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About Utah: Runners rally for cancer patient

Brandon Plewe thought he'd misheard the nurse admitting him to the hospital. Either that or she'd read the numbers wrong.

It sounded like she said he was 5-foot-5.

He hadn't been 5-5 since junior high. He was close to 5-11 if he stood up straight, 5-10 if he slouched.

So the nurse looked again. Yep, 5-5.

Funny the things you don't notice when you're fighting to stay alive.

Brandon's fight began in January when the back pain became so intense that he went to the clinic to have X-rays. The doctors weren't sure what was causing him such distress.

They first guessed muscle problems and gave him ibuprofen. When there was no improvement, they thought it might be joint disease and gave him cortisone shots. When that didn't work, they diagnosed degenerative disc disease and gave him epidural shots.

Those didn't work either. By this point, the 27-year-old Plewe was bent over at the waist. He needed to tighten his belt just to walk. He left the driving to his wife, Katie. It was all he could do to make it to his classes at Westminster College in the MBA program.

After he took his last class of the spring semester at the first of April, leaving him a mere two classes from graduation, he had an MRI test.

Every vertebrae in his spinal column was cracked or crushed.

Finally, he was properly diagnosed: He had multiple myeloma, aka bone marrow cancer.

It took some beating-the-lottery odds to get it. The disease usually attacks African-American males age 60 and over. At 27 and Caucasian, Brandon's qualifications were sorely lacking. It was the last thing the doctors thought to look for.

But that's what he had, and the loss of 50 pounds of weight (from 175 to 125) and five-plus inches of height only confirmed it.

"Closest I've come to seeing Auschwitz," says Brandon's father, Rick.

Now that the foe was identified, Brandon and the medical community rolled up their sleeves. To make a long and painful story short, since April he's had two chemotherapy treatments (so he also lost his hair) and three surgeries, including one bone marrow transplant. In a couple of weeks, he'll have another one.

Now for the good news: With every surgery and every chemo, his prognosis has improved. There is reason to hope that by September the cancer will be in remission and Brandon will be well on his way back to normal life.

"We started out at rock bottom, but ever since it keeps getting better," says Brandon, resting at his in-laws' home in Salt Lake. "In the hospital, it was an achievement when I could lift my head off the pillow. Then I went to a walker, then crutches, and now all I need is a cane.

"Just focus on the positive," he says, "that's the plan."

One of the biggest positives has been the outpouring of support from so many places in so many ways. On Saturday, more than 200 people, many of them strangers to Brandon, participated in a "Run For Fun For Brandon" 5K race in Sugarhouse Park set up by family and friends that netted $14,643 to help defray the astronomical medical costs that have accrued in a mere four months. (If you would like to donate, visit www.brandonplewe.com.)

"It's really amazing. You feel so alone, then you go and see so many people who are pulling for you," says Brandon.

"We saw the very best in humanity Saturday," says Brandon's dad of the selfless 5Kers. "This has not only brought out the best in Brandon, it's brought out the best in others, too."

If in the end it means going through life at 5-5 instead of 5-10, Brandon is prepared for that.

"Unfortunately they tell me I will never regain the five inches I lost," he laments. "But I figure as long as I'm still taller than Katie — which isn't too hard considering she's 5-2 — I'm happy just being able to walk again."

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com