Retrofit Blog

Cancer Made Me Healthy

Fighting Cancer: Diet & Exercise

December 4, 2013
Jack O'Brein before and after photo

There is nothing like pairing your own name with the word "cancer" to become motivated to take action. When my family doctor discovered an early localized tumor, I researched my options, contacting various medical specialists, who proffered their specific modality as the best means to rid myself of the cancer. Further research led me to proton radiation, which I discovered by reading articles on the Internet. After much soul searching and further research, I began proton radiation treatment on July 11, 2012, my 25th wedding anniversary. We had planned on a trip to Ireland.

I mention this, not simply as a plug for proton radiation, but because this was a treatment option which allowed me to take time off work (my radiation vacation) and resume regular attendance at spin classes at my local gym. Back in 2004 and 2005, as a fitness enthusiast, I had been a "gym rat" of sorts, regularly attending spin classes and participating in various charity bike rides on my road bike. I trained for my first century ride, the Trek 100, a 100-mile bike ride supporting a charity that works to battle children's cancer. The 2005 Trek 100 ride was held in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and looped around several lakeside communities and verdant, Wisconsin dairy farmland. I continued many long rides that summer and repeated the Trek ride and several others in 2006. I was in my glory.

Then, a change in employment, a long commute and lethargy led to putting my road bike away. My trips to the gym became irregular. I got fat. I realized finally, after several years that I needed to get back to the gym. In the mirror, I was suddenly the "Before" person in the weight loss ad. I got winded eating breakfast. If this wasn't motivating enough, the cancer was. I resolved to get in shape, starting with my cancer treatment and enlisted the help of my doctor, who helped monitor my progress, and Retrofit, an effective weight management program.

My message to people is simple; there is no easy path to weight loss. Diet (which for me meant portion control, food logging and nutritional mindfulness) combined with exercise (again, for me, spin class EVERY day plus weight training and Pilates) will take you to your goal. No short cuts, no excuses.

In six months, I lost more than 50 pounds. I vowed to return to the Trek 100 ride in 2013 at my previous weight and do the 100 miles as close to my previous time as possible. At 59.5 years of age, I finally met my goal. I was six minutes faster and three pounds lighter than I was in 2005. Oh, by the way, when you approach senior citizen status, it's perfectly acceptable to embrace your "half birthdays."

Some tips for those seeking a career as the "Before" model… Don't wait for a cancer diagnosis to start a program and don't expect to find shortcuts. Diet and exercise are the means, but there are some useful tools that can take you to your fitness goals:

1. Get a doctor's OK and support.

2. Use a program which keeps you on track and works for you. By program, I mean one which helps you log and monitor your food intake, portion control and provides a means of encouragement. I didn't succeed alone. Retrofit worked well for me.

3. Find your motivation and shoot at a target goal. Daily affirmations may help. Pictures on the fridge with your head pasted on the fitness model, may inspire you, whatever works.

For me, motivation was the goal of repeating the Trek 100. It helped that I announced my intentions, sought sponsors for the charity ride and knew that I would not only disappoint myself, but others as well, who supported me with donations to the charity. Involving others in your plans may give you motivation when your own enthusiasm wanes or if you sabotage yourself with self-doubt and excuses. A 100-mile bike ride is what business writers, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies) called a BHAG, a "Big Hairy Audacious Goal." A BHAG goal, one which is clear and compelling, will surely push you out of your comfort zone. It will provide a target, which, when completed, will make you very pleased with yourself. I am not suggesting that a 100-mile bike ride is for everyone, but figure out what your fitness goal is. Make it big and audacious and fully commit.

The good news for me is that my cancer is gone and my health has improved. Now, I still may not find steady employment as an "After" model, but my "Before" model career is deader than the Wicked Witch of the West. Melt away, my friends… You can do it!

Jack O'Brien

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President of a staffing solutions company and a Retrofit client

Jack joined Retrofit in May 2012 and has lost 44 pounds, 17% of his original body weight. He enjoyed writing this story and hopes it may be helpful to others facing cancer with fear and a feeling of powerlessness. According to Jack, "a positive attitude is critical to maintaining one's health especially when facing a life threatening illness."

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