Cancer is an elusive, fickle son of a bitch. My friend Wendy Chioji will be the first person to tell you that. She battled cancer, then recovered, then battled it again … and again … and again. She’s a tenacious fighter though. I know it. She knows it. And now I want you to know it. “Cancer likes me. It really, really likes me! I had Stage II breast cancer in 2001 and survived obviously,” Chioji said. “And I did the first of several clinical trials.”
At the time of her original diagnosis, Chioji was a well-known, beloved anchor at WESH-TV in Orlando. First order of business—take care of herself. Second order of business—continue to take care of herself. Third order of business—clue viewers in on what was happening … warts and all. “When I had breast cancer in 2001, I had a blog on the WESH newscast before I even knew what a blog was,” said Chioji.
Chioji was diagnosed with an unrelated thymic carcinoma in 2013 only to find out there wasn’t a true protocol for treating it. “So, we picked the next best option: lung cancer treatment. Whaaaaat? Surprise! It didn’t work—and I was diagnosed with recurrence in my lung and heart lining exactly a year later, said Chioji. “By the way, it was diagnosed because I get a yearly MRI because of my breast cancer. A sharp radiologist saw the new growth. Most people are diagnosed with TC in Stage 4 because there are no symptoms. Basically, my breast cancer saved my life.”
When it comes to clinical trials, Wendy knows a thing or two (or ten) about them. Her trials have trials. “I’m now in my fourth clinical trial for the recurrent thymic cancer. This one is at the NIH and it’s a combination therapy that’s worked for about ten months so far,” said Chioji. “But I am always looking for the next thing, because none of these trials work forever.”
Today, Wendy keeps writing—when she’s not racing, running, hiking, biking, mountain climbing or spelunking. (Okay, I made that last one up.) Cancer be damned, she’s a one-woman extreme sports commercial—albeit no longer hyper-competitive. “I seriously have had to restructure how I look at both athletic activity and how I participate,” admitted Chioji. “You know when people say, ‘At least you’re out there.’ I hate that! It’s taken some work to scale down my expectations about my ability and speed. It’s a work in progress.”
She does a phenomenal job keeping readers up to date on her various treatments, but—more importantly—writes about kicking cancer’s ass on the daily. “It’s a great outlet for me to write as long as I like and as meander-y as I like with no 30-second time limit. I figured I’d share—since cancer likes me, as we’ve already established,” said Chioji. “And because this is all pretty new to everyone, myself included.”
If life is to be lived, Chioji is making the most of it and then some. I write this because if you’re ever having one of those days—and we all do—Wendy’s blog is a must-read for inspiration, motivation and any other “ation” you might need. (Conversation? Perspiration? Dedication?)
Do the high-highs and occasional low-lows get to her? I asked, “Are you ever like—get me off this damn rollercoaster?” Chioji came up the most Chioji-est of answers: “Short answer: Yes. But it’s also been an incredible motivation to get sh*t done, go places, dump negative people, say what I want, do what I want. Just like anyone, I veer off the rails sometimes and need to get back on track. I get feedback from people, and that always helps keep me authentic. But it takes work.”
I found an old Facebook post from one of my galpals written to Wendy. “You are the kindest, smartest, toughest woman I’ve ever met in this business and I am grateful for your friendship, advice and general kick butt attitude about everything from cancer to competition,” wrote Deirdre Fitzpatrick. It rings true on so many levels. Keep scrolling and you’ll find about 7,574,292 similar kind words and kudos from people who have crossed paths with Wendy over the years.
While Chioji never signed up to be the Cancer Whisperer, she’s also found herself in a loopy spin cycle of being a support network for folks battling the disease. Her pearl of wisdom? “My number one thing is … say yes. Take the risk, get outside the box,” said Chioji. “For all of us, life is a limited commodity. I understand that sometimes circumstances demand that things get put off. But all too often, if you look at the circumstances, you can change it, make it happen. Don’t wait.” (She didn’t mention it, but I will—she will also want you to eat pie. All the pie you can. And you better share. She’s a pie-aholic. Tell no one.)
Wendy’s energy is cathartic. Hell, being around Wendy herself is cathartic. She’s a bonafide road warrior—a travelmonger to the Nth degree. I never know where she’s at in the world. I’m pretty sure she’s in Taiwan right now, but by the time I publish this, she’ll likely be somewhere even more random. Like the Greater Antilles. Or the moon. Needless to say, she’s touched a lot of lives and vice versa. “I get inspiration and motivation from so many places and so many people. Most often, it’s not because they’re giving me groundbreaking advice—uh, there isn’t any. It’s something they do or the way they live their life,” says Chioji. “Recently, I volunteered with an Assisted Horse Therapy lesson at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. Our student is 87 and hadn’t ridden before. 87!?! And she’s looking for new experiences! If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is.”
“Wendy is the grown-up we all want to be—although Wendy would never admit to being the grown-up,” said former colleague and our respective friend Katie Crane. “She’s the person who calls and asks, ‘What’s up?’ and you say, ‘Nothing. Going to the store. How about you?’ And she responds with ‘I’m climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro tomorrow.’ You know, that’s a Tuesday for Wendy. In fact, her Kilimanjaro pic is the background of my laptop. She’s everything.”
It’s true. Wendy climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro—and that was way before Toto saw a resurgence of popularity with that damn, never-ending earworm, “Africa”. I can’t be sure, but every time Toto sings that song nowadays they probably dedicate it to her.
If you ever cross paths with Wendy, give her all the love and support (and pie) you would of your best friend. She’d do the same for you. “I tell myself often how lucky I am,” said Chioji. “I absorb all the good vibes that are around me and move forward. Because what else is there?”