Carolyn (Valdal) Ang knows what it’s like to fight.
The Courtenay mother of three was the youngest-ever competitor from the Comox Valley to carry the torch in the opening ceremonies in the BC Winter Games, a memory she shares with a giant smile.
The bronze-medal winning athlete is now using that natural drive for the biggest fight of her life, as she has recently been diagnosed with inoperable gastric cancer. But Ang is not looking at what can go wrong; she’s looking at what can go right.
“(The support) is absolutely mind boggling,” she said in her living room, just one day before she was rushed to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria for health issues prior to starting chemotherapy this week.
“(Word) spreads so quickly, people I don’t even know are coming up to me.”
Ang’s connection to the Comox Valley runs deep: born at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, she attended school in Courtenay, met her husband in the Valley and connects with children through her work with the Tsolum Spirit Project — teaching kids about the salmon lifecycle and the larger ecosystem.
She explains one of biggest struggles with the diagnosis is being a mother and wanting to create memories with her family.
“My biggest fear is that I’m not going to be here for them. It’s the scariest part.”
Ang was scheduled to begin chemotherapy in Campbell River this week in order to extend her life expectancy, but it began in Victoria; she will return to the Valley soon to continue treatment.
Whether it’s sports or in life, Ang goes after what she wants – a philosophy which she applied to her relationship with her husband Vishnu.
Bucking convention, Ang proposed, in what she calls “the shortest engagement in history,” in July 2012.
“I was home after work and turned the TV on and saw an ad for people interested in doing a proposal. I sent an email to the producers and heard back soon after,” she explains.
Ang proposed on the tarmac at the Richmond Airport, and once Vishnu accepted, they flew by helicopter with her son George to Grouse Mountain, where she had secretly planned a wedding for the television show The Proposal.
Many of her memories with her husband centre around Ang’s love for skiing and recalls one of the first dates with Vishnu was a cross-country ski date on Mount Washington.
“I made coffee and a picnic, and I made him ski. We got out to the lookout and the whiskey jacks were there – it was awesome.”
A downhill skier since she was young, Ang switched to cross-country and then biathlon, a sport which George is now learning.
“It’s really fun that he likes it; he really likes shooting and the rifle part,” she adds with a laugh. “George is extremely strong and is training well. It’s nice for him to follow in my footsteps, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”
With the fight of her life in front of her, Ang is creating a blog (carolynsjourney.weebly.com) to chronicle her journey and share stories, photos and updates of the months ahead. She is focusing on the site, along with creating handmade, natural lotions and jewelry, which she says she finds enjoyment in making, and keeps her occupied.
With financial difficulties ahead following the diagnosis, friends and family are rallying around the Ang family, organizing fundraisers for the family.
Her sister-in-law is helping to organize a fundraiser at Chances Casino March 22 at 6 p.m., which includes prizes and a silent auction.
On March 28 at the Courtenay Legion from 1-7 p.m., a carnival event is scheduled to raise funds and celebrate Ang.
Donations of refund containers can also be left at either Comox Valley Encorp Return-It depots for Ang (Courtenay account #334 and Comox account #189).
For more information on the events or how to donate, visit Ang’s blog.