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Fighting Robots and Fighting Cancer

Kevin compares building and fighting robots with enduring and fighting cancer-- a surprising synergy!
PUBLISHED June 27, 2016
Kevin Berry is an 11-year mantle cell lymphoma survivor and undergoing his third bone marrow transplant. He works on Human Spaceflight programs, is a freelance writer and editor, and supports newly diagnosed patients through his ministry, Taking Vienna (www.takingvienna.blogspot.com). He lives in Central Florida with his wife and adult children.

One of my life’s dreams was to compete at a BattleBots® tournament. In April, thanks to an invite from 
Team Moebius, I was able to fulfill that dream. You might catch me on the show, or the FB page: BattleBots
 
I was a very non-competitive kid. I was a whiz at science fairs, grades and Boy Scouts, but was pretty horrible at PE, and all sports. As I got older, became a parent, and started to coach kids in various competitions, I discovered quite a competitive streak in myself. But it really didn’t sink in just how strong that vein runs through me until I got involved in combat robotics.

The TV show, which ran on Comedy Central back in the early 2000’s and is now on ABC, doesn’t do the sport justice. There are hundreds of local, statewide, national and international events every year. Here in Florida, I fell into one of the hot spots of the sport, and learned a huge amount about building bots, and building up myself, along the way.

Between 2003 and 2005, I evolved from a really bad novice to a pretty good pro. There were many traits that contributed to that evolution. I learned to research every aspect, both on the internet and by picking the brains of experts. I reached out to hundreds of people via forums, emails, chat rooms, phone calls and at competitions to learn this new craft. I found out that, within a fixed community of a few thousand people, I was only one degree of separation away from the world’s experts in almost any arcane topic I ran across. This sport is unique in the dichotomy of the participants. At all times except for actual fights, everyone helps everyone. I’ve literally seen builders cutting parts out of their bots to give to a builder who just obliterated them, so the winner could repair damage and go on in the tournament. People have driven dozens of miles to meet me to help with manufacturing or loaning a part. We laugh and we support each other, until the box is locked; then it’s no holds barred. During those years, I rarely missed a competition. I fought hard, won some, and was passionate about being the best builder and fighter I could be.

I extended that into running. I’m a slow, ponderous runner who doesn’t practice nearly enough. I will never win a race, or even my age bracket. But, I learned that you could compete against yourself, not just against other people. So I’ve done dozens and dozens of runs, always striving to beat my previous best time.

Unfortunately, both my robot fighting and my running keep getting interrupted by cancer. First in 2005, then in 2012, and now in 2016. I build up momentum, then get tossed out by this dang disease.

When I was first diagnosed, I attacked cancer with vigor. I realized shortly after that I was using skills I’d learned as a bot builder and as a runner. I researched like a PhD candidate. I communicated all over the world with leading experts. I built relationships with other patients, staff and caregivers. I trained myself to be an informed patient, a strong advocate and a lay specialist in cutting-edge treatments. Several times, with input from my incredible wife and daughter, a medical professional, I was able to make data-driven decisions, evaluating risks and optimizing my chances.

Both times, and now again, I put myself on an exercise program, so my overall health could support the brutal treatments patients endure. I learned to read my own body, pacing myself to finish strong while leaving every last calorie of energy on the course, even if that meant plodding in tens of minutes behind the rest.

Most importantly, I learned that being engaged in a positive way, with a positive community of people who share your passions, is the single biggest key to winning. My bot builder friends are my family. My running friends are my family. My cancer friends are my family. In all these parts of my life, I’m supported, nurtured and occasionally kicked in the butt to perform at a higher level than I imagined I could.

A million thanks to all of you. You know who you are.

And, to the CURE readers who’ve followed me through my transplant, recovery and remission. Get ready to keep following as I share my next set of battles: that of a relapsed, two-time transplant patient, 11 years into fighting mantle cell lymphoma. Besides the other wonderful blogs on CURE’s site, I hope you'll visit my Taking Vienna site. Also, clicks to the links in the photo caption help me and my sport, who are as caring a community as you are!
 
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