How OCR helped me BEAT cancer
One afternoon in 2016, my friend asked me to do a Spartan Race. My response was, “Hell no.” The thought of a trail race seemed miserable. Torturous, when you add obstacles. I had no desire to make myself that uncomfortable.
I went home that night though, and it hit me: I already was that uncomfortable.
I’d just survived my 4th battle with cancer; and though I won, I was lost. Something was missing in my life.
The first time I learned I had cancer was in 2005. It was thyroid cancer, a papillary carcinoma. As cancers go, this is the one you want. The doctor said my prognosis was good; but it was cancer, and I had it.
Hearing those words for the first time was terrifying. If you haven’t already been touched by cancer, then all you might know is chemo and death. But cancer touches us all. I’ve already lost too many friends in the racing community alone.
I didn’t like to talk about it. I didn’t want to feel scared or vulnerable. I had this thing, but I wanted to pretend that I didn’t. I left the medicine up to the doctors and just had to keep moving forward.
Just 2 years later, cancer returned. I’d been haunted by the thought of a recurrence. It haunted me in my sleep, hanging out with friends, even while sitting at a red light. Medically, I knew little about my illness. So, I asked questions, challenged doctors’ assumptions, and chose a course of action. That was enough for me. I took it one step at a time, repeating the same treatment as before.
Over time, my frequent trips to Moffitt Cancer Center helped my perspective to evolve. Instead of thinking, “I have to live with cancer,” I realized, “I GET to LIVE with cancer.” Surviving wasn’t something to feel guilty about. It was something to be celebrated.
It was 6 years until my third bout with cancer. Another painful biopsy revealed a very small tumor embedded deep within my thyroid bed close to my vocal cords. It wasn’t safe to operate, and the doctor’s best advice was simply to let it be and watch it.
Literally live with cancer – which I continue to do to this day.
My fourth experience was different. In 2016 we found a nodule on the back of my head. After yet another painful biopsy began the waiting. It was this purgatory that was unbearable. When you have cancer, you can make decisions. When you might have cancer, all you can do is wait. And I really hated waiting.
It was tough to stay positive. I was tired of getting cancer. There’s only so many times you can get cancer and not die. I fought back emotions so powerful that I danced from extreme elation to burdensome sadness. I commonly fought back tears, lying to myself that this wasn’t wearing on me.
After a short period of feeling sorry for myself, I became defiant. I’d long since decided that cancer wouldn’t take my life from me. Not the years, nor the spirit. I shaved my thick brown hair. I took it all off. If my hair was going to go either by chemo or surgery prep, it would be on my terms. My choice. My hands.
I didn’t get to live with cancer; cancer had to live with me.
We removed the tumor, and I got the call from Moffitt not long after. I was all clear. I had won one. I’d been obsessing over all the unknown, terrible things that could happen. I never imagined a scenario where I just won and went home.
I’d been living in this self-inflicted bubble of despair for a while. I’d been in so much emotional pain that I challenged death. There was an emptiness I wasn’t willing to face. I had so much to be thankful for yet remained unfulfilled. This imminent mortality reminded me that I was not yet living my best life. I wasn’t whole.
I was lacking purpose.
That’s what I was thinking about that afternoon when my friend walked into my office.
Obstacle course racing helped me to face my fears. To move forward into the unknown. To go from being afraid to talk about surviving cancer to writing a book about it.
I wish I was one of those people who shouted each day that they’re just grateful to be alive. That’s not me. But if surviving cancer has taught me anything, it’s the value of the time we have today.
Surviving cancer means doing things we never thought we could. It means challenging yourself every day in the face of the unknown. It means always moving forward in the relentless pursuit of your dreams. Surviving cancer is about encouraging, helping and inspiring others. Above all else, it means having fun along the way.
Sure, jumping the fire doesn’t beat cancer; but if even for just one day, cancer doesn’t beat me. For those few hours, I don’t hear the ticking clock in my throat. Out there I’m unafraid. I complete the rope, the rigs, and I’m confident enough to complete the next five challenges I face.
My struggles aren’t unique. People I’ve met through these experiences all have incredible stories. Cancer experiences, health conditions, injuries, and demons that are far more harrowing than mine. Their passion, perseverance, and positive attitudes surpass my own. Many display undeniable grit and drive I could only aspire to possess. True warriors.
We have only one particularly important job in our journey with cancer: LIVE. Live your life… as much as you can… as best as you can. That’s it. It’s a difficult job at times, but it’s the only one we are responsible for. It’s the only one we can control.
I share my story so that someone who needs to will see that they too can endure and overcome. Never underestimate the sheer power of simply moving forward. One day, one obstacle, one step at a time. In the face of all that opposes you, believe you can - no matter what!
See you on the other side.
Nick Klingensmith is an amateur obstacle course racer closing in on his 100th OCR. He’s completed 5 major marathons and is currently training for the Berlin Marathon in September. An ambassador for MudGear and Spartan 4-0, Nick is the author of Through the Fire. Nick works as an executive in the logistics industry and lives in Seminole, Florida, with his wife and two dogs.
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