Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

February 15, 2006:

Tom Tucker ’95

Tom Tucker ’95 has completed three Ironman races in three nations. (Courtesy Tom Tucker ’95)

Competing for a cure
Cancer survivor Tom Tucker ’95 races for charity

In 2004, Tom Tucker ’95 was exactly where he wanted to be: living in Sydney with his wife, Kim, working in private equity, competing in triathlons, and playing and coaching hockey. Then a random puck to the face sent him to the doctor; Tucker thought the injury had given him a concussion and was causing memory lapses. The doctor, however, had a different diagnosis. He said Tucker had a tumor in the left temporal lobe of his brain. The memory lapses were probably caused by mini-seizures, not the stray puck.

Tucker can laugh now about his first reaction. “Well,” he told his neurologist, “at least it’s not cancer.” It was, though, and suddenly he was planning to undergo brain surgery to remove as much of the apple-sized tumor as possible. It was his second reaction that was more telling. “How you react to cancer or numerous other diseases or pieces of bad news dictates how you approach it,” he says. “I thought, ‘It’s not that bad — it could be worse.’”

Before his diagnosis, Tucker was in the middle of training for Ironman New Zealand, a triathlon in which participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and finish with a full 26.2-mile marathon. He thought long and hard about whether to do the race. The big worry was seizures; having one in the water or on the bike could be fatal. His doctor, a triathlete himself, “looked me in the face and said, ‘I can’t tell you not to do the race. You’ve got one life to live, and if it will put a smile on your face, that’s important,’” he says. He did the race, and less than a month later had surgery that removed 80 percent of the tumor.

That has been the extent of his treatment, and at age 32 Tucker has resumed a relatively normal life, albeit with a new perspective. He returned to work and triathlons, but wanted to do something different this time. The idea for a fund-raising campaign, T4T (www.t4tcan.com), built around doing three Ironman races in three different countries, all in one year, came to him as he was biking up a hill one day. “I really had no idea what it would become,” he says. “It was one of the less pragmatic plans I’ve had.” T4T plays on his initials, the words tumor and triathlon, and a woman, Tina, whom he met in the hospital and has since died. T4T doesn’t collect funds — it funnels them directly to brain-tumor charities.

For a plan born on the fly, it has worked out pretty well. Tucker estimates he has raised over $300,000 for brain-tumor charities by collecting pledges for three Ironman triathlons he completed last year: the first in April in Australia, followed by one in August in Canada, where he qualified for the 2005 Ford Ironman World Championships, held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in October. In Hawaii, he finished in nine hours and 58 minutes.

After recovering from the world championships, Tucker and his wife moved to Calgary, closer to their families. He’s pragmatic about his future; close monitoring of his remaining tumor hasn’t shown any increase in size, but he’s aware it could begin to grow again. “Time counts,” he says. “I don’t get caught up in those things that, when all is said and done, don’t mean that much.”

By Katherine Hobson ’94

Katherine Hobson ’94 covers medicine at U.S. News & World Report.