Fighting lung cancer on bicycle
By Philip Iglauer
Kim Sun-wook has a one in 10 chance to survive the next five years, according to current life-expectancy estimates. He has Stage 4 lung cancer.
Kim said that when he heard the diagnosis he felt helpless, like he was falling upside down from a high precipice. Those few words, “You have cancer,” gripped him with despair in the doctor’s office, he said.
Kim said he did not even realize it, but tears were streaming down his cheeks. His face became flushed suddenly. He began sobbing. The revelation shook him to his core and he was very afraid.
“Although the news made me cry, my wife was calm and unshaken,” Kim said.
That may have been because it was not the first time for her. Park Jae-ran’s previous husband struggled for 12 years before succumbing to a diabetes-related illness. Now she supports Kim by encouraging him and lifting up his spirits.
“I would not be able to do anything without my wife,” Kim, 60, said.
Kim met Park some five years ago, after her first husband had passed away. Kim, single and never married, said he thought he’d never find “the one” but six months after meeting the widow and mother of two, Kim knew he found his partner in life. Kim and Park were married in July 2007.
Just three years into the romance of his life, Kim was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Kim has undergone four treatment regimens of chemotherapy since being diagnosed in November 2010.
“Taking those unendurable anti-cancer treatments, the only thing I could do was to lie in bed and watch TV,” he said in an interview with The Korea Times on April 9.
“One day my wife encouraged me to take a walk together in the neighborhood. I could feel the wild flowers blooming, the breeze blowing and the gravel under my feet. These things started to touch me, these creatures — the wind, the gravel and the color of flowers touched my body and my soul,” he said.
His wife encouraged him through every step of his recovery, he said. “I slowly regained some energy to walk more and more.”
Little more than a year later, he is taking his fight against cancer on the road in a six-month 7,000-kilometer bicycle tour-de-force that zigzags between the East and West coasts starting May 1.
Kim is riding to raise money for the charity he launched “Future With Children,” which awards scholarships to children of parents who struggle with cancer.
It is part of his mission “Cycling4Cure.” He has already secured multiple high-profile corporate sponsors, including bicycle component company Shimano, Storck Bicycle, the Korean Association of Clinical Oncology and Bike Magazine as well as 100s of individual donations.
He plans to take his two-wheel sojourn from Imjingak to the top of Mt. Halla, Korea’s highest mountain. “Even if I become cancer free, I don’t want to go back to my life before cancer,” he said.
Kim said you don’t have to be a big corporate sponsor to get involved. He suggested individuals donate 10 won for every kilometer he rides and small companies 100 won. So, if he can complete his six-month 7,000-kilometer slog to the top of Halla. That’s 70,000 won for individuals and 700,000 won for companies.
“I want to share my hope, my life. I want to help,” he said.
For Kim, however, his bike trek is not only about scholarships for needy children, as laudable a goal as that is. It is a matter of survival.
Kim has made bicycling, clean living and positive thinking a philosophy for survival.
“You can live a full life with cancer. You can fight cancer, or you can be a good friend of cancer,” Kim said in the interview at the Watts Training Center in Hannam-dong, the diplomatic district of Seoul. “You have to keep looking forward and think broadly. Miracles really do happen. Cancer changed my life.”
Judged by his lifestyle, Kim is the farthest from high risk for cancer. He was not a smoker and was in good health all his life. He enjoys the outdoors and loves sports. He was an avid water and snow skier.
Kim reckoned the reasons for his cancer must have been genetic in origin, but he doesn’t think about it much. He said he refuses to ask his doctor about his progress.
“When I talk with my doctor I never ask him about my progress or how I am doing. Even if he gives me an answer I do not want to hear, what can I do about it? It is meaningless.”
Kim is determined to beat cancer, but insists on looking beyond it as well.
“You should empty yourself of desire and selfish ambition,” he said. “You should become free, free from fear, from worry and from anxiety.”
Like a man who has found religion he trains incessantly on his bike. He finds therapy in laughter attending a weekly meeting of the Laughter Club.
While the verdict is out on whether laughing can cure cancer, experts report on the American Cancer Society website that laughing reduces blood pressure by relieving stress, and improves muscle function.
“What I want to say is to never give up on life. You got to wake up,” he said.
Lung cancer prevention guideline
1. Do not smoke
2. Eat a balanced diet
3. Intake sufficient fiber from fruit, vegetables and grains
4. Consume sufficient vitamin A,C, and E
5. Consume milk and “doenjang” (soybean paste)
6. Reduce fat intake
7. Avoid overly spicy or salty food
8. Avoid grilled or smoked meat or fish
9. Do not consume rotten food
10. Drink in moderation
11. Keep out of direct ultraviolet rays
12. Exercise moderately
13. Try to relieve stress frequently
14. Maintain a hygienic lifestyle
(Korean Cancer Association)