Published: 10:20, October 26, 2022 | Updated: 10:33, October 26, 2022
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Broadcasting his intent
By Chen Xue

Winning a prestigious English-speaking competition marks the end of an arduous journey for Zhao Deyu, who, after years of battling cancer, is daring to dream once more, Chen Xue reports.

Zhao Deyu, a student at Northwest Normal University, takes part in the 9th Future Golden Microphone Host Contest in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in August. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Six years ago, after hosting a New Year ceremony at school, Zhao Deyu, 16 at the time, noticed a swelling in his left leg, and not long afterward, he could barely walk. The swelling turned into a fist-sized lump that was extremely painful, so much so that he wasn't able to sleep. His parents took him to the hospital and were given the bleak news: The growth was a malignant tumor called osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.

"The dreams I had once held for my future were entirely wiped out," he said earlier this month.

Others may give you strength, but only you can win the battle. And when you do, a crack will appear in the room of darkness, and light will begin to pour in.

Zhao Deyu, winner, China Daily “21st Century Cup” National English Speaking Competition

Zhao, now 22 and a student at Northwest Normal University, recently won the China Daily "21st Century Cup" National English Speaking Competition. After six years, he is finally comfortable talking about what happened in front of a national audience.

Zhao recounted his story at the awards ceremony of this year's competition on Oct 5.

He explained that the transition from denial and desperation to acceptance and peace was not an easy journey for him.

In the two years following the initial diagnosis, Zhao had to drop out of school and endured 21 courses of chemotherapy and underwent three operations.

The chemotherapy really took its toll on him. He lost all of his body hair and could barely eat anything, even if he felt hungry. He no longer needed an alarm clock to wake up in the morning, because every day a feeling of intense nausea would stir him from his sleep.

"It was the worst time of my life," Zhao said.

But physical suffering was only a part of the ordeal. For financial reasons, Zhao's parents had to return home to Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, for work, while Zhao stayed at the hospital in Beijing, which meant he had no one to talk to and had to deal with all the pressure and his emotions alone, as he underwent his arduous treatment.

"It seemed I was the only one suffering, overwhelmed by the pain of the world," he said. "I felt I had nothing and it seemed so unfair."

Zhao prepares for the national college entrance exam while undergoing chemotherapy at a hospital in Beijing in 2016. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

After two years, Zhao was finally able to return to school. He could walk normally again and even got to host another ceremony at his new high school. For a time, it almost looked as if everything would be fine.

Walking down the stairs one day, however, Zhao fell over. It turned out that the situation had deteriorated and the doctor offered him two options: one of them was out of the question because it was not only risky, but very expensive, and the other one was to amputate his left leg.

The second option seemed to be the obvious and more sensible choice at the time. And to his own surprise, Zhao made his decision very calmly. "I knew things could not be worse," he said. "I was determined that this was just one more battle I would win."

Just like that, Zhao felt that he had hit rock bottom and there was only one way he could go, and that was upward.

The future that he thought had been "wiped out" appeared in front of him again. He worked hard in the last year of high school to prepare for the college entrance examination and was enrolled in Northwest Normal University in 2020, majoring in the art of broadcasting and hosting, something he had always loved.

"I am back to those days when, again, I have dreams to fulfill," Zhao said.

He participates in various activities, with the most recent ones being the China Mobile Cup English Star Contest in March for the now-postponed 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, as well as the 9th Future Golden Microphone Host Contest in August. In both competitions, Zhao made it to the final round and was named one of the top 10 national winners. And in the "21st Century Cup" National English Speaking Competition this month, his story inspired millions.

Zhao said that he took part in these activities in a bid to chase his dream of being a broadcasting host.

A lot of the time, he says, he can't help but think about what his life would have been like if he hadn't got this terrible disease and whether he would have already achieved a lot more than he currently has. But he doesn't dwell on such hypothetical scenarios.

Zhao is among the "top 10 young volunteers" at Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou, Gansu province, this year. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

What Zhao can do is to reflect on the experience that he has in fighting this disease, which he says, when he thinks about it, is not all bad. He did learn to spend time more effectively when he was alone at the hospital. He learned how to play guitar, read a lot of books, and watched a lot of American and British TV dramas, to which he attributed the progress that he had made in his English-language skills.

More importantly, he learned how to deal with difficulties, and has gained a lot of strength and power along the way. And he wanted to share that with a larger audience.

"I know the world can be a very tough place; it's not all a fairy tale," Zhao said in his speech. "But don't let that get you down. Let every minute count and you will find that the pain you have endured is just a small part of your life. It is up to you to paint the blank parts of life's canvas."

There is a song that resonates a lot with Zhao — Lonely Warrior by Hong Kong singer Eason Chan — especially the lyrics that say, "A hero isn't always someone who stands in the light." Zhao also considers himself to be a lonely warrior. Even though he received support from his parents and friends along his journey, the majority of it he traveled alone.

"Others may give you strength, but only you can win the battle," he said in his presentation. "And when you do, a crack will appear in the room of darkness, and light will begin to pour in."

Now that he has finally stepped out of the darkness and into the light, Zhao has learned to appreciate the little things in his life. Even though he is fully aware that his physical condition will continue to throw up challenges in the future, he chooses not to let that weigh him down and to see the better part of life.

"I will pay more attention to the scenery along the way and cherish every soul that may cross paths with mine," he says. "Suffering is not worthy of praise, but we, who bravely go forward, are."

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