We all have challenges on a daily basis.  Some are over-whelming, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Imagine hearing your doctor say that you have prostate cancer, on your birthday no less! In my case, it was at the top of my list. I have been extremely fortunate. Many of my friends and colleagues that are part of this “reluctant brotherhood” have not been as fortunate.  I witnessed one of my best friends lose his 4-year battle to prostate cancer just prior to my diagnosis – it was gut-wrenching.  Prostate cancer is terribly underfunded (and misunderstood) compared to other cancers because men do not talk about it. They do not engage because of the personal nature of the problem. They are embarrassed and it forces isolation.  I was there.  I did not tell anyone other than family and a few close friends for over a year. 

I almost did not fight it and was ready to give up, However, with the encouragement of a friend, I completely changed my mindset surrounding my diagnosis, and it quite literally saved my life. Knowing my background as an IRONMAN (IM), my friend reminded me of the IM motto – “anything is possible.” The IM is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, followed by a 26.2 marathon – all in one day.  I made the decision to change my mindset from fixed to growth or winning – I embraced a ‘winning mindset’!  I set short, intermediate and long-term cancer recovery goals. IM Lake Placid 14 months after surgery and walking my daughter down the aisle became my long-term cancer recovery goals.   Goals gave me structure for an intentional game plan.  Goals, when you stick to them, make you accountable to take intentional actions. 

 Long-term cancer recovery goals; walking my daughter down the aisle &
remembering my friend Bill at the finish line at IRONMAN Lake Placid  

Though surgery (radical prostatectomy) saved my life, the shift in mindset had to occur first. I felt so much despair and depression about the thought of cancer and the battle against it, that I needed the mindset shift to even get to the operating table. Mindset really is key. 

I learned a lot about myself in this journey.  Lessons learned:

  • Do not keep the negative emotions bottled up inside; regardless of the challenge; seek help such as a support group – talk about it! 
  • Cancer is not something to be experienced in isolation because the feeling of aloneness can swiftly overtake you. 

Life presents us with a lot of challenges, and how we choose to deal with them is what define us.   My cancer battle taught me that even on the worst days, I needed to remember and focus on the bigger picture. 

After completing my recovery goals, including the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii, I dedicated my life to helping others that are experiencing life-threatening and life-altering obstacles.  My success as an athlete gave me a false sense of invincibility.  Cancer and a heart attack humbled and changed me.  Being a survivor/conquer has given me a wonderful perspective on life.  My journey has created a passion in me to help others battling adversity.  Another lesson learned; there is nothing more gratifying in life than making a difference in peoples’ lives and paying it forward.  There is only one line on Jackie Robinson’s grave, yet it says so much, “a person’s life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Written by Tom Hulsey