Are You Starting The Cancer Triathlon? The mental challenge may be the toughest part so draw on your past…

A few years before I was diagnosed with colon cancer, I started doing triathlons.  I’d worked my way up to the 70.3 distance and was training for the full Ironman when I found out I’d be sidelined for a year of treatment.

It seemed obvious that being in good physical condition as I headed into this would be an advantage but what surprised me was how much the triathlon experience also helped me mentally.  

My stage-3 diagnosis qualified me for the full cancer experience: Radiation, Surgery, and Chemo.  As my treatment progressed, I discovered that the three phases of it were much like the three stages of a triathlon.  The triathlon is a swim, a bike ride, and a run.  At the Ironman distance, it’s a 2.4 mile swim; a 112 mile bike; and a 26.2 mile marathon.

Physically both cancer treatment and a triathlon are challenging, but in very different ways. The stronger similarity is the mental cycle you go through…the little breaks between phases, the ups & downs along the way, and the cumulative toll that multiple phases take on you.

As I started my treatment on day #1, I was excited to get started.  It felt familiar…some nerves, but full of energy and ready to get going.  I realized that it was like the start of a race when you are happy to hit the water and start moving.

After a month of daily radiation, I was feeling the burn and the fatigue and ready to be done.  Again, it felt familiar…by the end of the swim, you are ready to get out of the water.

Then you get a little recovery time before the next phase of treatment…the surgery.  And in a triathlon, you also get a break called “transition 1” or T1 to prepare for the next phase of the race…the bike.

The break helped and I was ready to have surgery.  Same with a triathlon…after transitioning from the swim, you head out on the bike glad to be moving again. But you are not quite as fresh as at the start because the swim takes a toll.

By the end of the bike, you just want to get off that thing and out of the saddle. And you probably hit a few bumps in the road or maybe got delayed with a flat.  Surgery is that way too…pretty tough and maybe some surprises. 

Now you get a second recovery time before the last phase of treatment: chemotherapy. In a triathlon, it’s called T2 as you prepare to go out on the run.  In both 'races' they save the most challenging phase for the end.

Now the multiple phases have taken a cumulative toll.  You cannot fully recover before it’s time to get moving again. You may have some doubts.  Can you do this?  And your mindset has shifted from “I’m excited to be in the race” to “Let’s just get this last phase done”.

Now the grind starts.  Chemo is tough from day one…the run is tough.  One foot in front of the other.  You are not moving fast…your mind goes to dark places…you are breaking down physically and mentally…quitting occurs to you.  

But someone in the crowd cheers you on…a little encouragement is huge.  You start to really notice the people running alongside you and help each other.  And, eventually, the finish line within reach.  And your family & friends are waiting for you.  And it’s pretty darn sweet.

So know that your treatment will have mental ups & downs as well as physical challenges. 

Draw on your past…moving to a new town, starting a new school, raising kids.  The experience where you were excited but scared…where some things went well and others were tougher than you expected.  

You may not realize it, but you’ve been through this before…and that helps.


  1. What a beautiful analogy - and such an honest insight into how you pulled from your past to push through the treatment challenges. Keep writing Kip - you have true gift. xo Kar

  2. Thanks Karla. The ups & downs during months/years of treatment can be surprising and mentally exhausting for the patient and family so it's helpful to remember similar challenges you have worked through and draw on those. I met several nurses who know all about this personally as they worked while completing their schooling - sometimes with children at home too - and sometimes wondered "Can I finish this?" Those past 'wins' remind us "Yes you can!"

  3. Chris, We've never met but I feel a powerful kinship to you after reading this blog, it has helped me come to terms with my new reality in more ways than I can say. I am a former Olympic level athlete who had just retired from the sport and started an engineering career when I was hospitalized with some GI issues that we thought were an acute worsening of the Crohn's disease I had sparred with since my teenage years. Long story short, they had to remove my colon to save my life. Ill never forget the day I was being discharged from the hospital and my surgeon walked into the room with that surprised and sad look on his face to tell me that they had found a series of tumors in my removed colon after they decided to examine it again on a whim. "This is such a shock to me, you are only 29. I had to re-read the pathology report, I thought they got the wrong specimen." Stage IIIc with chemotherapy to start the second I was recovered from surgery. I think my wife and I wept for the next 48 hours straight.

    Reading your blog has helped me to regain the mindset I had when I was training, much as your stealth belt product has helped me to regain feeling comfortable in my own body. I know you don't need to hear it from me, but thank you for everything.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story Andrew...what a curveball you got so early in life. Also glad to hear that Stealth Belt has been helpful to you. The Stealth Belt team in the US and ComfortBelt team in the UK are so proud of the work they do to help people get their lives back and love hearing from people around the world. Best of luck to you.


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