Triathlons Helped Three-Time Cancer Survivor 'Love Every Single Day' of His Life

Heal, Heal Winter 2022, Volume 10, Issue 4

Robert Atteberry never gave up, even after three cancer diagnoses, and has found a motivation and passion for competing in triathlons during survivorship.

Bouncing back from a cancer diagnosis can be difficult during survivorship, but Robert Atteberry, 50, of Clarkston, Michigan, did it three times, and has since competed in multiple marathons and Ironman races.

Atteberry received his first cancer diagnosis in 2012 after turning 40. He was feeling sick and was continuously being treated for sinus infections without getting better. After a visit with a different physician, he received a diagnosis of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in his sinuses. He finished treatment with chemotherapy, but something still felt off.

“I got out of (treatment) and I didn’t feel right,” he recalled in an interview with Heal®. “I started feeling like I couldn’t even go out. I wanted to go out and run; I couldn’t do it. And next thing you know, I wasn’t walking or talking.”

After visits to sleep specialists and psychiatrists, he underwent an MRI, which is when he received his second cancer diagnosis — brain cancer. The doctor gave him only two years to live.

But another doctor at the University of Michigan gave him hope, saying, “I’m going to keep you alive.”

After the second treatment, Atteberry started walking and talking again. When he was finally sent home from treatment, he started going out for walks. He hasn’t stopped — and has done much more than walking.

During survivorship he has competed in six Ironman races, including five Ironman 70.3 events, which includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike race and 13.1-run, and one full Ironman, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and 26.2- mile run. Additionally, he has competed in a few marathons, half marathons and many 10Ks and 5Ks.

These races have become part of a life Atteberry loves — one that six years earlier, during his brain cancer diagnosis, he didn’t think he would have. “I have not stopped training. I have not stopped doing major events,” he said. “And I love every single day of my life now.”

Finding Passion

Atteberry had competed in triathlons before receiving any cancer diagnoses but regained a passion and purpose for them after physical therapy following brain cancer treatment. Because he wasn’t walking at his regular pace yet, he began swimming.

That started it all, he said. After that, he started walking, running and biking — and didn’t stop.

“I never really thought about it. I just did it,” he recalled.

Training for these races during survivorship was incredibly hard, Atteberry said. But he had help from friends who competed with him; he never felt like he wouldn’t make it because he always had someone next to him.

That someone next to him was friend of over 25 years, James Collins.

“It’s amazing how many friends and family members that help make it OK” he said. “It’s just an amazing process. It’s awesome. I have an amazing wife that saved me, all the appointments, helping with the pain and never letting me give up. She and our boys mean the world to me.”

Also getting him through is his mantra: Go! Go! Go! The phrase came to him during brain cancer treatment; he would say it to himself. Then his physical therapists began encouraging him with it as well.

Later, his four children started saying it and it would appear on team T-shirts at each of his races. It also became the title of his book, “Go! Go! Go! Rise, Fall and Rise Again: The Story of Cancer.”

“Go! Go! Go! is what got me through and is what gets me through each and every day,” Atteberry explained. It got him through his brain cancer treatment, physical therapy, training for the triathlons and a third cancer diagnosis last year.

During a self-examination, Atteberry felt a lump on his genitals and decided to get it checked. He received his third cancer diagnosis — testicular cancer. He went through six treatments to rid himself of that cancer and extra treatment to make sure it did not spread to his brain.

In December 2021, he was told he was in remission.

However, the first two diagnoses didn’t stop him and neither would the third. Atteberry continues to train for and compete in triathlons. His most recent events were the Ironman 70.3 Michigan, which he did not fully finish, but he did complete the Detroit International Half Marathon, and is ready for even more in 2023. He said he will never give up competing and that no cancer survivor should give up on themselves either.

“Never give up. Never ever,” he concluded. “There’s always something. Not everybody has to go out and run, but do something that makes you motivated. It’s so important to go, go, go.”