On Monday, Dwayne Osgood will begin his fourth round of treatment for glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer.
The day before, however, the former Marine company executive officer and company commander will participate in his fifth Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. He has been nursing a balky right hamstring he pulled during an interval-training run a few weeks ago, but Osgood insists it will not prevent him from completing his mission.
“I just want to finish strong,” said Osgood, a Naval Academy graduate. “I don’t know what the deal with my hamstring is going to be. But finishing is the target for this.”
Osgood, 39, will not be alone Sunday morning. He will be joined by his wife, Elizabeth, his sister-in-law, Katie, at least 16 of his former teammates from the Navy lacrosse team and current Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman, who was Osgood’s offensive coordinator in Annapolis. Many of his teammates signed up immediately after Osgood informed them of his health in April.
“It’s having the opportunity to come together as brothers again, and it’s for Dwayne,” former Midshipmen midfielder Tommy Wallin said. “We want to be supportive and be there for him. When one of your brothers is injured or going through something, that’s the time to be a good teammate and get together and support one another.”
Osgood, a two-way midfielder at Navy before joining the Marines and being deployed to the Al Anbar province in Iraq twice, was stricken with flu-like symptoms in late February. The illness then shifted to migraines so painful that he left his job — in the finance department of an auto dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina — often enough to alarm the company president.
On March 15, Osgood asked his wife to take him to the emergency room. A CT scan revealed the glioblastoma, which is not easily detectable and is resistant to many forms of treatment.
“It was totally out of left field,” recalled Elizabeth, 36, who met her husband while they were students at the Naval Academy. “It kind of felt like a punch in the stomach.”
“I was scared,” Osgood said, adding that he had watched his mother beat breast cancer after she was diagnosed in 2001. “For us, it was immediately about looking into statistics for brain cancer, and the numbers aren’t good. But the numbers are really based on a much older population. So for us, it’s been a lot of the big and scaries, and we’re just trying to do everything we can. Stay positive, pray, and that’s how we get through.”
Osgood said the neurosurgeon who removed the tumor told him the mass — slightly smaller than a fist — was the second largest he had ever seen. A month-long plan of daily chemotherapy and weekday treatments of radiation has helped, but it has taken its toll.
Aside from a large scar on his scalp, Osgood has lost most of his hair. He only recently felt confident enough to drive on his own. And because there is some research suggesting a link between carbohydrates and cancer cells, he has adopted a ketogenic diet that is low on carbs and high on fat, which has contributed to his weight dropping from 252 to 218 pounds.
After his first round of treatment, however, Osgood decided to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon. Elizabeth is naturally concerned about her husband pushing himself too much, but he remained undaunted.
“I didn’t want to be boxed in with everybody that they say, 'Do exercise, but you can’t do this high-intensity stuff. You can’t do these marathons. You can’t do any of the other stuff,’ ” said Osgood, a father of three — 7-year-old Olivia, 5-year-old Eleanor and 15-month-old Paxton. “For me, if I’m going to beat this and the odds and the statistics are so thin, then I want to do all the things that they say you can’t do.”
Tillman, who recruited Osgood to Navy, pointed out that Osgood overcame torn ACLs in both knees in his freshman and sophomore years to compile nine goals, one assist and 12 ground balls as a junior and senior.
“I don’t think Dwayne does anything easy,” said Tillman, who joked that even a hamstring-hobbled Osgood is still faster than he is. “He embraces the hard things, and he just looks at challenges as opportunities to overcome them. I think he looks at this as one more challenge, and he’s overcome a lot. So what’s one more thing to overcome? He’s a guy I wouldn’t bet against.”
Osgood has already raised more than $34,000 for Play4TheCure, the sports fundraising arm of the National Foundation for Cancer Research. He texted his former Navy lacrosse teammates and asked them for donations.
His teammates responded by signing up for the race. Although Wallin joked that some of them questioned whether they could complete the 26.2-mile course, their commitment was unwavering.
“It hit home in the fact that it’s one of your brothers,” Wallin said. “You’re kind of besides yourself, but at the same time, the way he presented it, it was, ‘Don’t feel bad for me. I have this thing, and I’m going to get through it. I’m keeping you informed, and I don’t want any sympathy.’ ”
Osgood said he has been touched by his teammates’ show of solidarity.
“For me, it was two things,” he said. “The speed at which they signed up was unbelievable. People didn’t talk about it with each other. They just did it. And then second has been just the support of all of those guys. The run is secondary for all of us. It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together and see each other. If signing up for a run is the means by which that happens, then I think everybody just jumped on that.”
Said Elizabeth: “It’s just a good representation of the friendship and love that they have for each other.”
The average survival for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma is about a year. But Osgood said he refuses to be hemmed in by statistics.
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“It’s an opportunity to get together, and for me right now, I just try to find as many of those as I can, any opportunities to see the guys, to hang with my family,” he said. “I’m glad that regardless of what happens on the run, I will be with 20 of my closest friends.”