Archive for September, 2011

Joe Caruso, center, is flanked by teammates Kathy Lewis and Mitch Turner on Saturday after the trio completed the Amica 19.7 Newport sprint triathlon. Caruso, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009, completed the 16.1-mile bike portion.

Joe Caruso, center, is flanked by teammates Kathy Lewis and Mitch Turner on Saturday after the trio completed the Amica 19.7 Newport sprint triathlon. Caruso, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009, completed the 16.1-mile bike portion.

For those of you who read my first blog about why I was learning to fly - one reason that spurred me on was news of friends and collegues who were facing living with cancer. When I wrote that original post – I left out the names. Later one of my friends agreed that I could name her and if you have followed the progress of learning to fly – you will see who she is.

Today however I’m going to tell you about another inspirational character who I still wear a “Livestrong” yellow band for. Actually – I’m going to let Scott Barrett of the Newport Daily News take up the story:

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. – Joe Caruso is certain that being active is keeping him alive.

Diagnosed with Stage IV adenocarcinoma, or nonsmokers’ lung cancer, in December 2009, the Newport resident scoffed at the idea of remaining stagnant during his chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He competed in the Save The Bay Swim a few months after being diagnosed and remained a fixture on the local triathlon scene.

A father of three young boys, Caruso wasn’t going to let cancer beat him.

But not long after he competed in the Mooseman triathlon in Newfound Lake, N.H., in June, things took a turn for the worse. He felt a bit dizzy and went to the doctor for an MRI. He was told the cancer had spread to his brain, and the next week, he started three straight weeks of full brain radiation.

“The doctors told me I was going to be tired, but I had just completed an Olympic distance marathon,” said Caruso, 44. “I was going into this feeling healthy, and I figured I would be back on my feet in a week.

“That wasn’t the case. Brain radiation really knocked me for a loop because I was just so exhausted. It wasn’t that I was sleeping all day, it’s just that I couldn’t move. Going from competing in a triathlon, to struggling to do the dishes was very difficult do deal with.”

Everyone can relate to cancer, but I can relate to what Caruso is going through. My mother, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September 2009, also had the disease spread to her brain. She passed away earlier this month. Throughout all of the radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she was tired. Getting out of bed was a chore, and ascending a flight of stairs was torture.

Nobody would have blamed Caruso if he never competed in another triathlon, but that’s simply not his style.

He ended his brain radiation treatment on July 6 and picked up where he left off with his training. Last Saturday, he teamed with Mitch Turner of Middletown and Kathy Lewis of Newport to tackle the Amica 19.7 Newport, as part of Team Caruso.

“He’s saying, ‘I’m going to live my life and get out there and do things. I may not be around for this next year, but I’m going to enter it,’” Lewis said. “That’s the way he marches, and that’s contagious. I like being around people like that.”

Lewis took the half-mile swim, Turner ran the 3.1 miles and Caruso biked 16.1 miles, which he said felt more like 100.

“I was definitely fatigued,” he said. “My legs hurt, they were shaking. Mentally I felt great, but my legs were burning, and my back hurt a little bit. I started to get a pretty bad headache. There are a few hills there where I almost got off my bike and started walking.”

Team Caruso finished last of the eight teams – “It was tough getting passed by the ladies and the older men,” Caruso said jokingly – but winning was never the goal.

“I feel that exercise is definitely keeping me alive,” Caruso said. “When I’m out there breathing hard, I try to inhale clean air and exhale those cancer cells. So that’s why exercise pays off. That’s what I tell myself.

“It’s something that keeps me motivated.”

Caruso also wants to set an example for his sons – Mason, 6, Tyler, 4 and Noah, 3.

“I want to show them that you can never give up, and that anything is possible,” he said. “I want to let them know that there are always struggles in life, and you have to try your hardest to overcome them.

“I feel like I have a short time to inspire and motivate.”

And Caruso will continue to inspire and motivate until he’s no longer physically able. He’ll take part in the Jamestown Classic, a 19-mile bike race, in October, and the Newport Pell Bridge Run in November. Then he’ll spend the winter in the pool in preparation for the Save The Bay Swim.

“I know I’m going to fight to stay alive as long as I can,” he said. “The two-year mark is coming up in December. I keep telling myself that I’m doing better than most people, and I attribute that to exercise and my attitude throughout this whole thing.”

Said Turner, “I don’t think anything is going to stop him or get in his way. What really inspires him, more than anything, is when he sees what he’s doing for others. For him, it’s showing what can be done, that he’s changing the lives of people who he doesn’t even know.”

To help support Caruso, his wife Linda and their three boys, visit www.JoeCarusoFamilyFund.com.

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