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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.

Listen to Tony’s song, “You”, about his experience with cancer and how Max inspired him to keep going!

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.

Nine 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.

In the next 1.5 hour, we talked about his recollection of the 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: 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!

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 a 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 the Laban Rata point all over again, and the fear of death knocking on my door.

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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 didn’t have the courage to climb up the mountain with the others at that time. I’d rather walked down to the jungle alone at 2 am in the morning. Interesting, right?

But the recent climb is much different. I kept climbing and climbing, the fear was 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.

WaheedaI 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.”

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Tony also shared how his passion in singing began:

Tony: I always loved singing. When I was a kid, I was singing in the shower. 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.

WaheedaFor 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 does passion transform 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.

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 to be 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.

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 transformed me A LOT as a person. It makes me kinder, I 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!

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. 

“You” is now on iTunes!


Waheeda Hasbullah

Waheeda Hasbullah is a Project Executive with the Malaysia team in Kuala Lumpur. She believes every encounter matters and every story unfolds great wisdom for those who believe.



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