Out There: Never Stop Fighting

The author, left, with her cancer-fighting friend, Carlos Nunez.

Many fights aren’t won in the first round, especially when the opponent is cancer.

Written by: Susan Lacke

Susan Lacke, left, has her money on the underdog, Carlos Nunez, who is going round for round fighting colon cancer.

Many fights aren’t won in the first round. There’s usually round after round of fancy footwork and finesse, jabs and uppercuts. The two fighters get tired and worn down while the roar of the crowd rises to dizzying volumes.

Then in Round 12, one fighter, wiping his bloody nose, sees a final opportunity and takes it.

A staggering, beautiful blow.

Sometimes the winner is the one everyone expected: The Alis, the Foremans, and the Mayweathers of the world are often a sure bet. But every now and then, there’s an underdog who strikes that final blow, causing whispers of shock in the crowd.

Today begins the 12th and final round in this matchup of Cancer versus Carlos Nunez.

I’ve got my money on the underdog.

It’s been a roller coaster since last April, when my best friend, a 13-time Ironman, told me he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, a diagnosis with only an 8 percent survival rate. There’s been good days, bad days, really bad days, and occasionally, “Eff this shit” days. But through the ups and downs of the last few months, one thing has remained constant: Carlos is a true fighter.

After his first surgery to remove the tumor from his colon, his doctor told him to use the morphine pump as needed and go for a light walk whenever he felt up to it. He’d be released in a week, the doctor estimated. Like a true triathlete, Carlos did “track repeats” in the hospital hallways, pushing his IV pump all the way.

Carlos was released from the hospital in just a few short days.

When a drug shortage caused his doctor to ration critical drugs and deny a life-saving chemotherapy component to many patients, Carlos saw so many cancer patients at his treatment center give up, passively believing there was nothing they could do.

Carlos refused. He wrote letters, made phone calls, and was a stubborn and tenacious presence in the treatment center until he began receiving his full chemo treatment, every single time.

When the chemotherapy wrecked his immune system and destroyed blood cell counts, doctors told him he had to take a break from chemo treatments. Rest, the medical professionals said, would be the only thing that got his blood counts back to normal.

Carlos did a triathlon instead. His counts were normal the following week.

Through the last 11 rounds of chemo, he’s done everything in his power to maintain his “normal” life. He’d wash his car, take his son to swim practice, meet his friends for bike rides on South Mountain, and linger over cups of coffee, sharing fun stories and interesting debate. As the cumulative effects of chemo began to build, Carlos would get tired and frustrated, but he kept going.

Cancer can try to mess with his body, he’ll tell you, but there’s no way it will ever touch his mind, his heart, or his soul.

In the years I’ve known him, Carlos has taught me a lot of important lessons. As my first boss, he showed me the ropes of academia. He got me started in triathlon and has mentored me from the first time I put on a pair of running shoes. He’s taught me important life lessons about trust, friendship, forgiveness, and patience.

His most important lesson to date has come in these last 11 rounds of chemotherapy. It’s not just a lesson for him or for me, but for all of us:

Even when you’re the underdog, never stop fighting.

After this round, there will be time to rest and recollect. This will not be over. There will be more fights. But as we head into Round 12, everyone knows that far as victories go, this one is pivotal.

I’ve got my money on the underdog.

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