“ Going through cancer is a wild ride and the more people one has around sharing laughs, hugs, meals, kindness, a swift kick in the ass when needed and true friendship – this will make every moment real special and important.
Andy “X2C” Fleming is one active mAss Kicker! He is the alumni board chair for First Descents, a mentor for Imerman Angels, and a High School Counselor in Bend, Oregon. He is a Certified United States Track and Field Level 1 Coach, an American Red Cross Certified Life Guard, and a licensed Outdoor Emergency Care Instructor/Technician. He has volunteered with Camp Good Days and Special Times, Teens Living with Cancer, and Above and Beyond Cancer. Andy is a very busy guy! We were very lucky to catch him in some of his downtime!
mK: Thanks for doing this! First question, “what/ when was your diagnosis?”
AF: I was diagnosed in 2001 with Hodgkin’s disease Stage IIB. I was taking a year off from law school, I had just returned from two months traveling in Costa Rica and I was two weeks away from going to teach English in Peru when I was in my doctors office and unwittingly about to take a big detour in my life. My nurse practitioner questioned whether I had contacted a tropical disease and because I was close to leaving for Peru she ordered a quick blood test in the lab that was the same building. I drove home feeling happy that I’d feel better soon and be on my way to Peru to teach. When I walked into my house the phone was ringing off the hook and when I answered it I was told I had to return right away for a chest x-ray. I hopped back in my car and the journey continued.
mK: Yeah, a “different kind of adventure/journey”… What were your symptoms?
AF: I felt super tired, at night I would awake soaking wet, my lymph nodes started to protrude from my neck and I was running fevers. When I would take a walk around town I’d come home and have to take a nap – I was sooooo tired. My blood test showed tons of white blood cells and my chest x-ray showed a mass that took up almost a third of my chest above my diaphragm. My diagnosis was Hodgkin’s disease IIB.
mK: Why did you decide to get involved with First Descents? What is your First Descents nickname?
AF: I really enjoy adventures and being outside. I found a video on-line about First Descents. I saw Brad Ludden kayaking, learned he started a camp for young adult survivors and I was all – I need to be there! Brad is a super genuine person and he is always focused on making FD better.
First Descents has been an amazing ride – best thing I’ve ever been involved in! We kayak, rock climb and surf – we can totally be ourselves with new friends that get what we’ve been through and we come out the other side stronger, more confident and with a super survivor support network. FD is a family and I have so much love for my whole FD family. As an FD Alumni Advisory Board member we work to get more survivors involved in FD camps, raising awareness and funds for camps and we focus on keeping the FD alumni family connected to each other.
My nickname is “X2C.” X2C is from cross country – my fellow campers said I was tall and looked like a runner and I do run! It has morphed into x and Uncle x.
mK: So… that makes you an X-man? Who is your hero or heroes?
AF: Dang, I really don’t know. Definitely the people that make life better for other people are my heroes – my younger brother is one of my heroes – he’s a really good person with a really big heart.
mK: What motivates you?
AF: Learning about what people really enjoy doing and being with them when they are pursuing their passions. This energy they have is super infectious. I have a counseling mentor I did my internship with and his name is Keith Molinich. Keith always says “It’s all about the love” and this is soooo true.
mK: Wise words. When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AF: It took me seven years post diagnosis to make plans three or more years into the future. Really though, I don’t even know if I feel like myself. We are always changing and growing – this is pretty amazing. I feel happy and excited I am changing with every experience I share.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
AF: I totally dig laughing and the great laugh lines around people’s eyes. Actually, experiences I have that are really beautiful make me tear up and I take a deep breath and keep on keeping on, it’s really a nice feeling actually, it reminds me to embrace all the beautiful moments in our daily lives.
mK: Everything a post treatment thriver overcomes does make appreciating life easier! What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
AF: Well, I just moved to Bend Oregon and I didn’t know one person here when I arrived. Everyday has been interesting making new friends and creating a life and a community here.
mK: Challenges make us stronger. What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
AF: One of my many challenges involves patience. If I don’t like what I’m doing and find it not too meaningful I struggle to do it; my insides turn all inside out, I want to get up and move about, it’s a struggle to stay patient and get through it. In a way thinking about meaningfulness helps me prioritize what I feel is important to do. I just remember I used to be better at pushing through things I didn’t like to do.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
AF: I really enjoy salmon burritos. I’ll eat them until my stomach hurts and then I’ll keep eating them. I buy my pants large for a reason.
mK: If your “personal heaven” was an actual place on earth. (Modeled like you remembered it) what would it look like? What would you do there? Who would be there?
AF: That’s a really interesting question. I guess I should be doing that right now. I’ll benefit from focusing on my strengths and creating something special around me. I’m going to work on this and get back to you. There are definitely people I want around me, but I can’t force them to be around me. I can invite them to be with me and if it happens that’ll be sweet.
mK: HAHAHA! Sorry for the “tough” question”… What do you like to do in your spare time?
AF: I assistant coach my high school’s XC running, XC skiing and track teams. We have elite coaches here in Bend, Olympians and world-class athletes. I feel happy they allow me to hangout with them and help out! Our athletes are amazing. Everyone puts there best out there and they compete with all their heart.
mK: Cool! What are you up to now?
AF: I’m getting pumped for First Descents trips this summer where I will be a volunteer photographer on a white water kayak trip in Hood River OR for first time FD participants. These camps are amazing; there is so much energy and joy. Next, I’ll be an ambassador in Yellowstone MT on a kayak trip and then I will be with a group of FD friends on an FDX trip in Tofino B.C. living in yurts, surfing and paddling around in dug out canoes. Sharing life, stories, campfires and laughs makes for an amazing summer!
Also, as I mentioned, I just moved to Bend Oregon and I’m enjoying exploring the areas trails, rivers and mountains.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
AF: Really share the love and be there for each other. Going through cancer is a wild ride and the more people one has around sharing laughs, hugs, meals, kindness, a swift kick in the ass when needed and true friendship – this will make every moment real special and important.
Whatever compassion is to you; sharing a hug, a hot chocolate, a joke, taking a walk, watching a movie, karaoke, kayaking, a drawing, a smile – don’t be afraid that it isn’t the perfect thing to do – just share your compassion – this will bring joy to you both.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
AF: I try and show that I know what’s going on, but I really don’t know. I keep thinking that if I read enough I’ll figure some things out. I think reading is important because I can pick up knowledge, but experience is the best teacher. Also, I try to remember and show in my actions that “it’s all about the love.”
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AF: It’s great to Kick (More)Ass – keep the love alive! Thank you for setting up a great organization that is supporting survivors and making a positive difference in people’s lives.
Andy “X2C” Fleming: avid reader, First Descents veteran, photographer, high school coach, human salmon burrito vacuum, world traveler, and all-around cool dude! Thanks for answering our questions. You’re definitely out there living! Check out First Descents and Imerman Angels to rediscover how to live again!