Tall, casually handsome, cool in an old Ford pickup sort of way, Brad Roupp is one of those guys whose effortless confidence seems a genetic inheritance rather than a learned behavior.
As coach of the Ashland High boys soccer team, a position he's held since 2008, he strides, rather than paces, up and down the sideline on game days, calmly directing his troops. He doesn't seem to raise his voice, but somehow projects it across the field as necessary. He loves to win and hates to lose, but immediately after a game it's hard to tell which just happened.
In his postgame critiques to the media he spouts the standard soccer jargon — "We won the 50-50 balls," and so forth — mixed with honest reactions, and occasionally reveals a battle that seems to rage within: the hopeless optimist versus the cerebral realist.
Following Ashland's heartbreaking loss to Churchill in the 2008 Class 5A state championship game, Roupp called the season "perfect" and said he wouldn't change a thing. Then later, when reached by phone regarding another matter, wondered if his comments sounded too cheerful.
"I'm not in denial," he explained.
No, just content. At ease. Comfortable.
Which somehow makes what happened last spring that much more disconcerting.
Roupp, 53, was sitting in a control room, waiting for the results of a body scan. Usually, patients hang out in another room and learn of the results from a doctor, but Roupp had nothing to fear. The scan would come back negative. He knew it.
Two years prior, his life changed forever when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, an often curable form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic cells of the immune system. Roupp refused to let the chemotherapy interfere with his passion to coach, so instead he used it, turned it into a game, fed off it the way the cancer was feeding off his body.
"I would get up, do chemo early, come back home to rest, and at 3 o'clock I was on [coaching]," he recalls. "So it helped me to have, every day, something to look forward to that I truly enjoy and it helped me stay really positive. I found that a couple hours of being on as a coach was very rewarding but very tiring. I'd come home just dragging after practice and go to bed. And the next day at 3 o'clock I just made sure that I was as refreshed as I could be."
Roupp kept that up throughout most of the season until one day he returned from his final treatment with a clean bill of health.
"Truthfully, you're worn out, so it's not like jubilation," he said. "I mean, you're glad to be done, but you're exhausted. It takes months until you start getting (your energy) back."
The Grizzlies at the time had only a few games left in the regular season. They won the Southern Sky Conference and beat Woodburn in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Bend in the quarterfinals.
The loss to Bend, like all playoff losses, stung, but by then Roupp's perspective had changed.
"I remember having a meeting where I tried to talk to (the players) and I broke down and I couldn't talk about it," he said. "I think that was powerful. It was an emotional time, and truthfully chemo and all that makes you emotional.
"It made me appreciate not only the times and moments that I was having but it helped me appreciate the moments they were having. The ups and downs of a soccer season and soccer practices, I just enjoyed them more. As much as I was feeling bad I was enjoying things more. Kind of weird."
The experience changed Roupp away from the soccer field as well. He found himself appreciating the little things, the surprises life threw at him as he completed the day-to-day tasks required to run the family business, Abbott's Cottages, a vacation home rental service based in Ashland.
Life seemed less complicated, easier, better. And perhaps that's why Roupp didn't fear the results of his May body scan. After all, he had already been put through the cancer ringer and had come out better for it. Better emotionally, better physically.
Then the pictures revealed their terrible secret: spots of lymphoma, as clear as day, highlighted by a dye.
"It looks like a bright red star," Roupp said. "And I saw them, and I went, 'Oh.'
"My world, more than even the first time, flew upside down because I knew what that meant and I knew what I then had to go through."
"I just didn't want it to be true," said Julia Roupp, his wife of 24 years. "It's like, 'Oh, wow, we have to do this again."
Only this time the toll on his body would be greater, the treatment more aggressive.
The decision was made to attempt an autologous stem cell transplant — not because it seemed to be the best option, but as Roupp put it, because "it's lethal if you don't do it "… you'd be dead."
The process sounds like something concocted by a mad scientist. First, the patient's own stem cells are harvested from the bone marrow and frozen for future use. This is done when the patient is healthy, in Roupp's case in 2010. Then, the patient is blasted with a massive dose of chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy — far more than Roupp endured in his first bout with cancer. Here, the goal is to destroy every cancer cell in the body at the expense of pretty much everything else.
"Basically "… you're going to take chemo until you can't take no more, and then you're going to take radiation until you can't take no more, and at that point you're body will probably be clear," Roupp said. "All your stem cells will be gone, but hopefully all the cancer will be dead, too. So it's just a war in there."
Which makes the immune system the collateral damage.
When the onslaught is finally over — assuming the patient survives — the harvested stem cells are re-infused into the bloodstream, travel to the bone marrow and begin to replenish the blood cell supply.
When Roupp learned of the gruesome details, he didn't panic. Instead, he took a proactive approach. He was about to head into battle, and it was up to him to make sure his body was prepared. That bring-it-on attitude marked an evolution in Roupp's handling of a cancer scare. He was determined to control the cancer, not the other way around.
That wasn't entirely true when he was first diagnosed in 2009.
"I ended up doing what many people diagnosed with cancer do," Roupp said. "You end up chasing how to stay alive."
That chase took him to the midwest to see a wizard, to California to talk to a nutrition guru.
In the end, he went with his gut.
"At some point, some of my athletic background of being involved in sports and on teams and all that suddenly kicked in and I realized that today is the day, and I stopped chasing my health and I just started doing things that felt right. And I didn't end up eating an avocado a day or avoiding this or that as much as eating healthily, exercising and getting my body to feel the best it could feel.
"And then when I was diagnosed the second time "… I spent time each day just making sure my body was preparing for what was coming, because I didn't have a lot of time."
He had two months to prepare before it was time to head off to Washington to begin treatment, and even those two months were filled with chemotherapy. Still, Roupp remained positive and kept his eyes fixed on the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I think I learned how to climb mountains," he said. "I've never climbed a mountain but I learned what it's about. When one is preparing to do something fairly extreme and you're getting yourself into physical shape, as important is getting yourself into emotional shape. As I exercised and focused on my diet and all that, I prepared my emotional side for the trek I was going on. And it ended up serving me really well."
When the time came, Brad and Julia Roupp rented a sublet close to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance while their two children, Jamie and Nate, both former Ashland High star athletes, stayed behind to run Abbott's Cottages. The sublet, the upstairs level of a craftsman home, was supposed to be merely a temporary residence for Roupp, who like most patients who undergo an extreme procedure was expected to eventually end up sleeping at the clinic.
But Roupp wasn't like most patients. He arrived in Seattle in excellent shape, and as the weeks went by became determined to complete his treatment as an outpatient. It was a ridiculous goal, but then again, so is climbing a mountain.
Day after day, Roupp pushed through. There were small victories. Sometimes, he says, he felt so exhausted, so sick, it took him an hour to finish a piece of pizza, but he knew the nourishment was good for him, would help his body recover, and that gave him the strength to finish.
Roupp's determination surprised even the doctors, who warned him to stay away from crowds, avoid mold, germs, and try to rest. But that just wasn't Roupp's way.
"He rode his bike to some of the radiation treatments," Julia Roupp said, laughing. "They didn't know what to do with his bike."
Finally, about two-and-a-half months after the treatment began Roupp was once again given a clean bill of health. For the second time in two years he had survived cancer. And he did so on his own terms, spending each night at a home with his wife, not in a clinic surrounded by machines.
He returned to Ashland in July and attended a summer soccer pickup game the same day.
He hasn't missed a practice since.
These days, life is pretty much back to normal for Roupp. He still runs Abbott's Cottages, still rides his mountain bike and still coaches the Grizzlies. This year's team isn't the juggernaut that it has been in the past — the Grizzlies are 6-6-2 entering the postseason — but Roupp knows that there are more important things than winning soccer games.
Reached by phone after a recent win, Roupp was perplexed by the opposing coach's cross demeanor. Where's the perspective? he wondered aloud.
"I came out of this whole thing with a more clear idea of what it's about for me," he said, "and that is, I just want to be a more loving husband, father and community member. And that's as far as it goes. I want to do those jobs well, and certainly when you do that most days if not all days are beautiful.
"I've found that I became a guy that loved the ordinary day. I look forward to ordinary days when I'm out doing what I do. I coach, I mow, I fix things. I get up in the morning and do some exercise and spend time with the boys and enjoy the family. I don't need trips, I don't need exotic things. I want today to just be a simple day."