“Stage four cancer.”
Three words. That’s all it took to send everything into a tailspin.The man sitting in front of me, one of my closest friends, didn’t look sick. There was no way he had cancer.
I had been so certain Carlos was invincible; this kind of thing didn’t happen to people like him. No way.
The story itself seemed surreal. Carlos woke up one day, seeming perfectly healthy and ready to race a half-Ironman in California. The next, there was a tumor in his colon, spots on his liver, and a whirlwind of doctors and nurses and IVs and surgeries and fear.
“I do all this stupid Ironman shit, and look where it got me.”
Carlos is a thirteen-time Ironman, a model of health to everyone who knows him. For as long as we’ve been friends, people have called him a lot of things for his healthy lifestyle — mostly some variation of ‘crazy’ — but have also admired his dedication and tenacity.
I’ve never seen Carlos question anything. He’s always been confident — sometimes to the point of being just a little bit cocky. It’s something I loved about him the first time I met him. But in that moment, discussing his cancer diagnosis, I thought I saw a glimpse of self-doubt.
I should have known better than that. When I reached out to take my friend’s hand, he looked into my eyes:
“I’m going to fight this with everything I have.”
It’d be easy (and forgivable) for him to lament — he spent all this time and energy being healthy, and for what? Why did he bother with so many vegetables when he could have eaten something deep-fried every day? What was the point of exercise if it didn’t keep him healthy? If this disease has such a low survival rate, what’s the point in fighting?
But for as long as I’ve known Carlos, I’ve known he’s incapable of such a mindset. When there’s a 99 percent chance of failure, most people hope and pray to be in the 1 percent of success.
Carlos neither hopes nor prays. He forces his way into that slim margin and owns it. Told you he was a little bit cocky.
He’s a fighter, and expects others to be, too. No matter the opponent, he’ll tell you to get in there and give it everything you have. If you’re going to lose, you damn well better go down swinging.
So I fight, too.
He’s fighting people who say they’re pulling for him, but secretly wonder if he’s really capable of beating such advanced cancer. I can silence my insecurities and self-doubt.
He’s fighting the exhaustion of telling his emotional story again (and again) when yet another person asks, “What happened?” I can deal my overflowing e-mail inbox.
He’s fighting a tangle of doctors and treatment options and medication regimens with optimism. I can be kind to the Starbucks barista who screwed up my drink order.
He’s fighting the pain of surgery and chemotherapy. I can pound out another hill repeat when my legs say “no more.”
He’s fighting the fear that if his treatment fails, his children will be without a father. I can stop using my busy schedule as an excuse to not have dinner with a friend.
He’s fighting fatigue to keep his promise to attend as many of my races as he can. I can give him everything I have to make him proud.
Be a fighter
We take so much for granted. Every so-called struggle most of us encounter pales in comparison to what Carlos is facing. We make so many assumptions that our lifestyle choices somehow imply invincibility, and yet just like Carlos going from Ironman to the operating room, everything can change at any time.
For as long as Carlos has been a part of my life, he’s been a profound influence. This circumstance is yet another example of that influence. If he can fight, so can I. Hoping and praying simply isn’t enough; even the biggest of fires can’t start without a spark.
Be that spark. No matter what it is you’re doing, you can’t just work at it halfheartedly.
You have to commit to making it happen.
You have to own every part of it.
You have to be just a little bit cocky.
Most importantly, you have to fight.
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