Hodgkin Lymphoma Patient Found Man’s Best Friend, Ran Marathon with Karmanos Doctor

The 37-year-old Didn’t Know He Liked Running Until He Met Champ

By the end of this story, you’ll probably conclude that Bob Busch is a champ who runs with Champ. But first, he had to face an unexpected reality and find unimaginable strength before he found his new hobby.

Busch, 37, from Beverly Hills, Michigan, is a loving, caring, and supportive husband and father to his wife, Caitlin, and their three children, all under 10. In the Spring of 2021, the night of Busch’s 35th birthday, he was doing what most parents do – getting his kids ready for bed. As they brushed their teeth, Busch looked in the mirror and noticed one side of his neck was swollen.

An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist told him the swollen area was most likely a cyst. After weeks of waiting and worrying, a physician removed Busch’s plum-sized lymph node. In June 2021, doctors confirmed that Busch had stage II Hodgkin lymphoma. He and his wife began searching for the right cancer center where Busch could start treatment.

“Before we received a call back from some of the other hospitals, we met with Dr. Yang at Karmanos,” said Caitlin.

The second the Busch family met Jay Yang, M.D., they knew that he was not only “our man, but THE man.”

“One of our very first meetings after Bob’s diagnosis was a virtual meeting. He had just gone swimming with his kids, and his hair was still wet. It was just a reminder that he was young and had so much to live for,” recalled Dr. Yang, hematologist, medical oncologist and leader of the Hematology Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. “All patients have much more to their story than just cancer, and it helps as an oncologist to learn more about the entire person.”

“He was calm and caring, even when our feelings were the opposite. It’s so important to feel validated and know your questions will be answered. The entire team was there for us,” described Caitlin.

Busch began several rounds of chemotherapy. He and Caitlin try to foster an even relationship as a married couple. One day, Bob realized he was frustrated because he felt Caitlin had to do more.

“My job was to fight and get better,” he eventually realized. "It didn’t impact my feelings from a self-worth perspective, but it ultimately sent me to therapy; it made me feel bad because I couldn’t contribute like I once did.”

About halfway through Busch’s chemotherapy treatment plan, he and Caitlin stopped by an Amish farm to get vegetables. That’s when he saw puppies for sale. Given their situation, they thought bringing home a puppy would lift their spirits and cheer up the children. The kids had seen their father in a way that was unfamiliar and experienced feelings that could not be adequately explained at their age. They were 3, 5, and 7 when he was diagnosed.

So, Champ became the newest addition to the family. And the rest is history.

A chemo buddy

Champ, now 3, started as Busch’s chemo buddy. Busch would take him on walks as a puppy, but as the dog grew bigger and stronger, the walks became less effective. So, he turned the 30-minute walks into jogs. Busch used to do cycling and play sports as a kid, but at that moment, he began to enjoy running.

As a trained athlete in running, Caitlin suggested that Busch sign up for a half marathon. However, he was thinking bigger.  

“I like challenging myself,” he said. “If I do a half, then I’m going to push to do a whole marathon.”

So, they called their Karmanos cancer care team and Busch received the thumbs up. To their surprise, one of the nurses called the Busches back; Dr. Yang decided he’d join him in the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October 2023.

“When Bob decided he wanted to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon, he began exploring the idea of doing a fundraiser to help give back and support cancer research,” said Caitlin.

So, the couple worked with the Karmanos Cancer Foundation to set up the Busch Family Cancer Research Fund to support Dr. Yang’s clinical research. They shared the fund with family and friends on social media and raised around $7,000.

“There’s definitely been a few lessons learned,” Dr. Yang said as he reflected on Busch’s cancer treatment journey.

“I have been floored by Bob and Caitlin’s generosity, including the generosity of all our donors at Karmanos. It’s great to see that someone who had such a difficult experience would want to help others. That’s a lesson in paying it forward.”


The marathon

Despite the role of a physician, it was Busch who unknowingly pushed Dr. Yang to the finish line during the marathon.

“I had a goal time in mind based on my results from prior marathons. As it turned out, the race was much harder for me than I expected. I was initially disappointed with my time at the finish line, but that disappeared after seeing Bob and his family,” Dr. Yang said.

Busch finished the marathon in 4 hours and 12 minutes.

"It was so much fun and such an amazing experience,” he described. “I would love to do one again at some point in my life – if my knees can handle it!”

Now an accomplished marathon runner and over two years after finishing his chemotherapy treatments, Busch said he’s enjoying life to the fullest.

“I feel fantastic. In the past, leading up to my follow-up appointments, I would have anxiety, checking to make sure that I didn’t have any lumps or bumps. Once I had the follow-up after the marathon, I felt like I’m kinda riding high,” Busch expressed. “Even though this was a very important part of my life, this chapter is over. I feel healthy and I feel right.”

The care and support cancer patients need

When facing a blood cancer diagnosis, such as Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it is important to see experts who specialize in treating these diseases. The hematologists, medical and radiation oncologists, among other key specialists on the Hematology Oncology MDT at Karmanos, participate in collective research and treat over 40 types of blood cancer.

“Seek medical attention when you know or suspect there is something wrong. If you are diagnosed with cancer, find a doctor who is a specialist and with whom you are confident and have a good rapport. Then follow their lead,” advised Dr. Yang.

“I know many men, including myself, who do not care for their health as well as they should,” Dr. Yang added. “Sometimes we make excuses or procrastinate and avoid seeking medical attention when necessary. Bob never seemed paralyzed by the diagnosis nor overcome with fear but tackled it head-on. He always had a positive attitude.”

In Busch’s case, he admitted to not just needing cancer treatment but also needing therapy to help cope with how cancer shifted his life. He encourages men not to shy away from the thought of talking to an expert.

“There’s nothing wrong with speaking to a certified third party. There’s no benefit of bottling it up. Ultimately, it is a gift to yourself. It is a process that has you figuring out your feelings when you can’t do it alone,” described Busch.

His therapy sessions helped him realize that “doing something for yourself is healthy, and it’s a good way to teach your kids the importance of self-reflection.”

Karmanos also has experts who assist cancer patients should they need additional resources, including therapy. The psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers on the Supportive Oncology MDT only meet with Karmanos cancer patients and caregivers to help them through the cancer journey. They work closely with each of our specialists and MDTs to ensure patients have the support they need.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, call 1-800-KARMANOS to make an appointment with one of our world-renowned experts or visit karmanos.org.

To donate to the Busche Family Cancer Research Fund, click here.