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As a Cancer Survivor, I Can Relate to the Struggles of Olympians Like Mikaela Shiffrin and Simone Biles


As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics, I am immediately reminded of all the ways in which my grueling and stressful journey with cancer feels akin to the struggles of these Olympic athletes.

I have always loved to watch the Olympics. My dad was a track star at the collegiate level, running a 4:28 mile in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Always an athlete, when we were young, he would often have Olympic events for the neighborhood kids, and we loved it. We would compete against our friends and sometimes we would win — while other times we would suffer the agony of defeat.

He instilled a healthy lifestyle with his love for athletics. He had a great long life and even won some running races into his 80s. He lived until 94.

With the summer games behind us and the winter games on the TV now, I have been reflecting about these athletes as they strive for the gold. Their stories are out there in the open as they try their best to overcome the grueling road to become that accomplished athlete.

Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have been very open about mental health and the stresses they personally have had to deal with. Sometimes, they had to withdraw from the competition. The other day, Mikaela Shiffrin crashed for the second time and sat in the snow for 20 minutes. Her interview afterwards had her questioning the years invested in her sport and asking if it was worth it.

The United States always wants to be at the top of the medal list and the athletes strive to do so. I can’t imagine the taxing, punishing and backbreaking road that they travel. They give up so much for that piece of gold and when it is in their reach, sometimes they do not make it. Often, we only hear their stories around the Olympics.

I bring the Olympics up as a cancer survivor as of today. We too, are fighting a grueling road to stay healthy. While our physical health is always a challenge daily, our mental health also comes in to play. Sometimes our stories are heard through wonderful accounts in books, plays, movies and TV. We are the true heroes of the story.

But there are so many cancer survivors out there quietly living life to their best by making each day count. They try not to complain or worry their families — an Olympic event of its own. They keep fighting the physical aches and pains that come from the chemotherapies and other caustic medicines that are put into their bodies.

The mental challenges are as grueling. It is hard to conceptualize that a few unruly cells can lead to a battle with cancer. It is hard to fight every day against an enemy that could lead to your demise. It is just plain hard.

To my fellow cancer fighters and survivors, keep going for the finish line. Go for the gold. Life is way too short to not do your best to be your best. And do not beat yourself up for having tough moments, hours or days.

All of us have those kinds of challenges, even those top athletes that we admire so much. We just need to keep trying. Hang in there my fellow cancer athletes. We truly are golden!

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