Cancer survivor Frank Chong is on a marathon to raise funds for cancer research.
Now a familiar face in the local marathon circuit, the 33-year-old has turned the disease that once debilitated him into a catalyst to raise funds for cancer research.
In June, Chong completed a 90km run at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 11 hours 54 minutes, and raised RM14,000 for the Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF), a local non-profit organisation for cancer research.
Chong, who is currently the operations manager of Running Lab Malaysia, shares his experience with cancer and his ongoing fight against the disease.
A trip to the family doctor was followed by a series of tests at a hospital. Chong had the lump removed and it was found to be cancerous.
Chong started his chemotherapy treatment in Singapore.
“My ambition was to become a doctor, so I knew some medical terms here and there. The word ‘rhabdomyosarcoma’ was alien to me. I did some research and realised that the treatment would be followed by hair loss and weakening.
“Then I thought: so be it and proceeded with the treatment. One thing about facing cancer is that you need to have a positive mindset and strong willpower. I understood what was going on and it made me more determined to get well,” Chong explains. For the next two years, the young Chong found himself in and out of hospital for his fortnightly chemotherapy sessions.
“I was put in a children’s ward. At 12, I was considered quite an ‘old’ rhabdo patient as it usually affects kids who are five or six years old,” says Chong. “My hair started to fall off after the first treatment and I had to shave it all off.”
The routine went on for six months before he underwent radiotherapy for a month. After that, he was put on a stronger dose of chemotherapy treatment.
“We lived in Johor Baru which is quite near the Causeway. My parents travelled in and out of Singapore to accompany me during my treatment,” says Chong who is the only child in the family. His mother quit her job at a quantity surveying firm to take care of him.
While his school had been supportive, his peers did not understand what he was going through.
“My school allowed me to wear caps and tried to raise funds for me (though his parents declined), but the kids made fun of me because I looked weird and different from everyone else.
“Only my close friends understood what I was going through.”
Eventually, going to school became a challenge for the boy as he felt the full effects of the chemotherapy sessions.
“I was in pain and felt so tired after each treatment that I just wanted to sleep all the time. I missed school a lot and tried to make up for it by studying on my own while I was in the hospital,” he says.
From across the coffee-table, Chong shows us a thin scar on his wrist where the lump had been. “The tumour was about the size of a marble,” he says.
Chong graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, a field he worked in for six years before he decided to pursue a career as a certified personal trainer.
Meanwhile, his passion for health and fitness prompted him to start training for marathons in 2007. “Initially, I did it to raise funds for the Terry Fox Run,” he explains. The Terry Fox Run is an annual non-competitive charity event held around the world in commemoration of Canadian cancer activist Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research. (Fox himself was an athlete who had osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that often starts near the knees.) “Terry Fox is my inspiration to run,” Chong says.
The local marathoner also sold T-shirts to raise funds for the cause. Later, a fellow volunteer introduced him to Carif, the beneficiary of Terry Fox Malaysia. Chong has been lending his support to the organisation in its fight against cancer. In doing so, he became the organisation’s first “community champion” with his campaign, “The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research” at the Comrades Marathon.
On his triumph at the Comrades, the world’s largest and oldest ultra-marathon race, Chong discloses that he had trained hard for the event. “I work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so I have to wake up really early to run, especially on weekends. Sometimes I wake up at 4am just to run,” says Chong, who is a bachelor.
“The Comrades is a very big event in South Africa, but I took my own sweet time to take in the scenery and I came in third from the bottom,” he recalls with a laugh.
To date, the avid marathoner has completed 11 ultra marathons of between 50km and 100km, as well as three Powerman Duathlon (which usually comprises 10km running, 60km biking and another 10km running).
“Being a cancer survivor serves as a reminder that there’s always someone out there who is suffering,” says Chong.
On his running career, a smiling Chong adds: “I’m not getting any younger, but I hope I’ll be able to do this for as long as I can.”
You can keep up with the marathoner on his website: runnerzcircle.blogspot.com