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Doug Glatt is a great-great-grandson of Louis Rubenstein

Athlete didn't let cancer
keep him from winning

By Lee Barnathan
Staff writer, Los Angeles Daily News

July 22, 2001.  Doug Glatt felt he had no choice but to lie to his wife about secretly training to defend his national doubles handball championship.

And for good reason: his ongoing battle against cancer had weakened his spine and caused great difficulty moving his legs so he couldn't dive, slide or crash into walls.

Yet that didn't stop Chatsworth resident Glatt, 40, from risking further injury and paralysis by competing last month in Fountain Valley with his partner Dave Steinberg of Van Nuys.

And it didn't stop them from winning the U.S. Handball Association 40-plus masters championship, Glatt's 10th overall title since he started playing in 1970.

"I played this year. I knew I could," he said. "It freaked everybody out."

No one more so than Wendy, his wife of 11 years. She suspected her husband was practicing at the Spectrum Club in Woodland Hills, even though he said he was just stretching.

She finally found out by asking what time Doug competes in the tournament. She saw Doug's surprised look.

"I was hurt more than anything," she said. "He didn't have the confidence in me supporting him."

In that moment, all the emotion and memories of the past year and a half came flowing back.

Glatt was diagnosed with carcinoid tumors in his spine, which is rare because such growths usually are found in the stomach or esophagus. His cancer also was slow to spread, which he believes is why he was misdiagnosed with simple back problems. He visited chiropractors in 1998 and 1999, and they eliminated his pain.

However, the pain returned and had spread to his legs by January of last year. By this time, he had difficulty moving his legs but continued to play handball.

He struggled to win the 35-plus national doubles title five months later in Minnesota because "each match made my legs feel more like cement. It was like a bad dream. You're trying to move and you can't."

After the tournament, he would awaken in the middle of the night feeling like his legs had fallen asleep. He had difficulty walking, so he underwent an MRI exam, and doctors found tumors on his spinal column pressing on nerves affecting his legs.

That same day, Glatt underwent emergency surgery to relieve the pressure.

Wendy Glatt was attending her daughter's dance recital when she received a call on her cellular phone.

"He said, 'They're not letting me leave. They found something, but they're not telling me what,' " she said.

Two hours later, he called back and said: "I have cancer. They found two tumors in my spine. I'm being wheeled into the ICU. I'm going to have surgery."

She recalled: "Excuse me? I had no time to absorb this. No time to prepare, no time to think. I took a deep breath."

He thought of how his mother had died of cancer and worried about his two daughters, then age 7 and 3. Would he live to see them grow up? Will Wendy be able to financially and emotionally support them? Who would run his graphic design business?

"I cried. I was scared," he recalled. "I saw what [my mother] went through. I couldn't see myself going through it: All the chemo, losing my hair."

He received several copies of a book written by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, which he found inspiring. He also noticed the doctors weren't concerned, so he decided he wouldn't be. He remembered what someone told him: cancer can control you or you can control it.

Chemotherapy three times a week every three weeks for six months left him lethargic. The loss of his hair got to him.

"That's when it hit me: I was in chemo. I have cancer," he said. "I remember washing my hair, and as I'm drying it, the hair is falling out. Mentally, I said: I have cancer; I could die."

Instead, the cancer left his spine but spread to his bones. But since it's so slow-moving, Glatt continues on a milder chemotherapy three times a week. He might have to do that for the rest of his life.

But he said he hasn't felt this good in three years, so why not try and defend his handball title?

Because, his wife said, your spine is weak, and you could become paralyzed.

Wendy, 34, told her husband she would support him in his fight with cancer.

"(But) if you paralyze yourself, I'm not sure I could take care of you. Can't you accept the fact you're a national champion and you're not supposed to do it?

"He needed to prove to himself, to the world, to whomever (that) he could still do it. He said it wasn't to prove anything. I'm not so sure."

The moment Glatt walked onto the court in Fountain Valley, he knew he had made the right decision.

Wendy watched him compete, saw how happy he was and realized it was worth it to him, even if it shortens his life.

Others were shocked to see him, thinking he'd never play again.

"We all think he's crazy," said Jess Posos of West Hills, who with partner Mark Zamora, lost in the final to Glatt. "He's unbelievable. He didn't give up for anything."

Zamora was especially pleased for Glatt. Zamora's 12-year-old daughter, Crystal, has knee cancer. After Glatt won, he gave Crystal the game ball, a shirt and a cap, and he dedicated the victory to her.

"To me, it was very inspirational," Mark Zamora said.

For now, Glatt has given up handball. Yet he yearns for one more national doubles title because that would be his 10th and make him a Grand Master Champion. With that, he could earn for himself enshrinement in the United States Handball Association's Hall of Fame in Tucson, Arizona. ...

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