TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico — It's not as if Rodrigo Valle Hernandez buries his head in the sand at one of Tijuana's beaches. He certainly knows about the battle he faces in his personal war against bone cancer.
But he certainly does have a unique approach of how he stares down the deadly disease.
The less he knows, the better he feels.
- This article appears in the Nov. 9 print edition of Tire Business.
It started when his U.S.-based neurosurgeon told him the cancer was fast progressing. He needed emergency surgery.
"I told them I think you got the wrong patient," Mr. Valle said.
His doctor showed him scientific proof.
"I told him, 'You got the wrong person. Don't tell me what's going to happen; let me find out what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen. You do your job, and I'll do mine.' "
They told him he had 90 days to live.
"I told them 90 months," he said. "I told them they have the wrong patient."
In the ensuing 11 years, he has had, by his count, seven surgeries, more than 170 radiation treatments, a bone marrow transplant and stem cell infusion.
Mr. Valle, this year's Tire Business Tire Dealer Humanitarian Medal winner, continues to get monthly treatments. In fact, late last month, he ended his family vacation only because it was time for another treatment.
He said passion helps him grapple with the disease.
"My passion for life and my passion for doing whatever I do is the motivating factor for my system," he said.
Depression? He said he's never been depressed in his life.
"I don't know what that is," Mr. Valle said. "Maybe it was when my father died, but that was sadness. There's a difference."
Even when he heard the news of his cancer, depression, he said, was far from his thoughts.
"Cancer — it was the worst word I had ever heard in my life," he said. "I told my buddy I thought I was burning inside. But I was not depressed. I was scared as hell, but not depressed.
"Yes, I didn't want to die. But for me, leave it to the doctor and let God decide. I'll do my part. Having faith in God and in my doctor."
He credits his wife of 41 years, Denisse, for helping him maintain that perspective.
Less than five years ago, he was in the hospital with the very contagious H1N1 virus.
His wife would not leave her husband's side, despite admonitions from doctors. She had to sign a waiver, releasing the hospital of any responsibility, in order to stay with him.
"She looked like an astronaut for 13 days," Mr. Valle said. "Doctors and nurses were going to take pictures because no one had ever done that. She stood by my side. I would beg her to leave, and she wouldn't leave. That's how she's fighting for me."
Later, he contracted a contagious infection in his blood. His wife stayed alongside, despite similar risks.
"The Lord protected her," Mr. Valle said. "She didn't get anything."
Mr. Valle said her support, as well as the support of their five children and seven grandchildren, have helped him soldier on.
"She goes to all therapies and radiation," he said. "She's always on my side, and she makes me feel stronger. I don't cry when she's there. She's an amazing woman."
The cancer, which he said eats the bone from the center out, or outside in, makes walking difficult. Some days he is in pain, other days not so much.
"The only time I remember I have cancer is when I go in to the cancer center," Mr. Valle said. "If I'm out, I don't think about cancer. If it's not in your mind, you don't remind yourself. I try to take it away from my mind and enjoy life, what I'm doing and with whom. Every moment for me is important."
He still refuses to hear doctors tell him the potential side effects from medicine or the procedures he has.
"If I listen, I'll know what can happen," he said. "But if I don't listen, and I don't know what can happen, my brain won't know what can happen."
It's the mechanism he uses to fight the disease.
"Doctor say it's a different approach," he said. "This is how my brain protects me that I'm not going to feel the things they say I might be feeling.
"The less you know, the better you are."