Jimmie D. Compton, Jr. - Running the race of his life

Born and raised in Detroit, Jimmie D. Compton, Jr. began his running career during his 10th grade year of high school. He broke his ankle during his football season and was determined to regain strength. He took his first few steps and he was hooked.

In 11th grade, Jimmie’s running team raced to and from Belle Isle for the first time. He didn’t know it at the time, but running on that historic island would play a critical role in Jimmie’s life.

“It’s crazy to reflect that a break in my ankle is what brought distance running into my life for good,” Jimmie said.

From coaching his daughter and grandson in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track to participating in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s running team as an employee, Jimmie lived and breathed for the opportunity to run. Ultimately, his training would lay a critical groundwork of determination and perseverance as he faced an unexpected challenge.

For decades, Jimmie noticed a raised area on his left thigh, which he assumed was simply fluid or fatty tissue. The spot grew slowly, but the swelling never caused concern until the fall of 2019.

Jimmie was training for the 2019 Detroit Free Press 5K. He began experiencing pain and assumed he had pulled a muscle in his left leg. It began interfering with his gait, so he saw his primary care physician, who ordered an MRI at Karmanos Cancer Institute upon seeing the abnormal swelling in his thigh.

“A friend of mine ask me why I went to Karmanos for a tumor that could potentially be non-cancerous. My answer was that I wanted the cancer experts to be the ones to find out if the tumor was cancerous or not. That’s why I went to Karmanos Cancer Institute,” Jimmie said.

Jimmie underwent an ultrasound, MRI and biopsy. They revealed that the tumor to be Schwannoma, a rare type of tumor that can cause damage to the nervous system. The tumor degenerated nerves in his thigh, causing atrophy to his left quad muscles, and needed to be removed.

Jimmie said, “When I heard that diagnosis, I thought my running days were over. I could not imagine a life without running. I was at a loss. Running was a way to maintain stress and to connect with other people. Running was what kept me stable.”

Alysia Kemp, M.D., leader of the Sarcoma Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, determined that the tumor must be removed. Jimmie underwent surgery on June 10, 2020, where he only stayed in the hospital overnight.

For four months after his surgery, Jimmie took steps towards recovery with drains in three different locations in his thigh. In September 2020, through rehabilitation, he started to regain the muscles and strength in his thigh. He began walking a mile and a half three times a week. No amount of pain or discomfort would stop him from getting back to the race. “I even walked around Detroit Mercy’s four-inch snow-covered track on several occasions throughout the winter,” Jimmie said.

“What I’ve learned from my running career transfers to my and Schwannoma diagnosis. It’s only from my running career that I felt comfortable to test myself to keep trying in my rehabilitation. Running has helped me be more in tune with my body to realize how I can keep living, moving and running,” Jimmie said.

Gaining his momentum and strength again, Jimmie had his sights on the Run Across America Virtual 5K held on June 12, 2021. Exactly one-year post-surgery, his thigh not only held up, but Jimmie finished first in his age and gender group in all of Michigan and eighth in his group across the nation. He was the only 69-year-old Michigan male participant in this nationwide event to support Feeding America.

In the middle of such an uncertain road, Jimmie maintained a strong support system in his family and community. “My daughter was an ER nurse at Children’s Hospital, so she knew everything to do for me, and my wife would drive me to every single appointment and would walk with me step by step,” he said.

“I’ve been running all my life, and the limitations that stop me were the ones that were psychological. Going through this diagnosis and treatment, I had to trust the process, assess my own limitations and recognize my ability to keep going and to keep living,” Jimmie said.

He keeps pressing forward and is now preparing for the Detroit Free Press 5K in October 2021.

Karmanos Cancer Institute is proud to recognize July as Sarcoma Awareness Month. Sarcomas are rare tumors, with around 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year, which develop in an individual’s soft tissue or bone. Karmanos offers an expert team dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of these uncommon tumors.

Our team of sarcoma oncology specialists includes several nationally recognized experts who bring years of previous experience treating these malignancies. If you have a growth or lump, it’s vital to be evaluated by cancer experts. At Karmanos, we can help. Call us at 1-800-KARMANOS (800-527-6266) to schedule your appointment today.