I’m Fighting Cancer for the Long Run


It’s essential that I maintain a sense of urgency, as well as long-term stamina, in my cancer survivorship.

cartoon drawing of blogger and sarcoma survivor, Steve Rubin

Ever since I was first diagnosed with bone cancer, to the darkest points when I was given a less than 10% survival rate, and even after I managed to turn my health around,fighting cancer has been one continuous, high-urgency marathon.

The urgency is clear;it’s in your face: the symptoms, statistics, the risk of spreading, scary conversations with your medical team, and just knowing that cancer doesn’t take any days off.

I’ve done my best to keep grounded by focusing on process over outcomes and staying locked into my ultimate destination: long term, sustainable wellness. This is very much a disciplined, one-day-at-a-time approach. My to-do-list is filled with all types of healing regimens and protocols, which is my version of “earning my health” every day.

The tricky part is when there’s no definitive sign that what you’re doing is actually paying off. After a year of hardcore chemo and multiple surgeries didn’t stop my cancer, for example, I opted out of continuing conventional treatment in favor of more natural, alternative healing approaches. This meant that each day I was pushing on while relying solely on what I learned from research and following my intuition. But let’s call it what it was: I was essentially running on blind faith.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with an ultra-marathoner. I was curious how she kept herself going during times when the destination can feel so endlessly out of sight. “What are you telling yourself each step of the way?” I asked.

She explained that she just keeps repeating “You’re doing great… you got this…” over and over on a loop.

Whereas she used self-talk, I found similar results by breaking each day down and doing everything I could. I’d run through my to-do list and keep checking in on myself. “OK great, did that. What else can I do to give myself the best chance possible?” Both techniques redirect attention towards something more productive than worrying about the magnitude of what can feel like an impossible task.

The reality with cancer is that there are no guarantees, and every situation is different. In my opinion, the best approach is just to accept this and save your energy for what you can control. If any cancer fighters have questions, shoot me a note at steve@othercword.com and I’m happy to help out the community like other cancer thrivers have done for me.

At the same time—and here comes the marathon aspect— I’ve learned the importance of managing my stamina. During those highly uncertain years, my perfectionist tendencies fueled me to so much discipline that I began to drive myself crazy. I eventually learned that the added stress of obsessing over healing can actually offset the benefits. 

Today, part of my approach involves checking in with myself and noting when it’s time to chill out. I make sure to allow myself time to recover —mentally, emotionally and physically— in order tomaintain long term consistency. Because while there is always urgency when you’ve been diagnosed with the C word, this way I can can continue doing all I can to earn my health, again and again... for the long run.

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