When Terry Fox was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope after the cancer spread to his lungs he said: "Well, maybe now people will understand what cancer really is, what it means."
Maybe he might not have been fully aware of that before he got sick. It's not that healthy people or persons not suffering the disease are insensitive, it's just that living the whole ordeal yourself or through a loved one makes you different.
So, l owe a lot to Manuel Alejandro, a 17 month old infant, with whom I shared his illness and who helped me to be a better person.
Manuel was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumour and lived for several months under treatment with cytostatic serums until he underwent surgery to remove his right kidney.
He had always been a happy baby, always reaching out his arms after kind words were said to him. Despite how bad he was feeling from the medication he was taking, he never stopped laughing or moving to music or coming to me to surprise me with a hug.
Don't think I am writing an obituary. Thanks to God and the specialists at the oncology department of the Juan Manuel Marquez Hospital, Manuel is alive and cured. He is now three years old and we don't know if he has any memories of those sad days but all of us around him have learned lessons that we will never forget. And we kept the promise to take him with his new bike to a place where he could see lots of people walking, running, or skating for a good cause, " although he still does not understand what the Terry Fox Run is. But just knowing that he could ride his bike in the middle of the street where the cars normally travel made him laugh and jump out of bed early. Last year he participated in the Run held in Havana.
Now, I am staring at a happy picture of him having just spoken to him on the phone. I said thanks to him again but he didn1t understand why. One day he will understand that l owe him so much. I returned to the Run this year and met many other special people. Survivors who were able to put their pain aside to teach other people those valuable lessons that we often neglect because of life1s fast pace.
I was very impressed by a strong and handsome runner named Gerdan Fonseca Bernal who was at the starting line of the marathon with a big smile, honoring Terry and showing the enormity of life beyond suffering.
"My leg was amputated below the knee ten years ago. I had very low self-esteem but after meeting other people in rehab and knowing about Terry's story, it really helped me to fight my condition," said Gerdan.
These days, he is a Pan-American champion and a bronze medalist in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games as well as the World Championships in Holland in shot put. He will go to Beijing in 2008 to fight for another medal.
When the Canadian Ambassador in Cuba, Alexandra Bugailiskis, asked "Why have Cubans adopted Terry Fox as a brother? Because they share his message and vision of a better life without fear," she was saying that in the country with the largest participation in a Terry Fox Run outside of Canada.
I personally feel grateful to little Manuel, Terry, Gerdan and many others who teach me new things everyday.