The toughest part of cancer was not the idea of dying – it was finding himself in remission yet unable to do what he once could. You see, Jay Kiew was worried about not being able to ever see the world.
As a baby, Kiew was diagnosed with retina blastoma and lost his left eye to cancer. Living with mostly good health throughout his childhood, his world almost collapsed shortly after his 15th birthday when his ophthalmologist found another tumorous growth in his remaining good eye.
“The bad news dropped like an anchor; I would go into surgery with the possibility I would come out completely blind,” he explained. “As a kid who was already half-blind, this was not the most ideal situation.”
Kiew had every right to be mad at the world, yet he chose to embrace it. When surgeons saved the sight in his right eye, his focus on exploring new horizons grew even stronger.
“Control the things you can control. Influence the things you can influence. Accept everything else,” said Kiew, who graduates next week with an MBA from Ivey Business School. “It’s all very simple. There are only so many things I can control, so I focus on that. The majority of things in the world are totally out of my hands. To worry about that is effort and emotional capacity I don’t have.”
The Vancouver native considers his time at Western another adventure in a jam-packed journey.
“It was great chance to make Canada a little bit smaller for me,” Kiew said. “I didn’t have to – I kind of wanted to.”
Working full-time at ADP Canada in Vancouver, a human-resources outsourcing company, Kiew’s curiosity to learn more about change management pushed his decision to come to Western. Working remotely, he was one of only a few of his classmates who continued to work full-time while earning his degree.
“MBA programs attract people who are top performers in their respected industries,” he said. “I realized I’m good at my industry, but to be able to learn from a bird’s-eye view, from people in, say, structural engineering or finance, was cool to me.”
A political science graduate from the University of British Columbia, Kiew will return home to Vancouver in August to begin a new consulting job with Deloitte, an opportunity generated through the reputation of Ivey’s MBA program.
“They’re one of the best,” he said. “Case method was huge to me, being able to learn dynamically from my peers, with professors being more facilitators and coaches throughout, that was different from the lecture style method I had back at UBC.”
Outside academics, Kiew has an adventurous side.
Since his battle with cancer, he made it a mission to reach the Century Club of travelling. The 28-year-old has already visited 28 countries and is confident he’ll one day hit 100.
“So far, it’s one for each year. But it’s not like I’m assuming I’m going live to 100,” he laughed. “I’m taking it slow but still exploring. It makes your life more like a journey and embracing that journey.”
This summer, Kiew and his fiancée are doing a road trip through Prague, Vienna and Budapest. And he’s doing it with flare.
In 2014, he launched the Cartwheel Project, a movement where people around the world capture a moment in time mid-cartwheel in front of a local landmark. He chose the cartwheel because it’s a snapshot of adults being enthusiastic kids.
Friends and strangers have submitted their photos to Kiew’s blog and, on top of the child-like fun, they have raised more than $1,200 for the BC Cancer Foundation.
While he does make sure to find ‘me time,’ Kiew admitted there was a point at Ivey when he hit the proverbial brick wall.
“I crashed in October after about six months of it,” he said. “Saying no to things, that was a tough lesson I had to learn this year. I had to prioritize. You learn to cut the fat. My body told me. I began eating healthier, exercising regularly and sleeping better. It’s funny, but that’s really hard. I had to force blocks of time for self-care.”
Weekly squash games with classmates and early morning runs along the Thames River seemed to do the trick.
What also did the trick for Kiew was advice from his father, who was also blind. He would say, “There are many things that are impossible for a blind person – you can’t drive and you can’t become a surgeon. Beyond that, you should have no excuse to let your God-given talents go to waste.”
Kiew is doing just that. Soon to be married, with a new job and plans for another degree down the road (he’s eying Organizational Psychology at Stanford University), his time at Western, and the friends he’s made, will always be part of his journey.
“I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. Being able to learn from my classmates, who were willing and able to support me, that was something very new for me,” he said, joking he now has 30-40 new friends across the country he can crash with, if needed. “It’s about optimizing strengths. Having them sort of hold my hand until I could walk a little and then run, was awesome. It was an unforgettable time.”
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FOLLOW ALONG LIFE’S JOURNEY: Be part of Ivey Business School MBA graduate Jay Kiew’s journey and adventure through life at jaykiew.com.