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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

Can You Outlive Cancer?

Is there a reliable way to cure cancer? Turns out for most cancers, the answer is no.

That said, there is mounting evidence that three simple, basic, intuitive things can have a significant effect on people’s short- and long-term physical and emotional health: physical activity, spending time in nature, and human connection.

(*Note: Diet has a huge impact, but I keep it out of the equation due to the wide variety of ardently-defended diet “solutions,” none of them provable due to the complexity of diet studies. If in doubt, eat food that’s fresher and less processed.)

So naturally, the medical community is embracing this simple, accessible, low-cost solution of being active outdoors and connected with others, right?

Not exactly.

I’ve gone through three cancer experiences with three different oncology providers, and not one has recommended being active outdoors in connection with others as an integral part of cancer recovery. Or even one of these three elements on its own.

And it turns out my experience is completely the norm in cancer treatment.

This even though many chemo meds don’t work (including over half of all meds produced since 2009) and there’s a high incidence of secondary, unrelated cancers in those who have gone through chemotherapy.

A little tidbit here. During my last cancer treatment, when I received my first batch of “mild” chemo pills that supposedly had few side effects, I was told to be very careful that no one so else so much as touched the pills or they would get cancer. And not the same cancer I was being cured of, mind you … some new cancer that supposedly wouldn’t affect me. If there’s a logic there, I’m not following it. Given that chemo usually doesn’t work and may actually harm, while at the same time there are three things you can do that will each make a positive impact on your physical and emotional health on their own, why are they not a part of every oncology treatment plan?

Yeah, I don’t know either.

In 2001 I was diagnosed with a tumor that came with a 5-year guarantee of death, and yet it failed to do its evil and I made it to 15 years before it came back. Was it a miracle that kept me alive? Or genetic disposition? Or was it running 5 days a week and deliberately moving to a place with more hills, trees and trails? Would I have gone longer before recurrence had I enjoyed a richer social life?

There's no way to know for sure. But I do know that the time after treatment can be more difficult than the treatment itself, and any chance to take my future into my own hands and enjoy the time I have left is well worth the effort.


This brings me to the “What’s next?” question of life. For me, there’s an urgency to dig into this idea of being active outdoors in nature and connecting with others—and to help those coming out of cancer treatment or still in it to experience it as well.

My intention in the coming year is to build an organization called OutLive. It will be based on partnerships that connect folks coming out of a cancer experience with community activities that work for them, be that nature walks, canoeing, snowshoeing, doing yoga outdoors, cycling groups, community gardens, running groups … whatever will bring physical and emotional/spiritual healing.

The launching project for OutLive is my Proof of Life documentary. The first fundraiser is the Mountain Magic Trail Run on June 30. It's exciting to see plans take shape.

If we can get a bunch of people celebrating life and the outdoors together with the few eye-blinks of time we’re all granted here on this earth, then cancer doesn’t win, no matter what happens to me or you in the end.

If you know someone who has gone through cancer, please forward this post to them and have them comment back to me. Thanks.

- Brad

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