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'Cancer Warriors': Fighting Cancer with Karate

After receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer, one survivor started the Cancer Warrior Martial Arts Program, which honors kids and martial artists with their Cancer Warrior Black Belt and certificate for their courageous fight against cancer.
BY Kenneth Rebstock
PUBLISHED April 18, 2019
It was July 4th, 2009 when I first heard the words, "You have cancer.” I had known for years something was wrong, but without insurance I was determined I could heal myself. I had colon cancer which had grown completely through the colon wall and had formed a complete blockage.

During the surgery they also found a carcinoid tumor on a Meckel's diverticulum, which was easily removed. They said that if I hadn't come in that day, I probably wouldn't have made it another day. I was relieved to finally know what was wrong with me. Having been a Boston Marathon qualifier and a martial artist, I hadn't been able to even run around the block for years. After the surgery I started training again...colostomy bag and all...walking at first and then running by six weeks. I entered and won my age group in every race I entered. Luckily the colostomy bag was removed. During this time, I took no chemo or radiation. I trained like an athlete for each surgery I've had.

In May of 2012 the cancer returned as stage 4 and my doctor recommended quality of life care...hospice. Well, I had been training every day and hospice was not an option! I found Dr. Sanjay P. Oommen. He said, "I'm going to be very aggressive." That's what I wanted to hear. He found a surgeon to do the removal of the cancer.

I started chemo treatments. At the time of writing of this blog (April 15, 2019) I have had 175 treatments. I go every two weeks. I am able to handle them because I stay active. I run two to six miles every day, lift weights and practice my martial arts. I tell other patients that even on their worst days, they should go out and do something. I promise that if they do, they will feel better after they are done.

Once a year I run a half marathon just to be an example to others fighting cancer. I attend karate even with a needle in my chest and a chemo pump in my pocket. Yes, I have bent the needle on occasion.

Photo submitted by Kenneth Rebstock

I wouldn't change anything. I tell people that cancer closes many doors, but cancer can also open doors you never expected to open, if you let it. It has made me a better person. You learn how to live life. Since my cancer, I've become an inventor, a songwriter, an author, gotten back to my art and have earned my 4th degree black belt in three different styles of martial arts.

I started Cancer Warrior Martial Arts Program (which can be found on Facebook). This is a program that I self-fund which honors kids and martial artists with their Cancer Warrior Black Belt and certificate for their courageous fight against cancer. GM Richard M. Morris, my instructor, registers each honorary black belt under his system. The program is now international.

I was recently accepted into the AMAA Who's Who in the Martial Arts and this year am being honored as AMAA Ambassador of the year. This year I am also being accepted into The Masters Hall of Fame.

I am a cancer advocate and talk to many people that are going through cancer treatments. I tell them what to expect and how to overcome cancer obstacles. I encourage them to stay active. To eat right. To stay in a positive state of mind. I tell them to set goals. Not goals that can be reached in a short time, but goals that are years out. When those goals are met...set new ones. Repeat and repeat!

In order to fight cancer, you have to have a support system: Mine is my wife, Rosemary; My kids, Ben, Tiffany, and Brittany; My grandkids, Abby, Alayna, Rylee, Lexie, Blake, and Blair; And of course, my martial arts family!
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