“ Every day we impact those around us far more than we know, and we don’t say thank you enough. Keep on keepin’ on, and strive to be significant as well as successful!
Chris Brewer is a globetrotting mAss Kicker. He is the Senior Manager of Development and one of first volunteers at the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He is an avid sportsman and has dedicated his life to fighting cancer. His passion for a balance of fitness and advocacy is contagious. He is a very busy man traveling to exotic places, but we were lucky to catch up with him in between trips and ask him some questions. He was kind enough to put up with our crazy interview.
mK: Thanks for hanging out with us Chris! First question…how did the Lance Armstrong Foundation start? Why did you get involved?
CB: I took the hard road in to LIVESTRONG… I was diagnosed with moderately advanced testicular cancer two weeks after Lance was (Oct 1996). We started the Foundation in early 1997 and I was one of the original volunteers, running the website, answering most of the general email questions, and helping organize the Ride for the Roses cycling event each year. I got in because I simply wanted to give back to the cancer world and help others not to have to go through the ordeal I did, if at all possible.
mK: What exactly do you do for the Lance Armstrong Foundation now?
CB: I’ve done a lot of things here – event organizer, web designer, grassroots fundraising, and then of course there’s the “one-off things” (unique projects where everyone pitches in) that everyone does around here. Right now I head up Development Communications and Special Projects. That ranges from helping out with producing content internally, representing LIVESTRONG at various events, and going to events and helping tell the story of the good works they are doing. “Special Projects” is basically the way my boss can assign me unusual opportunities at his discretion! It’s a good gig, I have to say…
mK: What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
CB: I was 33 and diagnosed Oct 16, 1996. Unlike most testicular cancer guys, I had pain “down there” and also unlike most guys, I went to the doctor almost immediately. There was no real suspicion of cancer, in fact it was never even brought up, but the doc had me get a sonogram as a precautionary measure. My diagnosis wasn’t a pleasant experience… when the tech saw the solid mass on the screen he immediately called in the radiologist, they chatted like I wasn’t in the room, and then he walked out. I said, “Excuse me, what did you see?” He paused in the doorway and said, “Well, only your urologist can diagnose you for sure (I didn’t even have a urologist) but if I was your age and judging from what I saw on the screen, I’d be concerned about testicular cancer.” And then he walked out the door… after a 3-day weekend full of web surfing I was quite sure I had what he warned me about, and at the following appointment it was confirmed and I had my first surgery two hours later…
mK: It is really important things get caught early! What were your symptoms?
CB: Like I said, I had pain “down there” – apparently the tumor had fortunately bumped against a nerve, otherwise it probably would have gone unnoticed even longer and my condition worsened.
mK: Who is your hero or heroes?
CB: For sure my brother Robin; he lost his cancer battle about four years ago, but the courage he showed through what he endured – “This For Now” was his mantra – was truly inspiring. And then I’d have to say my mom as well. She showed me what it took to be a successful single parent, and for that I am greatly in her debt.
mK: Family are the people that really shapes you. What motivates you?
CB: Not the usual things – money, success, fame… I like a challenge, being told something can’t be done, or something with big risk but big return. Also I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie, so doing high-speed things really gets my blood going. Ever sit on the back ramp of a C-130 going 250 mph at 99 feet, dangling your feet off the edge? Good times!
mK: OK, that’s kinda crazy! We’ll take your word on that one. When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
CB: Well over a year later… the after effects of surgery, and especially chemo, took a looooong time. Plus I was more than moderately obsessed with fighting cancer and that took a long time to get some life balance back in place. But even now, almost 14 years later, I’m now having after effects from surgeries in recurring hernias and hormonal issues. Like the line in the song “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers goes, “Man, I ain’t changed but I know I’m not the same.”
mK: Dude, no one is ever the same. You can either evolve or get overwhelmed after everything. What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
CB: Laugh – oddball humor: Monty Python, Fark.com photoshop contests, Tosh.O / Cry: losing my younger brother to cancer, stuff where children get hurt, books like “The Last Lecture” and “Marley and Me” – I cry like a baby! / Angry: people who try and hurt or manipulate those who can’t defend themselves, stupid drivers (I’m working on that), lazy people
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
CB: Well in a macro way, my work with cancer through LIVESTRONG. I never saw that coming, neither my own case or the amazing work we’ve done since. One interesting thing? I’d have to go with the 2003 Tour of Hope cycling team I was on. I got in the best shape of my life at 41 and rode across America with Lance and 25 AMAZING representatives of the cancer world. It was a life changing experience… of course covering many Tours de France has also been an incredible adventure and one I’ve had a great time sharing with our supporters, too.
mK: Cool. What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
CB: I would have to go with the physical ramifications following a huge abdominal surgery and then chemo right afterwards. I approached it like an athlete training for a big event, doing above and beyond what my medical team asked me to, and then doing things to reward myself appropriately when I accomplished that goal.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
CB: Good red wine. Guilty as charged.
mK: There is nothing wrong with that… unless you drink bad red wine. Random question time… If you could be anywhere in any era, where would you be and why?
CB: I’m happy where I am now… I’m a bit of a tech geek and seeing how things like the internet, iPhones, etc are changing the world on a daily basis is just incredible. Just when we think we know something – Bam! – a new discovery comes out and makes you think again. It’s a good time to be alive.
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
CB: Spend time with my wife Helen and son Andy is #1. Then I’d add in things like riding my bike and hitting the gym. OK, OK – I love playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – sue me!
mK: HAHAHA! At least it’s not wasting time on Facebook or Twitter… nobody does that… What are you doing now?
CB: We’re in the middle of meetings with our great friends from Movember (moustaches + November = Movember). It’s an amazing global cause that we’ve become a part of looking to change the face of men’s health, and a great partner to have. Other than that it’s a bit of a planning lull time – something I rarely get – looking to events in New Orleans, NYC, and France. Have I mentioned I love my job?
mK: Mustaches for men’s health awareness… kinda funny, but a great cause. Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
CB: Knowledge is truly power. Without it you’re going to be just someone poked and prodded by the medical establishment. You need to know as much as you can and be a key player in your medical team. Without that knowledge you might not know all your options, or you may make decisions with knowing all the ramifications. We have some great free resources at www.livestrong.org/cancersupport to help you get that knowledge, so check it out.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
CB: Hah! How about that I was originally a music / theater major in high school / college? I can still do a mean karaoke from time to time… also, I am – as far as I know – one of only two people in the world who can say the McDonald’s Big Mac slogan backwards (thanks to Gary in 7th grade): bun seed sesame a on onions, pickles, cheese, lettuce, sauce special patties beef all two!
mK: It’s funny, we can’t picture you as a musical theater major. I’m sure kids didn’t dump grape slushies on you. At least I don’t think they would do it now… Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
CB: Just a simple thanks, for all you do. Every day we impact those around us far more than we know, and we don’t say thank you enough. Keep on keepin’ on, and strive to be significant as well as successful!
Chris Brewer, adrenaline junkie, karaoke superstar, driven guy, video game addict, theater major, and all around cool guy. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Checkout www.livestrong.org to see all the great stuff they are doing.