ALMOST a year after Anton Leong’s dad died, the family are still recovering from the shock of their sudden bereavement.
“We’re still trying to process it,” says Anton, a 34-year-old quantity surveyor from Douglas.
“Some days it has sunken in, and other days it hasn’t. Christmas came up, and birthdays are happening, and he’s not there. You feel the loss at those times.”
Kah-Wai Leong, known as Kah, was 61 when he died suddenly of undiagnosed Acute Myeloid Leukaemia last May. Working in Germany at the time of his death, he was taken ill and put into an induced coma, from which he never awoke: tragically, news came of his death came just hours before Anton and his mother, Marion, were due to catch a flight to be with him.
Events leading up to his death were shockingly fast, Anton says: “He was back for my younger son’s christening on a Saturday. He went back to Germany on the Wednesday, and on the Thursday we got a phone call from a hospital to say he had been taken ill and we were to get over as quickly as we could, because things weren’t looking good.
“The first flight we could get was from Dublin, on the Friday morning, but I got a phone call during the night to say that he had passed away.”
For Anton, his mum Marion and sisters Ciara and Dara, Kah’s death came with no warning; he hadn’t been diagnosed with the deadly bone marrow cancer that claimed his life. For patients over 60, just 10% of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia sufferers will live more than five years after diagnosis.
“He had been to the doctor with shortness of breath and a couple of things, and they were trying to piece together what was going on,” Anton says.
“The next round of tests the doctor wanted to send him for was actually a bone marrow test, which would have shown it.”
An active and fun-loving character, Kah’s dynamic nature meant he would have been very unhappy suffering a lengthy illness that would have slowed him down, Anton says, so the family try to look on the bright side, that his passing came after such a short illness.
“In a weird way, I’m glad he didn’t know,” Anton says. “When we spoke to the consultants in Germany, they said the outlook wouldn’t have been good: they said if we had known, he’d be looking at chemotherapy and all the rest of it. Put it this way: if my dad had been told to sit down on a couch and not to move he wouldn’t have taken it well. As it was, he didn’t know he was dying when he was put in the coma.”
Kah was originally from Malaysia. He arrived in Ireland at 18 to study in Trinity College, and while in Dublin he met his wife, Marion. Following college, and with their eldest Anton still a toddler, the couple settled in Cork. Kah’s brother also moved to Ireland, where he now works in Mullingar as a doctor.
Anton describes his father as a bubbly, friendly man: the life and soul of the party.
“You couldn’t go into town with him because he’d be stopped to chat to people on the street every couple of minutes,” Anton says, smiling. “He was into sport and music: he played badminton for years. He loved watching athletics, and he loved going in to watch the marathon.”
Although Kah won’t be there to see the race, this year, Anton will run the Cork City Marathon, on June 3, in memory of his beloved dad, as well as to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society; he hopes to raise more than €5,000 to donate to the charity.
“It’s an homage to my dad, really,” he says. “I’m raging I didn’t do one while he was alive, because he would have loved to see it. When I signed up for it, I thought, ‘Everyone has lost someone to cancer,’ so I thought I’d do it for the Irish Cancer Society. If I can help anyone in what I’m doing, all the better.”
Anton used to play football with Wilton United FC, but he’s never undertaken such an arduous level of long-distance training before; it takes some getting used to, he says.
“I only started training in January, so I’m in the middle of it at the moment, which is fun and not fun at the same time.”
Father to two little boys, Dylan, aged three, and Charlie, aged one, and husband to Melanie, Anton says combining training with family life can be hectic at times, and that he’s grateful to his wife for supporting his marathon ambition.
Are there any stumbling blocks or big challenges for Anton?
“All of it!” he jokes. “But the fact I’ve registered means I can’t back out. I’ve a couple of friends who are doing the half-marathon with me too, and the amount of jeering I’d get if I didn’t do it is a motivation!
“The fear is not being able to finish it, but I’m sure I will: come hell or high water, I’ll finish it.”
Having his wife and sons at the finish line will be some comfort to Anton as he runs in memory of his dad: “It’s all for him, though. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
To donate: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/anton-leong
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