Mike Piper has endured pain, conquered 60km mountain runs and won international marathon titles but now faces the toughest battle of his life as he tries to beat cancer. Amanda Parkinson reports.
He's a hard man to slow down.
Mike Piper has run 103 marathons, 62 in under three hours. Now retired from international running, he focuses on keeping fit while trying to beat cancer. His optimism was recognised by Relay For Life organisers, who asked him to launch the 2014 Southland fundraiser last week.
"The first surgery took 7 1/2 hours and they couldn't remove it all," he says.
Doctors doused the cancer in radiotherapy to little avail before deciding in September last year that surgery would again be needed.
"They determined the cancer was through to the bone on my head, so back I went," he says.
"They took grafts from my leg and screwed a titanium plate to my skull before puttying up the crater they had made."
Waiting for results takes the longest, with surgeons hopeful but never really sure till the results are confirmed.
Last month, Piper found another two carcinomas. Dunedin specialist doctors travelled from Dunedin to operate on him at Southland Hospital.
"They aren't sure about this one; at the moment we are thinking I will need radiotherapy again to just knock this on the head."
After another visit to the specialist this week, Piper was told he will need yet another surgery in coming months.
Despite the continual battle, the stubborn marathon man can radiate humour and intelligence.
After his first surgery, Mr Piper woke to a letter from his youngest daughter, entitled "10 things to remember after your operation". As he recites the letter, he chuckles:
1. Your name is Mike. It rhymes with bike.
2. You have false teeth - don't forget to put them in.
3. Your wife is Joy. Don't ever call her Joyce or Eileen or sing Come On Eileen.
4. You have two children (that we know of).
5. You like to run. You used to run marathons. Your daughter Jane is faster than you, she has always whipped your butt.
6. You like to read the paper. Buy cheap internet fares to any destination. Watch cricket, eat eskimo lollies, eat icecream and pretend to sleep.
7. Your first child is a calculator.
8. Your second child is called Jane. She is amazing. She is good-looking, smart and you have agreed to give your future lottery winnings to her.
9. When bored, you will obsessively mow the lawns and trim nonexistent edges. The psych department may like to investigate this as a possible complex for not having enough hair on your head. You are semi-retired but still go to your office.
10. The former 10 facts are the truth and most important things to remember after your op. Do not question these facts, I hope your memory grows back accurately and wrinkles disappear.
However, having said that, surgeons do have limited skills and cannot work miracles.
Putting the letter's helpful advice aside, Mr Piper says cancer is just one of life's challenges.
"It is a big game, and affects a number of people," he said "But I've got 32 years to go yet; I am going to live till I am 100."
- © Fairfax NZ News