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Skater Rena Inoue fought lung cancer battle alone, in her fa

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http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asa ... 30096.html



U.S. pair figure skating champions Rena Inoue, 29, and partner John Baldwin, 32, did their country proud at the Turin Olympics in February, completing an unprecedented throw triple-Axel for a seventh place finish.

Watching as Inoue sailed lightly through the incredibly challenging maneuver, it was hard to believe this woman once had a lung tumor.

She has been cancer free for six years.

The two-time Olympic skater for Japan has had a life marked by sweet victories and painful loss.

Born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Inoue started skating at age 4 when her doctor advised her parents that it would help her asthma treatment. She soon excelled on the ice, and at 15 made her debut at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. She placed 14th in the standings.

In 1996, Inoue moved to the United States to train, at the urging of her father, who was undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

He knew he had not long to live, but he wanted his daughter to chase her dream. He died in February 1997 at 45.

Then, in November of the following year, Inoue herself was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a devastating blow, but her father's death had taught her how to be strong.

"We all die. Until that day, I will live my life to the full," she vowed. Inoue decided to stay in the United States and fight her battle with cancer alone. She hoped to return to the ice eventually.

Inoue had been living with a skating family in the States, spending all her time at the rink. In fall 1998, she began to feel tired all the time. A cough refused to go away, and she thought that maybe it was pneumonia.

When they had discovered the malignant 1-centimeter tumor, the doctors told her she was actually lucky they had found it so early. The cancer had not yet metastasized and spread to other organs.

Her doctor suggested she have surgery to remove her lung.

However, when she told her doctor she was an Olympic skater, she was offered a second option: chemotherapy and radiation.

The choice was difficult. Losing a lung would involve a long convalescence before she could hope to return to skating. On the other hand, chemotherapy is not guaranteed to work on a cancerous tumor.

Inoue spent many sleepless nights, thinking about her father and his unselfish love for her.

"I really wish I could see you through this and help you become independent," he had said to her after finding out he had only a year to live.

"But I am running out of time. You may not like this, and I know you will cry, but I am sending you away to the United States."

Inoue was 19 at the time, enrolled at Waseda University in Tokyo. Dedicated to skating, she had lost interest in school. Her whole world felt turned upside down when he gave her the ultimatum.

Later, she realized that sending her to the States had been an act of love from her father. He wanted her to learn to live independently and follow her dream of Olympic glory.

As she pondered her course of treatment, Inoue thought, "If I can't get myself through this ordeal on my own, the whole reason for coming to America will be lost."

She decided on chemotherapy because she wanted to continue skating while she underwent outpatient treatment at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Her mother, Reiko, 54, wanted to join her in California, but Inoue told her to stay in Japan.

"Please don't come here. If you come here now, mom, I won't be able to make it. Don't come till I tell you to," Inoue said.

She began a cycle of a week of intensive chemotherapy, a two-week break, and then back for the next week of chemo.

Three times a week, Inoue underwent a two-hour chemotherapy session during which she received in intravenous cocktail of strong drugs such as mitomycin and cisplatin.

Inoue told no one around her what she was going through. She told her coaches and friends she was feeling "a little under the weather." She didn't want special treatment.

She had hoped to continue training. But her chemotherapy left her exhausted--she couldn't stay awake most of the day. Skating was out of the question. She broke out in hives from head to toe, even on the soles of her feet. Patches of eczema appeared on her body.

Alone at home, she was drowning in fears that she might never be able to skate again. She called her mother almost every day.

Finally, the chemotherapy kicked in, and the tumor began melting away. In six months, she was cancer-free.

By November 1999, about a year after her diagnosis, Inoue was ready to return to the ice.

The first time she tried to sail out onto the ice, just like before, she began gasping for breath and soon had a splitting headache. She had to quit skating after five minutes.

On her second day, she aimed for 10 minutes of skating. By the next week, she managed 30 minutes. It was discouraging for this perfectionist athlete, who recalled her peak performances.

"Why can't I even do the simplest things? Will I ever regain my full health?" she worried.

In December that year, Inoue met her future partner, John Baldwin. She had been back for a month and was again doing single jumps.

Baldwin's father and coach, John Sr., himself a former championship skater, was the impetus that brought the two together.

Inoue was a petite 149 centimeters tall, and Baldwin stood 175 cm, not particularly tall. They were a perfect match. Neither father nor son knew Inoue was recovering from cancer.

They became official partners in 2000 and entered the 2001 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. They placed 11th, but the experience rejuvenated Baldwin. He began training constantly, challenging himself to improve.

Baldwin's enthusiasm soon spread to Inoue, but she worried about pushing too hard. Just because her cancer had disappeared did not mean she would not have a relapse.

Yet, when she was out on the ice, she forgot her fears and lived for the moment.

Now the two are partners both on and off the ice. They share a home in Santa Monica, California.

"We are both indispensable to each other," Inoue says.

Inoue confessed there was a time when she thought about quitting skating.

It was while her father was dying in February 1997. At his bedside in Japan, she watched as he battled relentless pain before the cancer finally claimed him.

When he was gone, Inoue felt empty.

"So it all comes down to this. Everyone ends up here."

She had no energy. But she also knew that to stay in Japan and abandon her skating career in the United States meant giving up on her father's dreams for her.

Her father's death was a turning point for her. She realized she had to go out and live life to the full. She became more confident, and felt she finally was on the way to independence, just as her father had wanted for her.

Inoue did not tell Baldwin about her cancer until last September, before her annual medical checkup. She also held a news conference to announce she was a cancer survivor.

People these days say they admire her courage.

Inoue shrugs. "The hardest thing I have had to do in all my 29 years was coming to terms with my father's death. Nothing can top that. Besides, my illness taught me so much about life. The experience was worth it."(IHT/Asahi: May 3,2006)

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