The Climb: Tony Leo’s Story



“Passion is something that grips you, changes you and make
you scale great heights where few will ever reach.” An interview with Tony Leo
by Waheeda 

It was in 2007, Tony Leo experienced a life changing event
during his Mount Kinabalu climb. It was the start to the climb of his life.
9 years have passed since then. I was sitting with him recently
at the launching of Kinabalu Calls Documentary, in which he is one of the casts.
He is not only a friend from Max Family, but also an aspiring singer-songwriter.
Waheeda: How do you
describe yourself to someone who has never met you?

Tony: If someone
were to meet me for the first time, they always think I’m a goofy dude who has
no care in the world. I am always laughing, smiling, talking with people and
sometimes full of myself.Haha. 
In the next 1.5 hour, we talked about his recollection of
the life changing climb, and how far he has come now. We also talked about how
“People with Passion Can Change the World,” as quoted by Steve Jobs.
Waheeda: So tell us a
little bit about the climb in 2007.

Tony: I realized
there’s something wrong with my body, I am an active person playing football
and going to the gym. But I was panting excessively during the climb, I felt I
couldn’t do the climb. It took me 13 hours to reach Laban Rata (the midpoint of
the mount) when normally it is around 6 hours. It was so dark and cold, I broke
into tears once I reached there knowing there’s something wrong with my body.
On the second half of the climb, I failed the climb at the
stony part. I looked down and I got sacred of the fear of heights.
Indeed, he was right about his body conditions.
Tony: After
coming back to Kuala Lumpur, I decided to see a specialist for a check-up, and
I was referred to the haematology ward. When Dr Haris diagnosed me with CML, I
reached at the Laban Rata point all over again, and the fear of death knocking
on my door.
Waheeda: What were
your feelings at that time? Were you fearful?

Tony: I wasn’t
fearful because God has prepared me throughout the years, unlike the climb. I
did not prepare myself with the fear of height.
Until today, I am not scared or crumbled because of CML
diagnosis. Because to me, it was a miracle moment. It’s amazing.
After 9 years of that episode, Tony has decided to climb
Mount Kinabalu again, for the Kinabalu Calls Documentary.
Waheeda: How
different was your recent Kinabalu climb compared to the previous one?

Tony: I was so
frozen in fear during the 2007 climb, it was so paralyzing. I don’t have
courage to climb up the mountain with the others at that time, I rather walked
down to the jungle alone at 2 am in the morning. Interesting, right?
But the recent climb is much different. I keep climbing and
climbing, the fear is not there. This time, I am much more prepared mentally to
face my fear. Similarly how God has prepared me for my CML journey. I feel I am
much stronger physically as well this time. It was raining most of the time, 5 hours out of 8 hours.
Luckily, I did not have fever or anything.
Tony during his recent Mount Kinabalu climb
Waheeda: I heard you have performed quite a number of times in the previous patient gatherings. What do songs mean to you? 
Tony: Songs have
always been a way to tell a story. It can evoke memories like sadness, love,
missing someone, being happy and remembering a snippet of your previous life.
That’s what song is all about.”
He also shared about how his passion in singing all started:
Tony: I always
love singing. When I was a kid, I was singing in the shower (Not just you,
Tony). One day, my dad asked me to join the singing competition in a family
day. I didn’t want to do it at first and at that time, I only sing Malay songs
you know. Then I learned one of my good friends, Muhammad who also happened to
be my competitor in primary school was one of the participants. “Muhammad is in
it, I have to join the singing competition, haha.” I ended up winning the
competition, an Indian boy singing the Malay song. Ever since that, I realized I
have a gift to sing.
Waheeda: I think we
should thank Muhamad (We were all burst out laughing). Do you want to give a
shout out for him?

Tony: Hey, thank
you so much man! Because of you, now I am in music and theatre!”
Waheeda: For you, passion is………..

Tony: Passion is something
that grips you, changes you and make you scale great heights where few will
ever reach!

Waheeda: Who are your
inspirations? How their passion transforms you?

Tony: To be
really honest, each one in the Max and Max Family are my inspirations.
Normally, I meet older uncles and aunties at the patient gathering. You can see
their pale faces and frail bodies, but the genuine smiles are always there. If
they can do it, I also can do it. That’s why meeting other patients is very
important. I am glad to meet other patients in Max Family. We’re human, we need
that encouragement. 
Tony pictured with other Max Family members during the launching event 
Tony is working in the digital advertising company at Singapore
for 70 weeks now (he is that detailed person!). Three years ago, he has decided
to do music and theatre part time after doing it for full time for 7 years.
Nonetheless, he has never shy away from his dream in becoming a superstar.
Waheeda: Do you have
any tips for others affected by cancer who are hesitant to pursue their
dreams/passions?

Tony: Of course
it’s very crushing to know you have a cancer, that it is a huge truth to take
in. But that’s always a moment. You need to know you are strong enough to go
through the moment. Once you have passed the moment or mind-set, it is what you
do next. This is a chance for us to better, stronger than before. Here’s your
chance to bless people around you. So you become an inspiration to others.
It all started with the positive attitude. It cannot come
from your parents, your friends but from the deep inside your heart. That’s why
I think faith helps to nourish that. Once you have the positive attitude,
everything else becomes easy to fulfill your passion. 
Today Tony has become an inspiration for others

Max Malaysia team, Max Family and Tony’s family 
      
Throughout that 1.5 hour, his positive attitude does not go
unnoticed. Brimming with smiles and positivity, personally I feel Tony has been
going through a transformation.
Tony: CML does
transform me A LOT as a person. It makes me kinder, I do empathise more. I used
to hate going to the hospital because of its smell, the coldness and
environment. But now, I’m going to the hospital without hate. Nowadays when I
go, I feel my life is moving even though I am stuck at the hospital.     
I also become more grateful. I learnt how some of my family
members who I never knew loved me so much. My uncle cried when he found out
about my diagnosis, one aunty keeps making me a dish called “Cockles Sambal”.
Family became more important you know, because the priority has been changed.
The documentary also features “You”, a song written by Tony
dedicated for Pat and Max. He describes Pat and Max as superheroes!
Tony with Pat 
We also had an opportunity to watch Tony performed “You”
live during the launching event. He gives an emotional performance that day,
there are so much truths in every words he sings. 

Tony: You is a
song about someone who has gone ahead of you, has gone the same battles that
you haven’t yet to go through. But because of that person’s experience and
help, your journey is now much easier.
As we parted our ways, I am sure his passion in great life
undoubtedly changes him, and could transform more people out there. 
p/s: Thank you to Gin Nin for the video recording of Tony’s live performance recently. 

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