Jim Weber is a husband and a father and a Chiefs fan. Dustin Colquitt is his favorite player, which means he’s heard the joke that he roots for his guy to never come on the field. He is 50 years old and a West Point graduate with an incurable cancer his wife prefers not to think about.
Jim does not cry, and this is not some macho pride thing. If he lives long enough to see the Chiefs win the Super Bowl he will soak himself and anyone around him in tears. He talks openly about his fears, and his pains. So, no. This is not some macho pride thing. Crying just isn’t a thing he does.
He has cried once since he was 10 years old, and we’ll get to that story soon. But first, the more appropriate story is about the times he’s almost cried. That’s happened a few times, particularly recently, as he’s trained for Monday’s Boston Marathon.
An unavoidable conspiracy of circumstance meant he was doing his longest runs a few days after chemotherapy to treat multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer that chokes off the body’s ability to create blood cells, and eventually eats away at the bone. There is no cure, only painful, will-testing treatment. That means he’d do chemo on a Friday, and then run, say, 20 miles on a Monday.
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Jim will tell you he’s not a runner. He’s never done an organized run longer than a 5K. But he damn sure is a fighter, so through the chemo and the drugs that are hard on tendons and muscle fiber he puts his head down, deep breath, and then one foot in front of the other. This is how he fights for his life.
“I’m asking close personal friends, ‘Hey, give me money because I’m dying,’ ” he says. “So now, the stress is: I’ve got to run. I’ve got to finish and cross that finish line. I can’t tell you how many times I’m on the verge of tears, because I don’t know if I can do it. If it was just for me, I’d have backed out by now.”
Jim will make you smile within two minutes of meeting him, probably with a joke about himself. He has the spirit of an old soldier, and a background in sales, and it’s all made him something of a superstar in certain circles. He has raised around $200,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and is featured in a documentary made by a drug manufacturer to show patients what remains possible after hearing the worst news of their lives.
Jim wanted to run a marathon by his 50th birthday. That was last November, and actually, he first noticed something wrong with his body when training for a race slowed two years ago. In the beginning, doctors thought it was something with his sinuses. But he knew better. He was just so dang tired. Couldn’t brush his teeth without sitting down, or climb the stairs at his house without losing his breath.
The diagnosis came after a blur of tests, and the stem cell transplants came last year. The average time between a transplant and the nasty killer coming back is 2 1/2 years, but Jim doesn’t think about that number much. He’s nearly 20 years younger than the average multiple myeloma patient, and in good shape, and besides, medicine and research are always advancing. He’s met people who are 20 years removed from their transplant.
That’s where he keeps his mind, anyway, even as the reminders are constant. Last year, the Chiefs invited him on the field before their home opener. That was cool. He even met Colquitt, who came over after pointing at Jim’s jersey. Colquitt said he heard Jim’s story, and hoped to meet him. Jim’s wife, Pam, said it was the first time she’d seen him choked up.
So, yeah. That was a great night. But the experience left him so exhausted he needed two weeks to recover. From watching a football game. There are moments of joy, but the cancer is always there.
He’s wanted to quit a thousand times. Not just the marathon, but all of it. Who wouldn’t have those thoughts? The donors aren’t the only ones who keep him going. It’s his wife, and here is the story of the one time since childhood that Jim cried. It happened at the hospital, after the diagnosis, when Pam walked in and Jim thought about where the family would be if he passed.
“We weren’t ready for her to be OK,” Jim said. “I felt like I failed in life.”
So this is why he runs. This is why he’s had those uncomfortable conversations with friends and strangers to donate for the cause. This is why he writes the names of the generous on his arm for his longest and most brutal runs, and why he’s writing all the names he can fit on his bib for the marathon through Boston.
The MMRF asked Jim to speak the night before the race, and he’s thrilled to do it. These bits of happiness are what drive him now. The only thing that makes him uncomfortable is the hero word. He understands how the word’s meaning has evolved, but this is a point he’s adamant about.
“The reality is, I’m stuck with this (expletive). Right?” he says. “That’s reality. I’m stuck with it. So I had to make a decision on how I deal with it. The heroes are the people who don’t have it. The people who don’t have it, but are working to find a cure so I can live longer. Those are the heroes.
“All I’m doing is what I have to do. All I’m doing is trying to figure out, ‘OK, how do you make something positive out of this?’ ”