“When chemo starts, you think I’m going to be a soldier. So you put on your eye black and start tackling things. But halfway through you just get unbelievably tired. I remember thinking, I’m only halfway through this?”—Luis Ayala
This Sunday, June 5, is National Cancer Survivors Day. Luis’s cancer story is one of survival and resilience, and we hope it inspires you to join him at an upcoming Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer. It’s a way to support survivors like Luis and help others facing this difficult fight through Aurora Cancer Care services, programs and research.
Luis says he lived with pain for about a year before he told a single person or saw a doctor. He told himself it was just a stomach ache, but it eventually got in the way of his ability to get in and out of his car and even walk. It finally progressed to the point that he was throwing up blood.
“It happened twice, pretty close to each other. I remember I was watching a Packers- Vikings game in 2014. After that I knew something was really wrong,” Luis explains.
Luis was eventually diagnosed with cancer and doctors removed an 8-10 pound tumor from his stomach and colon. It had also spread to his lymph nodes, so for the following eight months, he went through extensive chemotherapy that left him feeling absolutely exhausted. But as physically difficult as that was to endure; for Luis, cancer’s emotional toll was the worst.
“During my treatment I had to use a chemotherapy bag that felt like this “scarlet letter of cancer” on my side that went with me everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. So on my last treatment, I thought I was going to go party and celebrate life. But I ended up getting really depressed because chemotherapy at least gave me an identified opponent. Now my enemy was invisible,” Luis explains.
Just before Luis’s final chemotherapy treatment in 2015 he heard about the Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee. He says it was a way for his family to rally against cancer together, “Lombardi is the greatest coach in the world, plus he had colon cancer, the same as me. I just felt drawn to supporting Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation and helping other people in my community who are tackling this thing, too.”
Luis and his Team Ayala ended up being one of the most successful teams at the Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer last year, Luis believes it brought his family closer together. He will continue to be monitored over the next four years, but his last full body scan did not show any signs of cancer and his blood work has looked good. He says Team Ayala will be back at it on July 23 when the Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer moves to Festa Italiana. And that’s because his fight to TACKLE CANCER has only just begun.
“Maybe I need to spread the word to help others get treatment sooner than I did. It’s crazy how many people are affected: young, old, different cultures, different races, and we are all united with this awful disease. Once you strip away all the things that make you different, you just become cancer warriors,” Luis says.
You can join Team Ayala at one 9 Lombardi Walks to Tackle Cancer this June and July! All funds raise will support Aurora Cancer Care programs, services and research and be eligible for a 50 percent match from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. CLICK HERE for dates and times, you can start a team or make a gift to support the effort!