MANATEE -- She felt a little lump on the back of her right calf when she stretched.
But Dana Pounds of West Bradenton, then 26 and teaching marine science in Key Largo, was training for her first marathon and was way too busy to worry about a cyst or hematoma.
So she did what most invincible-feeling, 20-somethings do. She forgot about it.
"I thought, 'We all get lumps and bumps,' " said Pounds, now 41.
But the lump became bothersome and, after several misdiagnoses by private physicians in the Keys, Pounds learned from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami that the lump was desmoid cancer, a rare sarcoma that produces tumors in soft tissue areas of the body such as necks, chest cavities, lungs and legs.
"You know when it first happened, I wasn't too daunted," said Pounds, co-founder with her husband, Jim Pounds, of Nature's Academy, 3655 Cortez Blvd., in Wildwood Professional Park in Bradenton. "I have a pretty 'can-do' spirit. And they told me this is a good cancer to have if you have to have cancer. It doesn't move as fast as other cancers."
But the cancer did not go away despite chemotherapy, radiation, macro-dieting and meditation.
Pounds, who earned a master's degree in marine biology from Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach, wasn't able to stem the tumors no matter what regimen she tried. In 2008, after enduring numerous surgeries removing many tumors in her right leg and the non-healing wounds that came along with them, she decided on a radical course.
She would have the leg amputated to save her life.
Even that didn't end her fight with cancer. Recently, after feeling pain while using her artificial leg, doctors found a softball-sized cancerous tumor in her pelvis.
'Pounding the Pavement'
The cancer recurrence hasn't stopped Pounds. She plans to take on the Robinson Preserve Twilight 5K at 6:45 p.m. Friday.
Pounds said she decided to do the things she wants to do even though her cancer story has not yet had a fairy tale ending.
"This is my first 5K ever and I am walking," Pounds said. "It's not what I had hoped. I had dreamed I would have healed from my amputation by now and be running this 5K on a running blade. But here I am in 2014 and I can't run because my limb has changed due to the tumor growing in my hip area. I don't know how far I can walk. The way I look at it, I will cross the finish line just by starting. The finish line is just a line drawn in the sand, isn't it? For me, now, the finish line is the starting line, the willingness to try and put myself out there. I'm not afraid to fall or fail. I am willing to share my vulnerableness with everyone."
For those who wish to root Pounds on, she and her husband will be wearing neon pink Nature's Academy shirts and be with their dog, Ginger.
In December, Pounds joined a clinical drug trial through the National Cancer Institute to fight her cancer. The medication, which targets cancer through gene therapy, is so new it doesn't have a name -- it has numbers and letters.
Within four days of taking it, Pounds said she noticed pain relief in her hip and pelvis.
"I have a scan in April, but we are all very confident my soft-ball-sized tumor has shrunk to the size of a baseball," Pounds said.
Science has been Pounds' ally her whole life dating to childhood in Red Bank, N.J., where she and her brother attended Rumson Country Day School and, later, a boarding school in Connecticut where they were introduced to science through field trips.
Drawing on her own experience, Pounds started Nature's Academy in 2007, which schedules fields trips into the great outdoors where she and her staff teach Manatee County youngsters about science.
"Our mission is to enhance science literacy and foster environmental stewardship," Pounds said. "We work with school groups and all programs are held in the field."
Nature's Academy has become partners with the Pinellas County Parks and Recreation Department at Fort DeSoto Park and where students come to learn about mangroves, biodiversity and the importance of coastal cleanup.
"Over 50 percent of fifth-graders in Manatee County are not proficient in science," Pounds said. "Field trips have been lost due to budget constraints. We want to take them back out there. We are so technology-oriented these days that we forget there is a whole world out there we don't need a power source for."
Any money raised during "The Pounding the Pavement" will go to Nature's Academy's Science Literacy Project, Pounds said.
The Pounding the Pavement Project is the first of two major science literacy fundraising events to help Nature's Academy bring experiential outdoor education programs to the more than 50 percent of fifth-graders not yet science-proficient in Florida, Pounds said. The second event will be the Giving Challenge on May 6-7.
"I've seen her go through all of this and she is very human through all of it," Jessika Blersch, education manager for Nature's Academy. "I know she is still in pain but she is up at 6:15 a.m. every morning and goes to the gym. She's not only a great mentor as a woman, but as a woman in science."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond