You Have to Fight

“Stage four cancer.”

Three words. That’s all it took to send everything into a tailspin.

Author Susan Lacke with her friend and thirteen-time Ironman, Carlos

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.


Susan Lacke, NMA’s Resident Triathlete, also writes for Competitor Magazine and  Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke



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  1. brent patterson says:

    Thank you Susan. This is the best thing I’ve read on this site.

  2. Awesome post Susan. Get him a juicer and start hitting the green juice every day!

  3. Susan,
    Such a tough situation and a rough hand to be dealt! No one deserves to have to go through that! But, even though his healthy lifestyle and crazy training didn’t PREVENT the disease, I am certain it will help him FIGHT it! His body already has a head start to make it through all the treatments because it is strong and healthy. And as an endurance athlete, he knows what it’s like to push through pain to make it through a long and difficult journey!!

    My best friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer this year at TWENTY SIX years old. How does that happen?! Luckily she is almost done with her first set of chemo treatments…fingers crossed that she only has to do one set!! It has certainly been an eye opener that you can’t take any moment of your life for granted. Live/love every second of it!!

    Good luck to your friend and to you. Glad he has such great friends to help him through this tough time!

    • This is very true — Carlos actually got out of the hospital a few days early after his surgery. I’m certain it’s because he’s in such great shape. His body can handle this. He’s a strong guy. 🙂

      I’m sending good vibes to your friend!

  4. Amen. Fight, and fight some more, and never stop fighting. I am sending strong, tough, awesome, powerful thoughts to you and your friend.

  5. I’d say, “good luck,” but it sounds like he doesn’t need it; thanks for sharing this painful story to help remind the rest of us what can happy to any of us, at anytime. What does all this exercise and good eating get us if it doesn’t prevent cancer? It gets us years of good life and good living. Carlos has done 13 Ironmans, and nothing — not even cancer — can take that back. You’ll both be in my thoughts.

  6. This totally made me tear up, and then realise that of course you are right!

    Time to fight! Beautifully written.

  7. Thank you for this post. It really puts life in perspective. And congratulations to Carlos for being an inspiration and kicking ass!

  8. Caroline Stahlshmidt says:

    My husband has a similar story to Carlos. Amazingly healthy, 38 yrs old, doing everthing “right”, riding 100 mile bike races until he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Colon Cancer two years ago. Upon hearing the diagnosis (when I was a blubbering mess of tears), he looked me right in the eye and said, “I am strong and I will fight this”.

    Nearly two years later, he is cancer free, eats an entirely plant-based diet, and is stronger than ever. We rode a 24 hr mountain bike race together last year to celebrate kicking cancer’s butt– just 7 months after he finished radiation!

    My best advice for Carlos- just keep putting one foot in front of the other and allow friends and family to lift you up. Just like an Ironman- each step gets you closer to winning back your health and cheers from the crowd along the way make a huge difference.

    Thank you so much for this post. Cancer can be the most amazing teacher you ever encounter and your post reminded me of those lessons. It also reminded me to tell my husband how awesome he is!

  9. Susan, you are a great writer. You so beautifully share Carlos’ story without painting him a victim and by inspiring all of us to think a little bit more about we do on a daily basis.

    I’m rooting for Carlos from the sidelines (and will try to find some my own inner fighter).

  10. Great post Susan ! Congrats to Carlos on his accomplishments and determination. What an inspiration truly!

  11. Thanks for reminding me on the importance of living my life to the fullest, being appreaciative for what I have, and to not let the moments just me by. That sucks about your friend. Best wishes.

  12. Thank you for the thought-provoking post! A guy I grew up with was diagnosed with bone cancer last year after running the LA Marathon. Not only did he have to go through a year of chemo, he also had to get a complete knee replacement. Every time I got out for a run, I think of him. He has beat cancer and going strong, but his fight always puts the fight in me.

  13. What an inspirational post. Thanks! I needed it.

  14. Best post yet, Susan. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for posting Susan. You write so well and this story is truly admiring. It really puts things into perspective.

  16. Jon Weisblatt says:

    I ran the ’08 Boston Marathon the same day a good running buddy was having her first chemo treatment for ovarian cancer. I ran a PR becuase of her inspiration and made sure to give her my finishers medal. She’s still fighting and I’m still running marathons with her name written on my arm. Nothing like having a little perspective in our lives. Thanks for the post Sarah!! As I say to to my friend all the time, I’ll say it to you Carlos: F*** ’em!!!!

    • This is exactly what I am doing — writing his name on my arm each time I race. I may also add “F*** ’em!” on there, too. NICE!

      Until he’s 100 percent cancer-free, I’m doing every race in his honor. He knows he better hurry up and get well, or for the first time in his life, his name is going to become synonymous with slow. 🙂

  17. ~wow~ I needed that kick the skirt (I don’t wear pants!). ~Wow~ Off to do some more push-ups because the few I’m doing aren’t kicking my tail enough!

  18. I’ve had a run of bad luck health wise lately (nothing like Carlos), this post brought things into perspective. Thanks. And to Carlos, never quit the fight.

  19. Thank you for sharing that. When I trained last summer with Team in Training these were the kind of thoughts that got me through long runs on 100 degree days. I still say to myself regularly, “It ain’t chemo.” Carlos is fortunate to have a friend like you.

  20. Rob Runs (Slowly) says:

    My thoughts are with Carlos, and everyone who loves and cares about him.

    After being cancer free for three years my mother-in-law was diagnosed with secondary stage four liver cancer in March 2010. She fought, hard, to make the best of what she knew would be limited time. She laughed hard, loved harder, and took care of herself.

    I started training for my first marathon in May, raising about $1000 for cancer research. Every time I got tired, every time I didn’t want to move another step, I thought “could be worse, at least I don’t have cancer.” Who was I to complain about something I was voluntarily doing, for my own sake and for the sake of others, when I knew she was sitting through hours of chemo?

    I worked hard, and she fought hard. My marathon is over, and so is her battle. She passed away in February. But her strength throughout gave me strength and I hope to use that to inspire and to help others in the future.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this beautiful post. My brother was diagnosed with stage four cancer at age three. He was given a 2% chance of survival. He’s about to turn eighteen and is in remission. To Carlos: Hang in there. Keep kicking ass!

  22. Your posts always inspire me, and either make me laugh, cry or both. This one is no exception, thanks.

    Oh yes, I plan on being a spark.

  23. I hit submit too soon. Keep up the fight Carlos, you are an inspiration.

  24. I loved this post. Thank you so much for sharing!

  25. WOW! What an awesome post. Must be difficult for you to write so openly being so close to him and so directly affected, hope your coping ok.

    Carlos sounds like a great guy and it is terrible to hear such awful things happening to good people. As Erin mentioned earlier being super fit and healthy will only add to his chances of winning – my thoughts are with him.

  26. Fishback Boy says:

    Susan & Carlos, I bid you both Relentless Forward Progress. Here’s a mantra you can use that helps me from “lolly-gagging”:
    I can, I will and kiss my ass!



  27. This gave me goosebumps and made me tear up. Thank you for the wonderful advice and great reminder. I’ve got some pretty heavy stuff going on right now, but I’m healthy. I will try to not take that for granted. Sending power thoughts to Carlos! Amy

  28. This is such an inspiring post, thank you for sharing!

    My husband did not live the healthiest lifestyle, and lost a kidney to cancer 6 years ago… and now he (we!) are training for triathlons.

    Sending strong, positive thoughts to you and Carlos for recovery!

  29. craig batstone says:

    Carlos had symptoms but he did recognize them. I am sorry for that. The real value in the story would be in telling people what those symptoms were. I had stage 4 cancer in 1989 long before Lance Armstrong made cancer cool! I always support cancer survivors but I also encourage them to support as well if they want to speak out.

  30. I have just lost my brother-in-law to an 8 1/2 year fight with Stage 4 colon cancer. He was 42 when he finally succumbed. He was tenacious and ever vigilant in this fight. He never listened to “the odds” and always came out of every surgery swinging. He always sought the best care and the most innovative treatments. It was a true testament to his will to live. As a result of this battle, we all began living life with intention. Time with loved ones took precedence over all other priorities. It is a gift that Greg gave us, that he paid a dear price for, that will always be treasured. Carlos sounds like he has the same tenacity and intelligence. I wish he and his family all of the strength, love, compassion and companionship that they need at this time.

  31. Cancer Sucks!!! I am sorry to hear about Carlos, and I am sorry for you as well. My father passed away from cancer at a very young age. It’s not fair. And you are so right….. we take way too much for granted. We really do. There is a much worse situation then the current one we are complaining about. Since my father passed I have shifted my lifestyle and my mind. I try and take each day on like it’s my last and I am learning to appreciate the smaller things in life. When I am approaching any new situation I think of my Dad and the struggles he went through and I take a deep breath and approach every situation with a new light. I wish Carlos the best. There is so much hope for him, make sure he knows that. People defeat cancer everyday and he sounds like a true fighter. You both are in my positive thoughts, prayers and vibrational energy.

  32. *goosebumps and tears of hope* sending powerful strong vibes and a set of (cyber) boxing gloves! keep fighting! 🙂

  33. Angie G. says:

    Ill keep your friend in my thoughts. This was very inspiring and I needed it today. Thank you.

  34. This post actually made me cry. My grandfather passed away a year ago to stage four prostate cancer. He fought, too, but knowing all the while that it was going to beat him. Prostate cancer is one of the easiest to beat into remission, but when it’s as advanced as stage four, there’s really nothing the doctors can do except make you comfortable. I am sending hope and strength your way.

    A fellow fighter,

  35. I’m so very, very sorry to hear of your dear friend’s struggles. I’m sending him some good, strong, butt-kicking vibes. May he fight and may he win!

  36. What a story. I wish Carlos ironman strength to win this “race”. I can’t help but feel so many strong people, doing all the “right” things end up being the ones who end up so sick. Is it that they are up for the challenge. I would love to share with Carlos the story of my friend Jen. Her site is She has fought a rare cancer many times and started Cycle for Survival. She’s my inspiration as Carlos is yours.

  37. Susan,
    Thanks for sharing, it’s definitely not easy to watch someone whom you thought was healthy and spent their life being healthy suddenly not. Besides the fresh diet, attitude goes a long way! My dad was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer right after I graduated college. He had a positive attitude even though he knew it wasn’t going to go away. He survived 3 years before passing on. He passed on 2 months before my wedding but I really believe that having an event to look forward to (my wedding) and the positive attitude definitely helped him last much longer than if he just wallowed in self pity. Your support will go a long way. Sounds like between the two of you, you can turn this negative into something positive and helpful for both of you and others. Good Luck!

  38. Denise B. says:

    Thanks Susan! Carlos is a near and dear friend to me as well, I second your heartfelt sentiments about his strong character. I have known him for several years, I think we met in ’05, during a triathlon class. He has been a profound influence in my repeated Ironman success! I completely get the part about health, I have explained it in almost the same terms to my friends. Someone who has lived his life making all the right choices when it comes to health and fitness, yet he received no guarantee…struck with Cancer anyway! Absolute irony how life can be so unfair sometimes. But I know Carlos’ strong will and I know he can fight this, just like he has fought to finish every Ironman he has completed. Just like Ironman Carlos, take it one step at a time…one more light pole, one more mile marker! We are all cheering you on!

  39. I just blogged about my friend who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, and it made me think back to your post, so I wanted to share the story with you! I hope your friend is doing well!

    <3 Erin

  40. This is a really moving article. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. My new saying (since I saw it on Modern Family last week) is “champagne problems.” Anytime I catch myself complaining or unhappy with something, I just think about how my problems aren’t really problems at all… life is worth celebrating! 🙂

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