Bob Bade had run marathons. He worked out daily at the gym, so when a dull pain in his groin wouldn't go away, he figured it might be a sports hernia.
But Cleo stood as Suspect No. 1.
When the 10-year-old beagle wanted to go out, she occasionally would jump up toward her master. Bade figured her paws might have caught him just right. But when the swelling in one testicle wouldn't go away, Bade's wife, Lisa, insisted on a medical checkup.
Just a week earlier, Lisa had quit her job as a technician at Radiology Associates in New Port Richey. Nine years of dealing with deadly diseases had left her needing a break, but now she was back at the office with her athletic husband, one of the top administrators at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Dr. Howard Kahen examined X-rays. Bade flinched at his words: "It's bad.''
Testicular cancer normally strikes younger men. Bade, just two months shy of his 45th birthday, had become an exception. And the news was about to get worse.
The same kind of tests that Lisa Bade had read too many times now revealed several small tumors in her husband's lungs and lymph nodes. Doctors were concerned the cancer might have invaded the brain. They ordered a CAT scan.
This may seem odd, given the terror he felt that awful day 20 months ago, but Bade beams when he tells this part of his story. "The doctor came out and said, "I just want you to know you have a really good-looking brain. Now I like to remind Lisa of that all the time,'' Bade said.
That sense of humor has endeared Bade on PHCC's campuses for 23 years, the last six as associate dean overseeing student activities, athletics and discipline. It helped him endure a fight few expected he could win — except, that is, Bade himself.
"I am, to say the least, competitive,'' he said. "I never felt it was my time.''
Some days he must have wondered. He had testicular choriocarcinoma, fast-spreading and so rare his doctors could verify only 30 cases worldwide that year. They removed one testicle and began a chemotherapy regimen that made Bade's marathons seem like a picnic in the park.
For five straight days, chemicals pumped through a port in Bade's chest for almost seven straight hours as other cancer patients came and went. At night, another pump kept him awake as it cleansed his kidneys of the poison needed to kill the cancer cells.
The treatment called for a second week of three-hour blood transfusions, then a week of rest to get ready for another cycle. Finally, three months later, the treatments ended.
"He was amazing going through it,'' said his oncologist, Dr. Joseph Sennabaum at Florida Cancer Specialists. "It was a very rough treatment, and he never complained.''
Bade had played college baseball, excelled as a runner and wowed PHCC students with his aggressive dodgeball skills. Now he struggled to walk a few feet. He lost his hair but never his resolve to survive. And gradually he got stronger, the cancer weaker, until it disappeared.
He returned to work in July, his office decorated with a mural of encouraging words from staff and students and a big S, the kind you see on Superman's chest.
It could also stand for Survivor.
He's back in the gym, lifting weights and running on a treadmill five days a week. Recently, after his doctor restored his testosterone balance, he ran 13 miles and felt like he could run all day. As he laced his blue Nikes, he thought about how he had stared down at them during all those chemo treatments.
"I've come so far,'' he said. "My wife says I'm back to being a pain in the butt, which is good.''
Two weeks ago, as the college celebrated its 40th anniversary, employees filled the auditorium at the New Port Richey campus. Bade sat among them as Dr. Katherine Johnson, the college president, began a presentation of an award she gives each year to a person she says exemplifies the highest standards of the institution. She spoke of "courage'' and "strength'' and then offered specific details that made it clear whom she had chosen to receive the President's Cup.
The audience cheered. Lisa and Amanda, 16, the youngest of their three children, appeared from behind the curtain.
A few days later, he strolled the campus and shared his story, one he hopes raises awareness and gives comfort to others. He ran a 5K. He played dodgeball with students.