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Scott Wants to Get Career Back on Track After Cancer Battle

July 07, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Steve Scott has run the mile under four minutes 135 times--a figure unapproached in history. He is the American record-holder in the event and has ranked among the country's top eight in the 1,500 meters for 15 consecutive years.

But Scott concedes his most challenging test of time came in May as he waited for results of surgery to probe for the spread of testicular cancer. Scott was hospitalized for four days after the 3 1/2-hour operation but biopsies were not completed until several days later.

A week after the operation, the three-time Olympian who trains under Azusa Pacific University Coach Irv Ray learned the good news. The tests turned out negative, precluding the need--at least for the time being--for chemotherapy.

"I was trying to keep my mind off (chemotherapy)," Scott said. "I was told the results three days after I was released, but it seemed like a month."

Scott, 38, will have a chest X-ray and a blood test every month for the next two years to check for relapse. Urologist Kevin O'Brien, however, said the prognosis for recovery without chemotherapy is excellent.

Doctors made an 18-inch incision from Scott's abdomen to pubic bone in the May 24 operation, delving almost to his backbone, to remove nearly 40 lymph nodes for analysis. Three weeks earlier, Scott had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous left testicle after a tumor was discovered during a physical for a vasectomy.

"That one was a piece of cake," Scott said. "But when they cut you from the breast bone to the intestines to take out the lymph nodes, that's pretty drastic surgery."

O'Brien said the procedure and recovery time after the operation could have been more demanding if it were not for Scott's excellent physical condition developed through years of a rigorous 90-mile-a-week training regimen.

"Steve underestimated the second surgery and was a little devastated," O'Brien said. "I suspect he thought it would be a lot like the first. Luckily, we only had to go six inches deep because he was so skinny. In most people, we have to cut through at least six inches of fat."

Still, Scott, plagued by a constant fever, lost nearly 15 pounds off his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame in the weeks after the surgery. His resting heart rate, which usually hovers close to 40 beats a minute, skyrocketed to 70.

The athlete's heart rate has dropped to under 60 beats the past week and he has resumed his normal activities. Scott, however, has no plans to return to running for several months, despite clearance from O'Brien.

"What the heart rate tells me is that I'm not totally recovered yet, so that means I shouldn't be doing any training of any type," Scott said. "I'm thinking of starting on a stationary bike or doing some mountain biking, but it would be futile to do anything. It would just drag me further into a hole."

But Scott, whose U.S. record of 3 minutes 47.69 seconds in 1982 ranks as the fifth fastest mile of all time, has entertained no thoughts of retiring and has designs of breaking the four-minute mile a record 136th time.

The seven-time U.S. national 1,500-meter champion hopes to start training by October, run an abbreviated season in 1995 and take a shot at the 1,500 in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials. After that, he plans to compete in the Masters (age 40 and over) circuit.

Scott's cancer differed from Philadelphia Phillies' first baseman John Kruk, who returned to play earlier this year after diagnosis and treatment. Kruk's cancer can be treated with radiation. Scott's condition is only treatable with chemotherapy and surgery.

Scott chose surgery.

"Chemotherapy can scar your lungs among other things and you want to avoid something like that if you want to continue running at a high level," said Scott, a Leucadia resident.

"Give a runner a choice between shin splints and a bad case of flu and he'll take the shin splints," he said. "It's just an injury. Chemo is like an illness. Surgery is like an injury. And it's not as hard on the body as chemo."

Scott felt lethargic during training and suspected a problem for nearly six months before the cancer was diagnosed. He ignored a warning sign of a shrunken testicle and sensitivity in the area.

"I knew there was something happening down there," Scott said. "I let this thing go because I thought, 'Nothing can happen to me. I'm invincible.' Cancer isn't discriminatory, it's one of those things that happens. It can affect anybody, but I still find it astonishing that something like this can happen to someone who has been training and taking care of their body as I have for so many years."

Testicular cancer typically strikes men between the ages of 18 and 40 and has a 95% cure rate if caught in the early stages. The cause is unknown, but O'Brien speculates trauma from running might have prompted Scott's condition.

Three days after the initial physical examination, Scott was whisked onto the operating table for the first surgery, but the discovery did little to deflate Scott's spirits. He said he was more nervous in the weeks before the 1984 Olympic 1,500 final than he was for the operation.

"Nine times out of 10, doctors paint the absolute worst picture they can to cover themselves," said Scott, whose father is a physician. "If they gave me a 95% cure rate, then that was as good as 100% to me."

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