Climb Back #1
In August 2000, at the age of 42, Alan was diagnosed with the very aggressive blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and given less than a year to live.
At the time of his diagnosis, 90 percent of the cells in his bone marrow were cancerous. The three-year survival rate was 15 percent or less.
Alan was not to be deterred. He endured three rounds of week-long, 24-hour continuous infusion chemotherapy as an in-patient (more than 500 hours). Incredibly, it quickly put his leukemia into remission. Then, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, God’s good graces, the unending support of his family, friends and then fiancée, on November 15, 2000, he received the modern day equivalent of a bone marrow transplant, a successful adult blood stem cell transplant. His donor was his 6-foot 2-inch beefy businessman brother, Eric. By comparison, Alan is only 5’ 6” and 150 pounds. Miraculously, the transplant worked! Today, Alan has been leukemia-free for over 12 years and is officially medically cured of the disease. He is also one of less than a few dozen people in the world ever to regain an elite level of fitness after such a transplant for leukemia – a tiny fraction of the number of people who have climbed Mt. Everest. His powerful personal messages about life, death, tenacity and triumph help others scale their own “Inner Everests” and maximize their chances not only of surviving cancer but thriving beyond it.
“To say that I’m happy to be here would be a huge understatement,” he says. “I’m thrilled to be here. Every day is not only a gift. In my case, it’s a bonus.”
Alan and his former wife, Cecilia, have written a landmark book about their cancer experience, Climb Back from Cancer – Introducing The 10 Tools of Triumph for Survivors and Caregivers. Part adventure story, part love story, it contains what the authors believe are the key psychological skills needed to maximize the likelihood of surviving cancer and flourishing after it. The book is one of very few written from the perspective of the patient and the caregiver. Alan and Cecilia actually alternate chapters. The result is a portrait in the power of perspective and a toolkit for triumph for patients, survivors and caregivers. Based on his own climb back from cancer, Alan has since helped spearhead the development of The Climb Back from Cancer Protocol, a system of mild individualized physical activity that survivors are using to dramatically reduce chronic fatigue – the biggest challenge they face. His vision is to spread the word worldwide about the program and positively affect the lives of millions of people.
A Dream Realized
On the day of his transplant, Alan’s biggest challenge was to stand in the shower long enough to wash. “I was so weak that I couldn’t stand for more than a minute,” he recalls. “I actually timed it. It was 53 seconds.” After he was discharged, Alan moved from the city to the mountains and began his long climb back to full energy and full health. There in the Canadian Rockies, surrounded by nature and towering peaks he gradually rebuilt himself and his life. Then one day he looked up at nearby Mt. Ha Ling and thought to himself, “I wonder…I wonder if I could jog up that thing and back down again?”
Climb Back #2
Alan’s cancer journey did not end with leukemia.
A routine colonoscopy in December 2010 revealed that he had squamous cell carcinoma, a preliminary form of bowel cancer.
“It was quite a shock,” Alan, then 52, recalls. “Immediately, I had flashbacks to my past and I fell into fear. It was frightening.”
Fortunately, Alan’s fears were never realized. After surgery, amazingly he was back cross-country skiing in a week and he has since made another complete recovery. Through his Climb Back from Cancer ™Coaching, he now helps patients, survivors and their caregivers maximize their chances of climbing back to full health and a full life.
“I know from personal experience that even if you’re really physically fit you can get cancer,” he says. “But it just makes sense that the healthier we are, the better our ability to bounce back. That’s what I do – I help people maximize their chances of surviving cancer and thriving beyond it.”