His arm was amputated at the age of fourteen, because of cancer, but this did not stop him from becoming an onco-Olympics champion in swimming. Péter Sipos was taught by his illness, that is it only worth living consciously. Her is twenty years old now and is the junior coach of the Zuglói Sasok, ha is a university student, and aspiring for an international para-swimming competition in the meantime. Now, after five years he is waiting to be finally qualified as recovered from the cancer
You appear in the interviews of the reports of the Children Cancer Foundation among others, on a regular basis. This is obviously not by accident, you have always been giving interviews in a very matured way. Isn’t this “Ambassador’s” role sort of a burden to you?
When I have to stand up for the right cause, for the ill children to be supported by more people then it is not. Or when I am asked about sports (Péter made it to the Olympics to Warsaw through the Foundation), it also isn’t. When they want to make sort of a sensation from me, because a deadly illness left a very visible mark on me, well, I don’t like that. A few years ago, I was regularly disturbed by the media, which I very much disliked after a while, because I felt that I was only being used.
Why do you think you were highlighted among your fellow sufferers?
I think it was because mine was quite an extraordinary case. At the age of 14 I had to make a decision; whether to have my arm amputated for the sake of my recovery. This made me to become an adult, and to realize many important things. For example, to realize what was it that I really wanted in life. I don’t spend time with anything which I don’t like, because that is only a waste of time. And I also learned that goals can swing you out of the lowest points in life. Sports is excellent for this. And this is the reason why onco-Olympics is organized.
Where you made it to championship in swimming. But why did you choose swimming with one arm?
Before the amputation, I already started preparing, and never ceased to give up afterwards. Besides, I had the most chances to prepare for swimming. My physical education teacher helped me a lot, there is a swimming pool right next to the school and that was where I was training. We could adjust to each other. I was durable and felt that I was developing fast. I was in Warsaw at the age of16 and 18 too, and won several medals on each occasion in backstroke and breaststroke, as well as in freestyle swimming, all the other competitors being unimpaired, I was the only person with a missing arm. I used to be quite a good swimmer earlier too, but I had to learn it all over again, with one arm.
I guess you had to re-learn many things. Especially taking the fact that you were right-handed into consideration, if I am not mistaken.
Yes, I was, and yes, I had to re-learn even very every day and ordinary things too. For example, I can tie my shoelace with one hand. It is only the question of patience and endurance for one to learn it. And the compulsion of course, that is a large force. When you realise that you cannot cut a slice of bread. Then I met people in similar situations as mine and learned a lot from them. There is solution to almost everything. And not only when it comes to sliced bread. People came up with all kinds of tricks and solutions, such as nocking a nail into the cutting board; and fix the bread on it in order for it not to slip away.
Would you tell me how you got to know that you had cancer?
I was 12 years old, when during a basketball training I fell down and my elbow got wounded. When the P.O.P. was removed from it after a few weeks; I was unable to stretch my arm, and we realized that there was an intergrowth in the curve. The doctors were trying to calm us down for some time, that it can’t be anything extra, that it was only an encapsulated lot of muscle. I used to go to a physiotherapist for treatment, but it did not cease to exist, it rather became more and more unpleasant and painful. They kept sending me from one hospital to another for months, but they couldn’t really do anything with me. At last a number X doctor recommended, that a sample should be taken from the intergrowth with needle biopsy test, to eliminate maleness. Well, that was when we found out that there was a carcinoma in my arm. They performed a surgery on me almost instantly, cut the ingrowth out. Following the surgery, I had to attend chemotherapy for half a year.
Did you also have to stop going to school?
I was supposed to repeat grade seven, but at last I went to a new school; to a 6 grades secondary school, because my parent got divorced in the meantime, and me and my younger brother moved to my mother and her new partner to Rákospalota.
This surely worn you down, so many changes at the same time. It can as well be said that your entire life turned upside-down.
Yes, until then my entire life consisted of the school and playing basketball. Switching schools wasn’t bad at all, by the way, many of my basketball buddies attended the same secondary school. The switch did wear me down if course, but I was quite preoccupied with my own problem. Perhaps the worst part of it was the chemo, but even though it made me feel really sick, I was forced to go through it all the way. Nothing was hidden from me, that was the first time in my life that I ever felt like I was taking responsibility for my own life as an adult. I knew quite well that I could die of this illness, and followed all instructions orderly. I remember, the worst part was that I was throwing up so often and felt nausea all the time. That was the period when I really hot to hate many dishes, which I am still unable to even took at, ever since. For example, one of them is the rice-porridge, I threw that up once. Never ate it again since.
And when did you find out that the amputation was necessary?
During the second half-year control after the chemotherapy. We were told that the tumour recrudesced. They wasted no time at all, took me to the surgery room instantly. I spend five days in the hospital, thinking that the ingrowth had been removed. I was only told by my parents at home, that when my arm was excavated; the concluded that the tumour could not be removed without causing destruction, and there was also a very high chance that it would reoccur again. The doctors recommended that the best solution was to amputate my arm. But what they wanted was to let me know all this in a relaxing environment. I got to know about everything at home, from my parents. Naturally, they let me make the final decision, but there was no much time to waste.
So, you were the one who said the final verdict, that your arm should be cut down? How old were you at that time?
Fourteen. It was my decision, yes. My parents were supporting me in it, but did not enforce anything. We discussed it, that it should be amputated. We cried throughout the night, then we went back to the hospital. My mother tried everything possible, had me checked in a hospital in Austria too, but even there they could not come up with a better solution.
How did you manage the first period after the amputation?
I was depressed, was afraid to go to where there were other people, but I was really longing to get out, not to be behind the four walls, especially because it was summer time. In between two treatments, when I was feeling slightly better, we went to an aquapark with my friends. I remained in a t-shirt, but many people still looked at me, and whispered behind my back. Since then I got used to this, it doesn’t affect me anymore, but that time, being the first time it was way too much, like a cold shower for my already torn-down soul. During the period of my illness, I also found out who my real friends were, many fell out, which was also difficult to cope with. But at least I know who the honest people are, the ones I can count on. With the seven of those my friends my relationship remined very good ever since.
Photos by: Róbert Érdi
In every interview, I saw you like this, with one arm. Didn’t you want a prosthetic limb?
I actually have one, but I don’t wear it in everyday life, I don’t like it, I don’t find it practical. I only clip it on, when I put on a suit, because it looks better like that. Or if I go for having a dinner out with my girlfriend. But many people helped to gather the money for it, for which I am really very grateful.
Since when do you have a girlfriend?
For three years now, she was my classmate in secondary school.
That is a serious relationship. I guess you have plans already.
Yes, we are planning to move in together, once things get straight with the university, work, and we can afford to pay for an apartment.
So you are working and in the meantime attending university too?
On one hand, I really need to get a diploma, because I will not be able to do any physical jobs. On the other hand, I must make money and gain experience. I stich very much to basketball and coaching, that is what I see sense in, and do coaching in Zugló three times a week. This is the most important thing for me, but it cannot provide a living, that was why I had to find a job. I applied to many places, especially for administrative jobs, but I didn’t want the case to be employed alongside with other people living with disabilities because they are entitled to a tax reduction after me. Of course, I wasn’t told anywhere that they are not hiring me because I have only one arm, but it was obvious. I wouldn’t say that I am capable of doing everything, but I am able to solve most problems. But you know; you wouldn’t walk up to anyone trying to prove that you are able to slip the paper into the binding bag. Then luckily one of my good acquaintance found out about that I was searching for a job, and offered me work in his own company. I didn’t have to prove to him that I was trustworthy and hones. I do not stand up at the end of the working hours, if there is anything left to do. On top of everything, I really like the job, safety technology, CCTV systems; I want to understand and learn everything. I feel that I am being valued, they send me for training, and I am being educated and trained. During the summer, I am preparing for my German language certification exam, I need the language for the job.
If I am not mistaken, in the meantime you are also preparing for another competition too.
Yes, in July in Rijeka, I am participating in the European University Game, in Para swimming, now with more equal chances, not against unimpaired ones, But I am also having my basketball coach examination too in June. I would like to be a youth team coach.
Aren’t those who go for training for the first time surprised when they see you for the first time?
It does happen, but I am able to manage such things well, and they quickly realize that I am able to perform a training of full value even with one arm. By now I am experienced enough to ease uncomfortable situations, for example humour is always a friend in such cases. When I say, I was so good I feel like giving you an applause; at first, they are surprised, but then we laugh over it together; and they realize that they have nothing to do with this.