51 days til I race Ironman Cartagena 70.3. All races are exciting, nerve wrecking and challenging, but this one will be special. It will be the first time I race a triathlon in Colombia and the first time my uncles and aunts will watch me race, and I will share the course with friends and family from home!
It will be a special race as well because I feel blessed to do what I love in the country that makes my heart skip a beat, and to use my training and racing to raise awareness for how cancer affects us all in so many ways and (if possible) funds to assist them. Like all famlies, my family has had it's share of eye-opening, heartwrenching experiences.
A couple months ago, when I decided to sign up for Cartagena 70.3, I decided to dedicate my race to my cousin's husband, DAN FEANE.Why is Dan so special to me? My parents have always set my cousin Gaby as role model for me and my sister. She moved to Europe to pursue her passions even if it took her far from family. She has always been a creative, passionate, and hardworking woman. The year I found our I was pregnant with Nico, she found out she was pregnant with Manuelito (Manolo). Neither of our relationships with the father's worked out unfortunately, but that united our bond. Thousands of miles away and we could feel each other's heartache. She however, was blessed to have met a man she introduced to us on a trip we took as a family to Cartagena in 2012. This man was loving, genuine, and almost looked like he could be the biological father of her son. He stole my heart when I saw how in love he was not only with my cousin, but her son. This man walked right into the hearts of our entire family in one weekend. I was so happy that my cousin had found a love like that. A few months later they were married.
Wednesday 3rd of Feb 2016 - Dan's 43rd birthday - we had a little tea party with the family, he seemed fine, looked well, happy, pink as normal, slim (we all thought the weight loss was due to giving up booze for the past month or so). He had been feeling quite tired over the past couple of months, but had moved house, done masses of DIY and tiling, had some stressful times with other family members being ill, and started a new v busy job. Who wouldn't be tired?
Monday 15th Feb - Dan and Gaby's 2nd wedding anniversary. Dan had been feeling unwell for a couple of weeks, increasingly pale and tired, getting short of breath climbing the stairs to work, feeling dizzy and getting palpitations on exertion e.g. walking fast. Went to the GP, who said it was probably just a virus but was concerned enough to give him a blood form for some tests...
Wednesday 17th Feb - Blood test confirms Dan is very very anemic with about a third of the red blood cells he should have, and a white blood cell count of 80, which is way too high. He is phoned up by the GP and asked to go straight to hospital for a blood transfusion and investigations. When he got the phone call he was feeling pretty tired/rubbish, but well enough to be sitting at home on his own watching netflix quite happily.
Thursday 18th Feb - Diagnosed with ALL, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. (Update from his sister to #TEAMDAN facebook group)
In August, Dan had his stem cell transplant. He coped with it really well, Gaby and the specialist nurse, Manolo, were with him throughout and he seemed to have started recovering really well.
Late September, Dan developed an infection that has him back in the hospital again, now for 18 days. He has "Pyrexia of Unknown Origin" which basically means he is having high temperatures without a clear explanation. As you can imagine, things are really tough for him and his family, at the moment. But I hope he knows how much he is loved around the world and how his extended family in Miami and Colombia are sending all the love we can his way!
Recently, (about 3 weeks ago) our family found out that another cousin, Maria Isabel's son had 3 tumors along his back that were from his back removed. I wrote a blog post about HIS STORY a few days ago.
I started a GOFUNDME page for my little cousin to help out in some way along this journey, though money can't buy health, it can help with the struggles that arise in these difficult and expensive times.
My Cousin, Maria Isabel's son, Juan Diego, who is now 13, has not had an easy last couple years. 2 years ago doctors detected a tumor on the pineal gland located near the center of the brain. He underwent chemotherapy(3 months) and radiotherapy (2 months) after the surgery and seemed to have been recovering well. As a family we thought it was difficult times but that we had made it through the hard part.
2 months ago, he started having trouble feeling his lower extremities- in other words, he was having difficulty moving his legs. When they took him to the hospital and ran some scans, the doctors quickly detected 3 tumors on his vertebral column at T5, T6, and T7. They quickly operated to surgically remove the tumors and realized that the cancer can regenerated. Though he has been able to recover some movement in his lower extremities, he now has to go through a chemotherapy treatment that is much stronger than what he previously went through 2 years ago for the next 6 months starting (tomorrow)10/3/2016
If you would like to donate to Juanchi's page you can visit this link: Juan Diego’s Medical Expenses: www.gofundme.com/juandiegor My plan is to collect as many funds as possible from now until I go to Colombia in Mid-November for a Service Project with school.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama
In this difficult time for our family, we need more hope than we have ever needed. Just as my family is going through a difficult time, there are thousands who are going through similar and completely different yet difficult times as well. Maybe by being that hope for a a few families, I will be filled with the hope that I need.
Over Thanksgiving Break, a group of Gulliver students will be building homes for families in need. I am not only honored to travel with the students, but excited to be a part of a school that promotes GLOBAL CITIZENS who empathize with the world around them and are using their resources and time to make the world a better place. If you would like to donate to my campaign as part of this trip, check out the link here: https://www.crowdrise.com/gulliver-students-traveling-with-techo-colombia/fundraiser/valeriarodriguez
In conclusion, I can't run my cousin Juan Diego or my cousin's husband, Dan, across the finish line in Cartagena on December 4th, and while I train, I may not be able lend my cousins, Gaby and MariaChu, a shoulder for them to cry on or wrap my arms around them and tell them I LOVE THEM, but I can't NOT DO SOMETHING. I believe that I can and WE CAN, do something special together. Our ability to imagine what someone else is feeling, by ‘putting yourself in their shoes' makes us HUMAN; the separateness between you and the other people fades. Today, like my family, there are many families in need.
Any donations, positive thoughts, and prayers are needed, not just for our families, but for the world we live in. If the world isn't the type of place we are proud of, we NEED be those kind of people. We could all use a little hope in difficult times. If not for my family, support your own, or a family you know in need of a little extra positive energy or prayers.
We may not be able to always help everyone, but we can start somewhere. I choose to race for #TeamFamily...the most precious gift we are given as we go through this journey of life. December 4th, 2016 I will race for Dan & Juanchi, and the health of our families.