I feel like I have to share all my experience at once, so this is going to be a long one. If you don't want to read everything... skip a few paragraph and start reading after the red text.
Before joining Team In Training, I really don't know much about cancer. My first 'encounter' with cancer happened 10 years ago when my grandmother had advanced stage of breast cancer. I love my grandmother. She lived modestly and care about her family. She was sick while she was in Hong Kong so I flew back a few times to see her. Doctor said she has a few more years to live after the chemo treatment. However she did not finished her treatment because it was too painful for her. She went with alternative medicine and passed away. I was at college during that time. She did not get to see me graduate from college, she did not get to spend money that I earn (cause I was at school), and she did not get to see my wife and my kid (I am still looking for 'the girl'). I know these are some of the things that she look forward to. I know there isn't anything I can do, but this is one of my biggest regret in life. Now I am reduced to offer my respect by burning paper money and material things made out of paper when I visit her at the grave.
I am devastated of her passing, but I think I had an easier time just because she is half way around the world so I don't see her in a regular basis. My family also know about her condition for a while so we know that this may happen.
Fast forward 10 years. My second encounter about cancer is from Team In Training. I joined the marathon team and I started to know people that get affected by cancer. I met cancer survivors and I started to know people that lost their love one from cancer. I still remember my coach broke down in tear while talking about his dad. Yet I try not to think too much about it. The survivors that I know were doing fine so I don't want to bring it up.
I think it's typical response from people. Since most of us don't know how to react we tend to avoid the topic all together.
Few months after joining Team In Training my friend told me her mom has Lymphoma. I care about my friend's family and I offer any help I can. I talked to the mom and offer my support. She did her treatment and she is fine. But beyond talking to them and eat with them I did not do anything else.
Everything changed in Sept 2008. My honored teammate Tyler got sick. One day the doctor said he needed bone marrow transplant, few days later the doctor said he needed chemo instead. During that week I was literally riding the roller coaster from hell. Not knowing what may happen really put me in fear. I felt useless about the situation because there wasn't anything I can do. This is the reason why I joined the Ironteam. I want to do something for the Kid. If Tyler can go thru chemo, I can learn how to swim.
So up to this point, I pretty much don't have to really think deep about cancer. I continue to train for my Ironman, fund raise for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and I eat. I continue to be myself.
You can start here if you want (Sorry if I jump around... too much feeling is going on and I can't tie everything together!)!!!
Then 2 weeks ago, I got a text from my friend. She said. "I am going to start my chemo tomorrow and I am scared". The sentence is short and emotional.
I called her and she told me she listened to the doctor about the treatment but she wanted to talk to someone that actually been thru Chemo. I called up Virginia Garner (a good friend of mine, also a honored teammate) and have her talk to my friend. Virginia shared her experience and offered tips better cope with the disease.
I know cancer can happen to anyone. She is young, beautiful, and very active, why her?
So few nights ago I went out to dinner with my friend and talked for a long time. She told me she had a routine check up and the doctor found out she has an early stage of cancer.
But before she can deal with the treatment, she needed to overcome her emotion, found out more information about cancer, and think about the cost of treatment.
I know medical treatment made a lot of advancement in recent years, but cancer is still cancer. If I were to have cancer, that would of be a death sentence for me regardless of the stage. Since both of us are serious backpackers, I am glad that her hiking experience and her mindset help her control her emotion and being positive. I talked to her and we realized we both thought about our own death and how we need to move on and keep hiking if one of our close friends die from a mountaineering accident. It actually happened to her in 2006. One of her closed friend passed away while doing a winter ascent of Mt Morgan. It took her a few good months before getting out there again... but this is something we have to do. We need to move on. I wouldn't want my friend to stop hiking/running/doing triathlon if something happened to me.
ok... getting back to the cancer. My friend started to read up information about cancer and she also talked to the hospital about her treatment. She was a month away from having insurance so this thing took a big chuck out of her saving (for people that don't know, a chemo shot is $10,000 per dose)
All these things reinforce the idea that when you are seriously ill, you don't just deal with the diseases, you need to deal with everything that surround it. A lot of time you need to talk to somebody but your friend/family don't understand. It also make me realized why The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is spending money on things like educational material and first connection program. I used to question why they spend money on 'educational' material and web broadcast? Why do they set up the First connection program so people can talk to other people with similar cancer. Now I know.
After she had her first chemo treatment her hair started to fall off. She realized that some people started to treat her different. People started to stare at her. She told me she would say hi to some people and they wouldn't even look at her or response. She became very aware of how people see her. She was getting the impression that people see her as a sick person now, not the old person they used to know. She wonders why. She is still the same person... only with no hair. Why do people act differently? Maybe these people think that she is contiguous? I don't have an answer for that. I think some of these people are trying to avoid contact because they don't know what to say or how to react? I used to be one of those people.
She is now feeling more confidence about her new appearance. People actually talk to her about their own experience (either themselves or people they know) and she think this is helping others. This is one of the reason why I am writing this blog.
Sometime people ask why I fundraise for Team In Training and why I sponsored a family from the Children Hospital. I still remember one of my friend question my motive because I don't have a strong reason for doing Team In Training. Apparently helping someone and 'I think running a marathon is kind of fun' was not enough. I'll probably say the samething if you ask me why I am doing the Ironman with Team In Training. It doesn't matter. I think you just have to go out there and do some charity work. Donate money or become a volunteer. You'll find your reason one day.
Everything is working out so far. I am glad my experience allow my friend to talk to Virginia.
The experience make me think more for others. In turn I become a better person. These experience is not something that I can understand by reading an article or a book, you need to experience first hand. Sometime the experience is not a good one, but we all have to learn from them and move on.