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Already a Winner : Marathon: Carol Cavalluzzi, a survivor of breast cancer, will serve as an example to others as she takes part in Saturday’s fund-raising race.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A life-threatening tumor, a mastectomy and two years of grueling chemotherapy haven’t kept Carol Cavalluzzi, 40, from going the distance.

By 1988--five years after her cancer surgery--the Simi Valley resident was jogging past the finish line in a 26.2-mile marathon.

On Saturday, Cavalluzzi will line up in Camarillo for a shorter, but no less significant contest--a 10-kilometer race called “Making Strides Against Cancer.” The event, beginning at 9 a.m. at Adolfo Camarillo High School, is the second annual fund-raising run sponsored by the American Cancer Society’s Ventura County unit.

“Last year I was out of town and couldn’t be there,” said Cavalluzzi, an administrative assistant for a Woodland Hills manufacturer of computer printers. “This time I’m very excited about being in it to help raise money for cancer research and to show other people that I’m a survivor--and give them encouragement.”

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Peggy Christianson, coordinator of the Cancer Society’s east Ventura County branch, is pleased that Cavalluzzi will run. “It’s important for Carol, and it’s important for people to know there is life after cancer,” Christianson said.

Cavalluzzi’s physician tells other patients undergoing cancer treatment about her athletic accomplishments.

“It helps a lot of people psychologically,” said Bruce Zietz, a cancer specialist based in West Hills and Agoura. “I certainly use that during therapy because they’re very apprehensive and frightened about what’s happening to them.”

In 1983, Cavalluzzi found a small lump under her arm and brought it to the attention of her regular physician. “He thought it was just a sweat gland and dismissed it because he thought I was too young to have breast cancer,” she recalled.

Several months later, discovering that the lump had grown, Cavalluzzi sought medical help again. This time, breast cancer was detected, and she had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy.

Zietz said the cancer put Cavalluzzi’s life in jeopardy. “It wasn’t really caught early,” he said. “She went through aggressive therapy.

“Carol’s been kind of like a miracle. She’s done so well. I think Carol’s always had a very positive attitude--that’s one of the keys to her success.”

The physician said her athletic regimen has also helped. “She’s conditioned herself to get better,” Zietz said. “There’s something about running that releases endorphins. It causes a psychological high. If (cancer patients) can tolerate it, it’s a wonderful thing.”

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After the wearying chemotherapy, Cavalluzzi, who grew up in the Bronx and moved to California 12 years ago, joined several co-workers from Dataproducts Corp. in 6 a.m. jogging stints several times a week at nearby Pierce College.

“I think it’s something that comes naturally,” Cavalluzzi said of the workouts. “I’m always late, so I’m always running to catch up.”

In March, 1988, she tried her first marathon but ran out of steam about 10 miles from the end. Two months later, however, she crossed the finish line of the Long Beach Marathon in five hours and 28 minutes. The emotional moment was preserved on film.

“You have to see the picture on my wall,” Cavalluzzi said. “I have my hands up in a ‘Rocky’ pose. I was so excited I cried.”

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She ran the New York Marathon in late 1989 and the Los Angeles Marathon in 1990 before her chiropractor urged her to give up the punishing contests. But she continues to compete in shorter races.

Cavalluzzi also participates in the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. She has visited about 30 women who have undergone cancer surgery, offering them the same sort of reassurance she once received.

“Right after my surgery, a volunteer visited me,” Cavalluzzi said. “She was young. I don’t remember her name. But I was able to ask her questions that I hadn’t thought of before, about how to get on with my day-to-day life, mainly.”

Cavalluzzi said her physicians have found no sign that her cancer has returned. She credits her faith and the support she has received from her husband, Rocco, her family and her friends.

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“Cancer comes into my mind once a year when I go for my tests,” she said. “But when I run, I just thank God that I’m able to.”


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