Interview with Bertalan Thuróczy, “Futni, hinni, élni” runner and writer of the book “To run, believe, live”
Bertalan Thuróczy was in the same secondary school in Szolnok, just a couple grades under me. He contacted me as a sports mate, after reading my piece about panic disease and running. Little did I know at the time, that I will come across a gentleman in life, who is though younger than me, but whom – without a doubt – I will look up to as a role model. He told me his story about being diagnosed with testicle cancer and lymphatic cancer at the age of 21. Without exaggeration he found himself in the shadow of Death, where – according to him – beyond the physical struggles the battle against the spirit was a big challenge: to live or die, that was the question. This was more than 5 years ago. He’s fully recovered since then, but what’s more special, his life took an unexpected turn, similar to the sudden change of Paul the Apostle. Please welcome this smiling, purposeful, extremely energetic gentleman with open hearts, who had to face life’s big questions!
And here is the interview:
- How was your upbringing at home?
I grew up in a village called Rákóczifalva, near to Szolnok and was raised in these surroundings. My parents tried to pass on the affection for work: I hoed corn as a child, collected watermelon and cherries. ‘To work and live righteously’ – I was trained for that.
- What were you dreaming about as a child?
My biggest dream growing up was to be a combiner. There’s an enormous field in front of our house, I was always admiring the combines. In high school I already knew I wanted to be an engineer.
- How did engineering come in the picture?
I was fond of math, physics and was interested, how nature works. I didn’t know for sure what type of engineer I’ll be, but I was certain, that I would like to create something valuable and lasting.
- Did you have these thoughts already in your childhood?
For sure. Imagine, that I have a certain scene burnt into my memory: I was chopping wood as a child, looking at the wilderness, and there, in the middle of nowhere I was wondering, what is the purpose of living, what is life about? I was introverted and reserved beyond measure.
- How did your path work out after this?
I started in a simple high school in Rákóczifalva, hoed in the field and picked cherries. After that, I went to secondary school in Szolnok. I was a good student, was accepted by the faculty of electrical engineering, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of falling into line with another 1000 engineering students, not creating anything remarkable and lasting. Honestly, my illness made me realize, that I have something to live for.
- When did you fall ill?
At the age of 21. At that time, I was in the second year of university.
- What symptoms did you notice on yourself?
The symptoms of testical cancer: referred pain in the lower abdomen, nodes noticeable to the touch. But these were actually signs of my spiritual symptoms, which appeared much sooner. It’s hard to put into words, but deep down I knew something wrong is emerging.
- What do you mean by that?
I was going for 20 kilometer runs in the wilderness, without wanting to compete in a race, without knowing at that time, that I’ll have to face a malignant tumor. My conscious was urging me to prepare for who’s or what’s coming. This was – as it turned out later – no other than myself.
- Do you know what was the source of your spiritual problems?
I thought I will be happy if I leave home and go to secondary school in Szolnok. As I got there, I was thinking for 5 years straight, that if I wind up in Budapest, I’ll finally find my happiness, studying engineering. As I got there, studying engineering, I was thinking, I’ll finally find my happiness, working as an engineer. But in the meantime, I couldn’t find my happiness, because I was always longing for something I didn’t achieve yet.
- You got sick. Although pretty late, but you went to the doctor, who confronted you with the fact, that without treatment you’ll die.
That’s right. I was diagnosed with advanced-stage lymphoma.
- How was the feeling of facing the possibility of dying?
It was like a nightmare, that you can’t wake up from. It was absolutely devastating. At first, I didn’t even want to get treatment. I wasn’t capable of acknowledging the real gravity of the situation. Of course, I was communicating and showing outwards, that ‘something’s wrong, but there’s a solution’. It’s still a taboo, people are ashamed of themselves, it puts a heavy burden on men.
- Did you lean towards choosing death?
...I don’t know how to answer that
- Yes or no?
Yes, but the instinct to survive suppressed this in no time. I was reasoning for days, whether to take the treatment, but the doctor said, if I don’t, I’ll die within a year. This moment made me realize I’m playing with Death here.
No, there wasn’t. I always tried to deal with it myself, with my little voice inside, who was thinking about not taking the treatment.
I could draw a parallel with running: while running a half-marathon, at the 10th kilometer that little voice whispers, that it’s too much, and you need to suppress it. But in this case that voice whispered, that my life, which didn’t make sense so far, is already shattered. I had to deliberately suppress this.
- How did you manage to do that?
I visualized a positive future, where I’m running, graduating, working and bringing my childhood dreams to fruition. In this vision I was creating something remarkable and lasting, which helps people and me as well.
- Did you fear death?
At the time, yes.
- And now?
Not anymore. I don’t want to brag, but my conscience is clear, because I know I live a pure and righteous life. I try to help companions in distress. If I would drop down dead right now, I’d say, I’m leaving with clear conscience.
- If I understood you correctly, you’re saying that death gave your life meaning?
Absolutely, and I take it upon myself: facing death awakened me. This illness was the biggest blessing of my life.
- So, you’re saying, rebirth before physical death exists? Let’s say, a spiritual rebirth?
Yes! After the treatment my digestion was all over the place, so I started researching medical articles, if there could be a nervous system problem behind it. Imagine, that I came across a diet connected to intestinal bacteria: in the morning I took my pills, within a few hours I felt reborn. It’s hard to relate to the effect of these compounds on our thoughts and behavior.
- Do you believe in medicine?
Yes. They saved my life.
- You mentioned taboos. If you’re not comfortable with it, it doesn’t have to appear in the interview. Was your masculinity restored after the treatment?
Totally. The wonder of the human body is that if they remove one part of a paired organ, the other takes over its functions.
- What’s your stance on spirituality?
I wasn’t religious before, and I did not convert afterwards.
- Let’s leave out religion…
I faced death. During treatment I witnessed crying and conversations on the hospital floor: for example, someone ‘handed over his life to Jesus’, and another died next to me in the hospital room. I stayed rational the whole way through, I didn’t want to lose the sense of reality. I was getting ready for the university exams, after a certain period of time I was waiting for getting cytotoxic chemo. I knew that the medicines will save me, so I wasn’t thinking about any kind of religious or spiritual alternative cure.
- What do you believe in then?
I believe in the limitless willpower, in the undefeatable survival instinct, in perseverance, in passion, in curiosity and in the power of love. I believe, that one can only stay physically healthy, if it’s spiritually healthy at the same time. I believe, that we have to keep looking, until we find our way. Many times, help and guidance come in an unexpected way. I believe, that everything happens for a reason, even the worst, most painful things. I believe, that self-understanding and life are meant to teach us something, sometimes even with a great deal of pain and suffering in our life. The only question is, how do we perceive it? As tragedy and disaster? Or as a blessing?
- What are you up to now?
Many try to escape the happenings, they never want to see the oncology institution, the hospital or the doctor ever again. In my case it’s quite the contrary: I go back to the place, where I suffered the most in my whole life. Now I’m developing a medical device, heated sensor gloves to be exact. With this device I’d like to ease the lingering effects of my disease. This would be helpful in treating Raynaud’s Syndrome (painful, temporary stiffness of limbs and discoloration) instead of taking vasodilators. The engineer in me has met his goal.
- How are you doing now?
Since then, I feel like I’m dreaming, while I’m awake. In spite of the pandemic and the end of the world morale I feel happier and healthier, than ever. Last week from one day to another, I was kicked out of the dormitory, but after moving four times, I finally managed to solve the problem. I went through more difficult situations in the past…
- What are your future goals?
I got addicted to the flow feeling of running. In addition to that, I can demonstrate a positive future vision for my companions, that after a disease like this, you can indeed return to your life. During treatment I had to stop even at the stair landings, what broke me at that time. In the oncology institution there’s also a running team with the doctors in progress.
I’m developing this medical device, I talked with the doctors today, the ethical approval will be ready soon. It’s a big dream of mine, that there’ll be a glove like this developed in Hungary.
Besides that, I started to write a book. It’ not just about companions and cancer. I would like to help those, who lost motivation to live. Not everybody has to get punched in the face like this, in order to realize the meaning of life, because every life has its purpose. It’s a long process, but everyone has a mission, which can make the world a better place. That’s easy for me to say, because I already found it.
- What’s your message to those, who can’t find their place in the world?
We can always do something for our fellow beings or ourselves. I found myself in the campaign against cancer, but for others it can be art, sports… Anything, that is useful for others.
We could be thinking, that none of the above has something to do with us. But if we’re brave enough to read between the lines, we can find ourselves somewhere in the story. Philosophers and scholars have been searching for the answer for a long, long time ago, if there’s life beyond the material, the world of the spirits and transcendence. Although our religion is not the same, we are headed to the same direction: death. We can’t do anything about it, but we can go along with the spirit’s dance of death – before the physical death – so we wake up from the nightmare of inactivity, and do something good for ourselves and for the world. If you don’t believe me, trust Berci!