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Overcoming Your Inner Everest

by Alan Hobson

Wellness image

I used to think that climbing Everest would be the biggest challenge I would face in my life. That was until I was diagnosed with acute leukemia and given less than a year to live. At the moment of my diagnosis, 90 percent of the cells in my bone marrow were cancerous. Thankfully, I was able to receive a successful adult blood stem cell transplant, the equivalent of a bone marrow transplant. When I emerged from the procedure, my biggest challenge was being able to stand in the shower long enough to wash. My “inner Everest” took me from the top of the world to the bottom in just 120 days of treatment. It was a long fall.

Climbing back from cancer has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It has dwarfed even Everest. But I have now been cancer-free for more than seven years, am officially medically cured, and have been able to regain 100 percent of the health and fitness I had prior to my illness. I did this by using a combination of mild individualized cardiovascular activity and CAN/WILL™, the training mantra I used while preparing for my climbs.

I didn’t make it to the top of Everest on my first try. It took me three expeditions over 10 years to finally realize my dream. After each of my first two expeditions, I returned home to allegations that I had failed. In my view, we only fail when we fail to learn from our experiences. So, after each trip I made a list of what I had learned and what I could do better the next time. In every obstacle, there is always opportunity; in every setback, potential success. A cancer experience can be no different.

The mind/body/spirit connection can have a profound effect on the outcome of a climb back from cancer ... Therein lies the opportunity in “the Everest of illnesses.”

When I was fortunate enough to climb back, I sat down with my caregiver, and together we came up with a list of what we had learned and what we’d like to share with others. What became obvious was that cancer presents far more than a physical challenge. During my treatment, I met a survivor who was my age. He had the same diagnosis as me, the same prognosis, and the same disease state. He received the same treatment at the same time in the same hospital. We even shared the same room. Yet cancer did not take his life. He stopped eating. Is that physical? I don’t believe it is.

The mind/body/spirit connection can have a profound effect on the outcome of a climb back from cancer. The power of the human spirit (combined with that of a Higher Power if you so believe) is inestimable. Therein lies the opportunity in the obstacle that is “the Everest of illnesses.”

My caregiver and I distilled our learnings down to what we believe are the 20 essential psychological skills that enabled me to survive cancer and thrive beyond it. Although we cannot guarantee that these tools will work for you, they did for us.

Here then are what we call The 10 Tools of Triumph™ for survivors. I hope you will be able to use these tools to your benefit immediately.

1. Stay 100 Percent Present

2. Ignore All Predictions of Doom

3. Silence Your Mind

4. Take Charge

5. Focus All Your Energy on Getting Better

6. Decide to Be a Survivor

7. Patch into the Power of Your Personal Purpose

8. Measure Success by Effort, Not by Outcome

9. CAN/WILL™ Yourself to Move

10. Make Essential Changes in Your Life

Wherever you are in your life, I send you hope, strength, and courage in your own Climb Back.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Just like you, Alan Hobson has felt the fear, experienced the biopsies, nausea, blood draws, lost sleep and endless medications. As a Climb Back from Cancer Coach he now helps others climb back to better lives. For more information visit

To learn more of his tips on how to climb back from cancer, or to ask Alan a question related to your own climb back, visit

Adapted with permission from Climb Back from Cancer, published by Climb Back Inc., © 2004 Cecilia & Alan Hobson.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2008.