] with bands, cheerleaders, and it’s, like, a 26.2 mile party on legs. I trained for this one and the logistics didn’t work out for this first time event. [A] 45 minute delayed start, ran out of water at the aid stations, and, of course, that darn two-mile trek up the 163 Freeway. But, I kept coming back and this June I’ll be one of the 84 who have done all 19 races. It will be awesome to complete 20 years in a row, crossing the Legacy Red Carpet.

Athlinks: You’ve become known in the racing community because of your struggle with cancer and will to persevere despite it. After being diagnosed, did your mindset change while running races?

Kam: Runners have said, “Welcome back,” “I remember you,” etc. My new purpose is to share my story with a sign on my back and have others, maybe, tell a hubby, coworker, or someone about that guy doing the marathon with cancer. I’m more motivated to be out there at marathons to even just have someone get screened because of me and be spared what I had.

Randy Kam

Athlinks: Is it hard to be slower than you once were? How do you deal with pacing yourself versus the drive to win?

Kam: It was a little disconcerting to be two hours slower in the races, but I know that there are people without cancer or other ailments who won’t even attempt a 5K. In the races I try to, at least, slow jog the first half of the marathon. I would still walk any hills. Because of the testosterone lowering hormone therapy, I don’t have that crazy “I have to beat the lady ahead,” attitude anymore. It’s “all good,” as they say, and I usually find a first timer to chat with out there. I’m fine with the ability to still be out there; other men are severely incapacitated by the chemo and/or Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) and can’t even walk very far.

Athlinks: You have talked about wanting to complete 200 marathons. Having already completed over 130, do you still have that same goal?

Kam: The OC Marathon will actually be number 139. The Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon was when I was 41. My goal was to get to 50 marathons before 50 years of age; I got to 50 at 49 and then, of course, 100 was next. I hit that at the June 2012 Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon since that was the race that got me back into marathon-ing. I’m going to hit 60 at the end of May and I don’t have any set goals numbers wise anymore. I kind of want to do the ones where I’m a Legacy: Surf City, OC, and Rock n’ Roll. If I get to 150, that’ll be awesome, but I don’t know what the future holds.

Athlinks: You work six days a week, go to doctor appointments, and run the races. With all that going on, is there anything you do to relax?

Kam: I will sit and watch Say Yes to the Dress with my wife. My wife will ask, “What do you think of that dress?” and I’ll always have an opinion. I was like that before the cancer, but the hormone therapy has definitely made it worse. We use to watch The Walking Dead, but now that it’s off the air, the next best thing is Naked and Afraid. I watch and feel better, you know, going through chemo in a nice [air] conditioned area. That was fine! Besides that we do a lot of hiking, a lot of activity. She did one marathon and has the fastest time in the family, even though I’ve done 138. I tell her I’m going for quantity over quality.

Randy Kam

Athlinks: You have had a huge impact on racers. Is there anything you’d like to say to others who might be struggling with a similar diagnosis?

Kam: With anything in life, one has to make up ones mind to succumb or go big. We all have issues that challenge us, but by-and-large, this makes us better people. Our stories can get others to be out there, get checked, or change their diet. We’re all going to go sometime, let’s make the rest of our days as fun and productive as we can. Life is too short to be angry, bitter, or jealous.

Athlinks: Do you have a personal mantra?

Kam: Go big or go dead? Just kidding! I’ve always said that we are in a great big pond and I want to make ripples that extend out and affect people that I may never meet.

Athlinks: Along that same sentiment, you’ve referenced the words “Who lives, who dies and who tells your story?” from the musical Hamilton in previous interviews, what would you like your story to be?

Kam: I’ve referenced it before, that a legacy is planting seeds in a garden you never get to see (also a quote from Hamilton) which is so true. That’s what I’m doing, planting these seeds. I think my story will be that I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith. And look at all the people who will now know my story.


A big thanks to Randy Kam for speaking with us about his incredible journey. Be sure to check out Randy’s Athlinks profile for a deeper dive into the hundreds of marathons and runs he’s done so far. While there, don’t forget to create an account to keep track of all your endurance event progress and share with your networks.

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