This past August thousands of people flocked to Leadville, Colorado. They were there to catch a glimpse of Lance Armstrong. The seven time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor was in the historic mining town to race in the Leadville 100. The presence of Armstrong brought with it extensive media coverage. The race was broadcast live online and filmed for the recently released documentary, “Race Across the Sky.” I personally saw Armstrong for about a half second as he flew past me on his way to winning the event in record fashion. By the time I finished almost two hours later, Lance was long gone. Presumably on a massage table somewhere recovering from what to him was little more than a hard training ride. Armstrong is a machine, dominant as both athlete and ambassador. Armstrong’s ability to command important audiences and raise millions of dollars is astounding. There is little doubt that he has had a profound affect on the charge for a cure. As impressive as he is, however, Armstrong’s accomplishments and elevated celebrity left me more in awe than concerned. I felt compelled to train harder for next year’s race but didn’t once think about getting a cancer screen. Lance had contracted the deadly disease only to go on and do things that no other healthy person has ever done. In his demonstration of strength was lost the idea that it may be better to not get cancer at all or at least find out about it at an early and more easily treatable stage.
Last week Lorenzo Abundiz walked into the Vail Fire House a day earlier than he was scheduled to arrive. He had driven his donated Type One fire engine from St. Louis to Vail as a part of a mission that would eventually take him over 16,000 miles across The United States and Canada. Afraid of encountering bad weather, Lorenzo had left early to ensure he would have the opportunity to spread his message of honor and hope. He arrived to little fan fair. Greeted only by the open arms of the Vail Fire Department, a cup of coffee from Westside Café and a generously donated room at the Vail Plaza Hotel, Lorenzo could not have been happier. He was alive.
Lorenzo is on his third battle with Cancer. He first contracted the disease in 1988 when he was diagnosed in the late stages of leiomyosarcoma. He was given a 4 percent chance of survival. Though he beat the odds, Cancer had taken from Lorenzo much of the muscle from the right side of his back, his kidney, his job and his retirement. As he lay recovering from surgery, the former Santa Anna Fire Department Engineer vowed to do something to prevent the injustices of cancer from affecting others. He was especially concerned for those members of the fire fighting community from which he came and to which he believed (and statistics now show) the exposures of the job lead to a higher risk of disease. From the discomfort of his hospital bed Lorenzo formed Code 3 For A Cure and the mission was on.
Last Friday morning Lorenzo sat sipping Sambazon Acai in a vacant bay at the firehouse and told a gathering of a few dozen people, mostly Vail Fire Fighters and Town of Vail Officials, of his battles. He spoke of the love he had for his wife and family, the devotion of the fire profession and most profoundly of his repeated fights with cancer. The disease had taken his body and his energy. The treatments removed his hair and shredded his dignity. Having beaten the disease only to have it return two more times in two new locations vanquished his resolve. The man whose brute strength gained him the nickname “Mondo” spoke humbly of his victories knowing the price he had paid physically and emotionally for them.
In Lorenzo exists the reality of Cancer. He fights his battle mostly alone or in the company of close family and friends. The news media does not follow him. There is no documentary, no massage table. Lorenzo is there until the end making sure that those who have died are honored and those that live do so with hope. Like Lance Armstrong, Lorenzo Abundiz carries with him tremendous strength, determination and courage. Unlike Lance however, Lorenzo has convinced me to get a cancer screen. You should too.
Find out more about Code 3 at www.code3foracure.com[Gallery not found]