Athletes race against cancer at Spring Sprint benefit

Some 5,000 spectators watched and cheered as duathletes and triathletes competed for their personal best times while raising money for Moores UCSD Cancer Center at the third annual Spring Sprint on May 8 on South Shores Park at Mission Bay.

UCSD patient survivor-athletes included Clay Treska, a Marine who beat Stage IV cancer earlier this year, and Glenys Jones, who is celebrating two years “cancer-free” after a partial pacreatectomy.

The race was founded by Tony Reid, M.D., Ph.D., of the Moores UCSD Cancer Center.

Team Treska: Cancer survivor shares his thoughts on survival and his gratitude to Moores Cancer Center staff

By Clayton Treska

Special Writer

“It wasn’t until I was told I was going to die, that I realized how to truly live my life to the fullest.” That being said, I can proudly convey that, “Stage-four cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I understand that these words might come as a surprise to most people — especially when they are coming from a stage-four cancer patient who has been battling the disease for two years; 6 months of which were at Thornton inpatient ward receiving two, back-to-back, auto-stem cell transplants with high-dose chemotherapy. But I assure you; I am saying this in sound mind and with a clear train of thought. So, please permit me to explain my logic before you forward this illustration to a mental health provider.

As a 12-year active-duty, combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I am no stranger to being told my “life and/or well being is at risk.” In fact, I can barely count how many times I’ve been told that I would not survive a mission or tour-of-duty in a combat zone. Therefore, when I was given the news that “hope for survival through recurrent stage-four cancer was futile,” I was comfortable because I felt that old’ familiar feeling of being back in a hostile environment. And as before, I knew what needed to be done, that being, to relentlessly fight to disprove the prognosis.

When I was is in “literal” combat, and my life was is in danger, typically I focused my attention on getting all my comrades out of the threat-zone as fast as possible. And rarely was I ever concerned with my own life and/or well being. In these types of situations though, the humility is rarely, if at all, reciprocated. And it is the acknowledgment of this significant difference that similarities between, combat and cancer, end.

When I was told, “I was going to die” from my recurrent cancer (just like combat) the only thought that entered my mind was, “now it’s time to FIGHT.” But unlike my common practice of addressing these hardships solo, I could not anticipate receiving the amount of support that I did, in this fight to survive and beat this disease. Nor would I have ever guessed that this support would come from, not a single individual, but rather the entire staff of the Moores Cancer Center. Quite literally, without exception of any member of the hospital.

The first time I crossed the threshold into the Moores facility, I was overwhelmed with a sense of astonishment in the amount of accomplishment and competence that the facility exuded. The exterior architecture and general upkeep of the building alone sets a precedence of prestige and pride.

Prior to this point, I had always walked into a doctor appointment feeling like I was walking into the boxing ring with an opponent that was well-above my grade; because previously I always had to brainstorm, prior to the appointment, on ways to get the most information from the oncologist, because I knew my time was limited to only a couple minutes.

Although with the Moores’ staff, this was never an issue. Not one time did I ever leave a medical appointment with any question about my status, or a doubt in the competency of care I was receiving. Essentially, this was the first of many gifts I had received from my newly adopted caregivers and was by far one of the most significant.

They gave me CONFIDENCE. Confidence in their abilities to responsibly treat my diagnosis; Confidence in that I am now receiving the best, most advanced, cancer treatment known to modern science; Confidence that there truly is nothing more that can be done outside of this facility and its staff to better treat my disease.

Which in turn gave me: Confidence that I can focus on supporting my family without the intimidation of being distracted by the possibility of inadvertent mistreatment, malpractice, or misdiagnosis; and finally, Confidence that I can continue pursuing my dream of competing in the June 2010 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.

This confidence that was given me was the leverage I needed to responsibly manage the adverse effects of my cancer treatment, and it ultimately allowed me to minimize the collateral damage that my family would incur from witnessing me undergo said treatment; and it is this assertion in competence that allowed me to focus on my life “after I beat cancer” (a concept that many doubted would ever be).

And not one time did I ever feel sorry for myself because I truly believed these trails and tribulations were only temporary, and if they weren’t, then I was proud that I’m going out fighting and with no regrets.

As people would look at me like my life was fading away before their eyes, I would return their gaze with ironic sarcasm and say, “I’m not the unlucky one. You are,” because I knew in my heart, that with the support and faith I’ve gotten through this hospital, that success in some capacity was inevitable.

This success I’ve yearned for, and ascertained, was never limited to the goal of simply achieving remission. It also extended to accomplish the realization of defining: “what living life is all about,” “what true happiness is,” “who my true friends are,” “what it takes to truly demonstrate perseverance and defy the seemingly impossible,” and by far the greatest achievement of all: I have answered life’s greatest question that we all ask, but can never answer, “What is my purpose in life?”

Most people go an entire lifetime without solving this issue. And if you’re lucky you’ll solve the riddle but only too late to do anything about it. Thankfully this is not the case with me.

My purpose in life is to emulate my mentors, the Moores’ staff, in aiding and contributing to the fight against the “incurable” disease known as cancer. To give my life in helping the community by contributing to the scientific advancement of oncological methodologies and cancer treatment practice, protocol, and procedures; and ultimately give the world the same probability of successful remission that I have been given in my fight against a terminal diagnosis.

These goals and ambitions I’ve set forth did not manifest as a result of a directive, but rather came through the influence and admiration of the character and caliber demonstrated by the Moores Cancer Center staff. I know that every attempt in demonstrating my appreciation will always feel inadequate compared to the true scope of my sentiment. Therefore I’ve concluded that the only real way I can adequately show my gratitude is by continuing to never quit and always strive to prove that the life that they’ve saved was for a purpose; and their contentment in my accomplishments is always on the forefront of my mind because it is the fuel that propels my initiative.

Now taking my personal sentiment in consideration, with some degree of logical understanding, I can discuss my interpretation of the Spring Sprint Triathlon last weekend.

Last weekend, during the UCSD Moores Cancer Center Triathlon, I was given the opportunity to validate and mark a significant milestone in our success over my battle with cancer. Doing so by successfully completing its Sprint distance endurance race.

Leading up to the event, I trained harder then I ever had, focused on my diet and nutrition with the strictest of management, and looked at the challenge as the first chance to make the staff proud of the contributions they’ve made in saving my life.

Although keeping in the proper ebb and flow that is “my life.” Half way through the cycling course, I blew a tire and was forced to stop to change it. When the tire blew, I realized that placing on the podium was unlikely but I still had a chance to place in the top percentile. Once I changed the tire I restarted the coarse only to blow a second tire 100 yards into my second attempt. Holding back my frustration, I once again dismounted my bike and changed the tire; all the while knowing the placing high in the standings was ticking away with every passing minute.

With the second tire changed, I remounted the bike and took off as fast as my legs would take me! But alas, ... another 100 yards later, I blew the second tire and this time, snapped a rod in the fork assemble. Being a barrowed bike, and too small for me, it was just a matter of time before the structure’s integrity failed.

Seven miles out, with the two flats tires, I already knew I wasn’t going to place in the race. Coupled with the broken equipment I realized that, “as far as being a contender, it’s simply not going to happen.” At which point I knew that this challenge is similar to the challenge of fighting cancer, because both challenges are not perfectly orchestrated struggles to manage.

In fact, as the Moores staff taught me, expect the unexpected, work with what you’ve got, and never EVER give up on achieving the ultimate goal. In this case the goal was do the best I can and complete the race from beginning-to-end.

So, what better way to do this, then pick my bike up with my right hand, carry the broken wheel and equipment with my left, and run the rest of the 7 miles back to the transition area (barefoot) to stage my bike and engage the run leg; all in effort to morally, confidently, and legitimately complete the race in its entirely.

As I ran the 7 miles back, the pain in my feet faded away with the increasing assistance, via encouragement and commendation, from the rest of the riders that passed by-my-leave. I suppose it’s not everyday you see someone running down a triathlon bike coarse barefoot caring their bike on their back. I can only suppose that this came to a surprise to most, but that is only because they do not posses our shared understanding of the concept “perseverance through hardship.”

Nonetheless, a typical 30-minute ride, took almost 2 hours complete. And as many people assumed that I would cross the bike coarse entry point with a heavy heart, it only took me a second to trump their assumption by staging my crippled bike and dawning my running shoes.

Lucky enough for me, at this point my feet were numb so the pain was minimal. As I jogged through the transition area, in an act of encouragement a couple athletes, that already finished their race, decided to join me in my last leg. This type of compassion comes to no surprise to me because these are the caliber of people that have always been associated with Moores, and seeing this initiative coming from the participants of a Moores hosted event is conducive to the hosts’ character.

After 2 hours and 37 minutes of putting forth 100 percent effort, the finish line was a welcome sight to behold. Although the shame I anticipated in the perceived failure from my host was something I wasn’t looking forward too experiencing.

To my surprise, even though I came in dead last in the triathlon, not only did the Moores’ staff greet me with a sense of pride, but also a genuinely infectious sense in accomplishment. I’m probably the only person in the world that can come in dead last in a race, but feel like I came in first. And I owe it to THEM and their incredible ability to graciously acknowledge my unwillingness to quit and highlight my persistence in the face of hardship, regardless of recourse.

When I was invited to awards ceremony I knew that I did not earn a medal, let alone a place at the podium. But I did know someone that did, Dr. Reid. Therefore I took my broken wheel and punctured inner tubes and assembled a makeshift medal/award of sorts. Not planning out exactly what I was doing, I took my homemade award, presented it to Dr. Reid, and dubbed it the “Thank You” award. \

This simple award is a receipt proving that no matter how challenging life will get, I will never give up; and no matter how “unfair” the circumstances might be, I will always seek-out the positive and work with the tools I am afforded.

The entire Moores Cancer Center staff, saved my life. Not only in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical sense, as well. My heart is beating, and my body is performing, and they deserve all the credit for this accomplishment. And as stated, they also deserve credit for providing a purpose for this life to sustain and persevere — a gift I am eternally grateful for.

In conclusion, I can justifiably say, that stage-four cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me. It gave me, them, and in turn, they have given me my life and a reason to live that life to the fullest and with a genuine purpose to propel it for many years to come.


Clayton M. Treska