Racing cancer to the finish line

2 Jun 2017

Tri-athlete, Raymond Howe, shares with us on facing suicide, pushing his limits and carrying a legacy to the very end.

Raymond Howe is a super achiever. A tri-athlete one weekend, a marathoner the next, and a 300km bike racer the week after.

He raises funds for various charities through his sporting activities and helps strangers in small ways where he can - like helping the person ahead of him in the queue pay her hospital bill when her debit card is declined.

Raymond holds a senior position in the hospitality industry and has lived on more idyllic island resorts than I can name.

It’s all a bit annoying, really.

Super fit super achievers have a way of making me feel bad about my lack of super anything. At 54, he’s has a dozen years on top of me but he’s fitter, has better hair, a better jawline and smile.

The fact that he has cancer for the second time and is still a super fit achiever makes it worse, because, well, he has cancer for the second time!

The thing is, it’s hard to be annoyed with Raymond. He’s genuine, friendly, polite to a fault, and utterly human.

Human enough to have wanted to kill himself 14 years ago after three years of cancer treatment zapped his will to live when he had cancer in his face, brain and lungs.

He wrote a suicide note and planned his exit, and then went on to travel and fulfil his bucket list.

2-time cancer survivor Raymond Howe shares with us on facing suicide, pushing his limits and carrying a legacy to the very end.

But along the way, he found Armstrong. That’s Lance Armstrong, American cycling god at the time, before the drug fiasco.

Raymond doesn’t excuse the cheating, but he was inspired by the American’s book, It’s Not About the Bike. Not just for his battle with cancer and subsequent comeback to the top of his sport, but also his charity work through his foundation, now known as the Livestrong Foundation.

Armstrong’s book and the Livestrong Foundation put Raymond onto the idea of raising money for charity through sports. Raymond was reminded of his younger brother, whom he used to mock for actively supporting charities. That brother died of cancer at the age of 19, and now Raymond wanted to carry on his legacy.

So he put aside his suicide note – though he’s kept it to this day to remind himself that God has given him life for a reason and put people in his life to inspire and guide him, and for him to assist – and at 41, he completed his first triathlon in Miami, Florida.

He took 6 hours and 48 minutes with a US$49.99 Walmart bike he bought two days before the race. He couldn’t figure out how to remove the cute basket in the front of the bike in time, so he raced with it.

Inspired by people who cheered for him at the end of that first race, he’s gone on to complete about 180  triathlons, marathons, Ironmans, swims and cycling races in the 13 years since. His personal best now for the triathlon is 2:46.

2-time cancer survivor Raymond Howe shares with us on facing suicide, pushing his limits and carrying a legacy to the very end.

Agnostic about which type of charity he supports, he is often happy to oblige when he’s approached by charities or friends supporting charities to link his racing with fundraising.

This June Raymond is riding with more than 100 other cyclists some 300 kilometers from Kuantan, Malaysia, to Singapore, to raise funds for Beyond Social Services and the Peacehaven Nursing Home run by the Salvation Army.

He’s doing all this in between his treatments for thyroid cancer. He’s pragmatic and realistic about his chances, but he says he’s at peace with God, checked off everything he can on his bucket list and lived a full life, so he’s ready to go if his time is up.

In the meantime, he races and raises as much as he can.

Photography by Wei Yuet Wong