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154: One Man's Story of Surviving Cancer with Johnny Runner

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154: One Man's Story of Surviving Cancer with Johnny Runner

Sep 05, 2023

Do you know how you'd react to receiving potentially life-changing news about your health? What if it was potentially life-threatening like cancer? Listener and ultramarathon runner Johnny faced that very experience when he learned from his doctor that he had cancer. He shares with us the realities of overcoming cancer as a man, some of the lessons he's learned about himself through it all, and why he chose not to let a diagnosis define him and keep him from doing the things he loved.

Episode Transcript

This content was originally created for audio. Some elements such as tone, sound effects, and music can be hard to translate to text. As such, the following is a summary of the episode and has been edited for clarity. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen— it's more fun that way.



Scot: Hey, Troy, I have a question for you.

Troy: Yeah?

Scot: Have you ever thought about how you would handle the news if you were diagnosed with some form of cancer? Has that ever gone through your mind at all?

Troy: I just don't even want to think about it, honestly. I've delivered the news several times to patients in the ER. It's always such a difficult, difficult thing to do, but I can't say I've taken that step to say, "How exactly would I react?" I mean, it's kind of crossed my mind, but I guess I just haven't wanted to go that far to really, really internalize that.

Scot: Like, how it could impact your life, or what that would . . .

Troy: Yeah. I mean, there's that initial reaction. I think it's often denial. But in terms of thinking the next step beyond that, I can't say I've thought about it. No.

Scot: Today's guest is named John Mack. He was a healthy guy. He's been a runner for 25 years. He started casual road running, and then he started running ultra-marathons. Kind of sounds like you, Troy. You started casual running, and then you started running marathons.

Troy: Yeah. Not ultra-marathons. John is next level. This is like a youth basketball player interviewing Michael Jordan.

Scot: But by all accounts, doing the types of things that we would consider healthy and that healthy people do. But then he was diagnosed with lymphoma, so he had to directly think about that lead question that we just had. And today, we wanted to talk to him about his journey and the impact the disease has had on his physical and mental health, what his life is like today, and what he's learned along the way about his health.

This is another episode in a series of men talking to men about their health on "Who Cares About Men's Health" with information, inspiration, and a different interpretation of men's health. My name is Scot. I bring the BS. That means if something stupid is going to be said, it's probably going to be me. If something smart is going to be said, the MD to my BS is Dr. Troy Matson.

Troy: I don't know. That's questionable, Scot.

Scot: We've got Producer Mitch. He is a "Who Cares About Men's Health" convert. He's on the show as well.

Mitch: Hey there.

Scot: And if something interesting is going to be said, it's probably going to be him.

Mitch: Oh, wow.

Troy: That's right.

Scot: And our guest today is John Mack. He's also known as Johnny Runner. Welcome to the show, John.

John: Hey. Thank you so much. I'm really privileged to be here.

Scot: Before the diagnosis, did you ever stop to consider how you might react to getting major health news like you received when you found out you had lymphoma?

John: I didn't.

Scot: Yeah. Why would we, right?

John: Yeah. I mean, I had some health things, but nothing like that on that level.

Scot: Yeah. I think us guys sometimes just kind of take our health for granted, right? So when did you realize that something was up? Because by all accounts, as I set up in the intro, and you can correct me if I was incorrect, you were a healthy guy, right? You were doing the types of things that people think healthy guys do. I'd imagine your diet was pretty good. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what your lifestyle was and then tell us about when you realized something was up.

John: Going into my diagnosis, I was definitely running ultras, hundreds, 50-milers, pretty conscious about what I ate, but I wouldn't say that . . . I still partake in some non-healthy foods. And I don't even know what is a healthy and non-healthy food. I think every food is healthy. I think it's just how much of each one you eat.

But yeah, I felt like I ate well going into the diagnosis. I was very active, still running a lot, probably running 60 to 80 miles a week. And I even had people say . . . friends of mine when I did get diagnosed, they said, "Oh, see, you take care of yourself, and you're fit, and all that, and you got cancer. So what good's it doing?" And that was a good one. You've got to love your friends, right?

And my response to them was, "Well, yeah, I can see your point, but on the other hand, it's probably why I came through it as well as I did versus had it been the other way around and I was very sedentary and didn't take care of myself."

Scot: I do have a question. So men can be notorious about putting health concerns off. Did you have symptoms of lymphoma? Did you seek medical care right away? I mean, how did that kind of all play out?

John: And just to clarify, I had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had a rare form of that called mantle cell. At the time I was diagnosed, there were only maybe 1,400 cases a year being diagnosed.

And as far as how it presented, part of the issue with mantle cell is there are not a lot of symptoms until . . . Usually, you're diagnosed Stage 4. So night sweats are one of them. And I had those, but I've always had those since I was a kid. So I didn't really think much about that symptom.

I had noticed a small lump in my left axillary, and I also had a history of chronic sinusitis. So I felt like anything above my chest . . . sometimes my lymph nodes were inflamed. But I watched it for a while, and it didn't really get any bigger, but also it wasn't getting smaller after a couple courses of antibiotics.

And so I have to admit, I did kind of put it off, like, "Oh, it's nothing." But when it didn't change, I thought, "Well, I just need to go in, and all they're going to do is tell me it's nothing to worry about or not."

And so I decided to go in. I made an appointment with the PA at the office I was seeing, and she agreed that it was a little bit bigger than what a lymph node should normally be. And that's when they sent me in for a biopsy.

So I did put it off for sure. But also realized at some point that, "Hey, I need to get this looked at, even though I don't think it's anything."

Troy: That's some pretty subtle symptoms then. So you just basically had a large lymph node in your left armpit and you just saw it there. It sounds like probably a few months before that biopsy, a couple rounds of antibiotics, and then that's when they made the diagnosis, was after the biopsy?

John: Yeah, it was probably longer. From on the time I noticed it to when I actually went in was probably closer to six or seven months. But I had a crisis with my job. I had to travel back and forth to Oregon, and that delayed me going in as well. So yeah, it was probably closer to six or seven months before I went in.

Troy: And tell us about when you got the news. Was it the PA calling you, or were you back in the office, or how did that look?

John: Yeah, the surgeon called me, and they let me know that I had been diagnosed with the mantle cell. And so my immediate reaction was, "Oh." I really didn't understand what that was. But I also said, "Well, I'd like to get a second opinion on the biopsy." So they had some tissue left that they sent up to Huntsman, and Huntsman validated the biopsy and said it was definitely mantle cell.

I think you get a little . . . It's funny how even 11 years later, you get verklempt when you start talking about it. But even before the surgeon gave me the diagnosis, when I was getting the needle biopsy on the table, I think at the point the needle went in a couple minutes later, I just knew I had something.

Scot: What made you feel that way, do you think?

John: I just felt like the . . . part of it was just the feeling of the needle going into the lymph node. And I can't even really explain it, but I reached over to my wife, who was in there with me, and I just said, "I think I've got cancer."

Troy: Wow.

Scot: That diagnosis, did that feel a little bit like a betrayal? I've heard other guys that take care of their health . . . one in particular who wasn't super healthy and then decided, "You know what? I'm going to start eating better. I'm going to start running." He did start running, and three or four years later got a diagnosis with prostate cancer and just felt like that was a huge betrayal. Kind of back to that joke, "Here I am, I'm taking care of myself, but I still get this illness." Did that feel like a betrayal? How did that feel? Or was it just out-and-out terrifying?

John: Yeah. I don't think it felt like a betrayal. I think it just felt like I was running down the trail, and somebody jumped out with a two-by-four and hit me in the forehead. And I think once you have that feeling and that initial realization of what's going on, I just decided, "Well, I've got this, these are the cards I've been dealt, and I just have to be laser-focused on getting through it and not letting the diagnosis define me. I've just got to fight now."

Troy: How long did it take to get to that point where you felt that way?

John: I went through the process before I had my initial intake with my hematologist up there at the Huntsman. It was probably a week and a half, and I got into the appointment, and they had a talk through what things looked like and where we were at. And right then, I was just like, "You know what? I've just got to get through this. The only way out is through." And that's what I made up in my mind to do.

Scot: I'll tell you what, man. At the top of the show, I said, "Have you ever thought about that?" And I have thought about if I got a diagnosis of something like that. I don't know that I'm a fighter like you, man. I feel like it would just devastate me, and I'd be just like, "Well, hell."

Did you go through that at all? I mean, it sounds like it did take about a week, and when you started getting some information, you're like, "Well, I've got to get through this." Were you that way the whole time? Or was there a time where you did have some other thoughts, like maybe I did?

John: Yeah. I mean, this is the way I felt. I was like, "Okay, cancer is a very scary word." When you hear the words, it's definitely intimidating. And as soon as I heard that I had it, I was like, "Cancer, regardless of what kind it is, you already have my respect. I already fear you." And at that point, I was just like, "What do we need to do to get through it?"

So I think I accepted it pretty quick and definitely had the fear and I was scared, but I just put that in the back of my head and said, "What do we need to do to take care of it?"

Scot: I appreciate you admitting that because that's a lot of what this podcast is about, is talking about these types of things. I think for a lot of men, they might be like, "F cancer. I'm going to fight it. I'm going to battle." But that's not always the emotion that's there. I would imagine there are a lot of different emotions that go on.

John: For sure. I mean, you start thinking about, "Well, my family. Am I going to be around?" So, definitely, all that stuff comes into play. And I think anybody would be in denial if they didn't admit that, "Oh, that doesn't bother me," or, "Those kinds of thoughts don't go through my head." They're definitely there.

But at some point, you have to put them in the back and move forward and deal with whatever your diagnosis is, and whatever your treatment plan is, whatever kind of cancer protocol you're going to go through. I could talk about that a little bit too if you want.

But you've got to be open. You have to be open no matter how . . . If you feel like, "Oh, men can't cry or men can't talk about their feelings," you have to be open. And by being open and talking to other people about it, whether it's other men or just your family, it just helps you through everything. But to bottle it up and stay closed, it's just going to make everything feel a lot worse.

Troy: Yeah. And one thing you mentioned too, you said . . . I think like Scot said, there are several different approaches. You can just flat out go into denial, or you can just be like, "Okay, I'm just giving up. Whatever. Let's just kind of go with this and see where it takes me." Or I think you can invest all of your energy into fighting cancer.

But one thing you said that was a little bit different I thought was you said, "I don't want this to define me. I'm going to fight this, but I don't want it to define me. I'm going to keep doing everything else I'm doing." What exactly did that mean to you when you took that approach?

John: Maybe some examples of patients that I met during my treatment. The ones that focused on that, "I'm not going to let it define me," just always did better in their treatment and recovery. And the ones that just hated cancer, and focused on what they can't do anymore versus on what they can do, and just had really kind of a negative feeling about cancer, they didn't do so well. And some of them didn't make it either.

And part of what I said earlier in not letting it define me is the cancer always had my respect. It's a very serious thing. So to respect it may seem weird, but I think it kind of kept me in check.

Scot: And I think it's fair to say you define yourself and identify as a runner. Would that be fair to say?

John: For sure.

Scot: Yeah. So I do know that during your treatment . . . which maybe you could take a couple of seconds to tell us how intense it was, because it was pretty intense. Chemotherapy, and then some stem-cell transplant. It had some impacts on your body, I'd imagine. Tell us a little bit about that treatment, and then I want to get to you saying, "No, I'm going to continue running," even when the doctor said, "Maybe that's not the best idea." I want to talk about that a little bit. So tell us about the treatment and how intense that was.

John: Yeah. My protocol was . . . it's called hyper-CVAD with rituximab. And I went through six months of inpatient chemo. And what that meant for me was I would do a Round A and a Round B. So I'd be in the hospital for seven to eight days for each round. I'd go home for a week and a half to two weeks. And then I'd go back in the hospital for another seven or eight days. So from the time I would check back in, I was hooked up to chemo until I left.

And I did that for six months. Hyper-CVAD is considered one of the most aggressive chemo protocols that they have.

And then once the cancer was in remission, I'd gone through the process of donating my own stem cells. And so those were frozen, kept on cryo ice, also treated with radiation. So once the cancer was in remission, we did the stem cell collection.

And then I think I had a two- or three-week break in between that and the actual stem cell transplant. That's where they give you another five days of really intense chemo to kill all your bone marrow. And once you're done with that, then they give you your stem cells back, and then you start the process called engraftment, where you're basically like a newborn baby again. So your stem cells have to start growing and engrafting.

They monitor your counts and everything, and that kind of determines how long you have to be in the stem-cell unit. But you're completely isolated. I couldn't leave the stem-cell unit, so I had to walk around the stem-cell unit.

And then once the engraftment took place, then almost another year of constant monitoring. Yeah, so that was kind of the protocol and the treatment.

Scot: And it thrashes your body and immune system, doesn't it?

John: Oh, yeah. You're basically zero immune system once you have the stem cell transplant. I had to have all my childhood immunizations again. So yeah, it's basically like you're a newborn. You have a second birthday.

Scot: Oh, jeez. Well, that's fun, I guess. Probably not. I don't know.

John: They came in and sang "Happy Birthday" and brought me a nice blanket and balloons. Yeah, I got . . .

Troy: Give you a little hat.

Scot: Yeah, let me jump in there. So you didn't want to stop doing races. You told your doctors running was important to you, and they're going to have to work with you as a team. That was not negotiable that you . . . Running itself wasn't so bad, but doing these big races in that compromised immune system, I think, is what concerned the physicians. Is that correct?

John: Yeah, that is correct.

Scot: So why was running so important to you? Why did you lay the line down like that and say, "No, let's work together and figure out how I can continue to do this"?

John: So there are a couple things with that. One, I felt very strongly that just keeping my cardiovascular, my pulmonary system moving and functioning was really important.

And also, my treatment wasn't a guarantee that I was going to come through this. And so running was definitely a big focus, but also hiking, fishing, or anything else that I enjoy doing. I felt if I'm not going to come through this, I'm still going to keep doing all the things that I'm passionate about and are important to me. And that's why I told my doctors, "Well, I'm not going to stop running."

And so we kind of came to a compromise that I could continue to run and do training, but they didn't want me doing any races. They kind of knew my personality, that I wouldn't take it easy. And so they said, "Yeah, you're okay to run, but don't sign up for any races."

So that's how we compromised. They would say, "Well, don't be going out and running 40 miles a week." And so I just sometimes didn't tell them how much I was running.

Troy: So were you still doing 60 to 80 miles a week?

John: No, I wasn't doing that much.

Troy: Not quite. So you dialed it back a little bit?

John: I figured if I negotiate on the high end and ran 25 to 30 miles a week, then I'd be okay.

Troy: Nice. Started at 60 to 80, got them down to 40 or 30. It's a good strategy.

Scot: And did it ultimately just come down to that was a risk you were willing to accept? I think in the face of medical professionals saying, "Maybe this isn't the best idea," it might be a good idea to follow that advice. But you chose not to. Was it just a risk you were willing to accept, or does it come back to what you said earlier that you didn't know what the end was going to be, so you're going to continue to do the things I really want to do? Or do you feel that you were in touch enough with your body because of all the training you do anyway that you would be able to tell if you were pushing it too much? How did that play out in your mind?

John: The risk of me continuing to run in my mind was outweighed . . . the benefit rather outweighed the risk. Again, I was focused on not being sedentary when I was in the hospital or out of the hospital. I mean, I walked four to five miles a day in the hospital when I was hooked up to chemo, pushing my chemo pole around.

Scot: Mitch, what's our excuse? I mean, seriously.

Mitch: That's what I was about to say. I would just lay down. I don't know. I think you get a pass for that time.

Troy: John's doing 40 miles in the hospital a week, hooked up to chemo.

Scot: Wow.

John: But the thought process there, and I share this especially for men listening, is that if you do come up against some kind of a health journey or cancer or whatever it is, when you're going through treatment, you can feel miserable laying down or sitting down. And you can also feel miserable standing up or walking around and just getting some movement. Either way, you're going to feel miserable, but just kind of keep all of the systems moving around. You can always do more than you think you can.

Scot: Were they monitoring you pretty closely then, too? Could you have gotten some feedback if it had been pushed a little too far, do you think?

John: Yeah, they did monitor me very closely. I mean, in between treatments, I was still going back into the hospital every two to three days for labs and also a pentamidine tent treatment to make sure that I didn't get pneumonia and stuff in my lungs.

But I actually have to admit, I did get caught a couple times because when my platelets got really low . . . and you don't always know when your platelets are low unless you have a lab result. But I went in a couple times and they were like, "Oh, what's all this bruising on your legs?" And I said, "Boy, I don't know." I really didn't know at the time. "Well, yeah, it's because you've been running on low platelets." So yeah, they did monitor me closely, but there were a few times I got in trouble for that.

Troy: Do you remember your platelet number, how low you got? I'm just curious.

John: Well, I had to be given platelets two or three times. I don't remember the number. I should.

Troy: Yeah. So if you were getting transfusions, it was low. So you were getting spontaneous bruising and bleeding because of the platelets, but you were going for it still. You were running.

Hey, I'm going to speak here not as a physician, but just as a guy who just really admires what you did. I hope if I ever face what you did that I do the same thing. And I know the doctors said, "Don't do it," but to me it's impressive.

I think, too, the challenge is that doctors have . . . there are no studies of what activity is appropriate for someone who, at baseline, runs 60 to 80 miles a week. If the average person who maybe exercises 30 minutes three times a week said, "Hey, can I continue to exercise 30 minutes three times a week?" they'd probably say, "Yeah, that's okay. It's probably good for you to get outside." But you're functioning at such a high level, and I think your body was used to that. Obviously, you dialed it back a little bit.

But I think for me, too, it would be important, number one, like you said, not to have the cancer define you and continue to do those things, which in many ways do define you. But also, just because that's what your body is used to. You're used to functioning at a very high level. And you dialed it back a bit, but you were still doing the things you love to do.

I think, like you'd said too, just that activity, I'm sure that helped you get through chemo and kept your body functioning the way it wanted to function.

John: Yeah, and also the mental aspect of it too. I mean, the physical part was definitely important to me, but just mentally being able to be outside still and just having movement.

Troy: Yeah, being outside. I can only imagine. I'm sure that was huge. Yeah, just the runner's high, that feeling of just being out in nature and exercising. I'm sure that . . .

And I love how you said, too, that you can be sick lying down, or you can be sick and be up moving around and feel miserable either way. You're probably better off feeling miserable if you're up moving around. So yeah, I think that's an important thing.

Scot: Tell us a little bit about depending on other people, which was a part of your journey. I had seen an interview with you where you said something to the effect that nobody recovers from cancer alone. And in that interview, much like here, you got a little bit of emotional.

I think that's important for us guys to talk about because a lot of times, we guys feel like we have to project this strong image all the time, that we can't show other emotions. Like, anger is the only emotion we're allowed to show.

But I love that you talked about that nobody recovers from cancer alone. Tell us about the importance of the support group in your life and who that was. Your wife was with you, so obviously she was an important part. You can talk about her or other people.

John: Yeah, for sure. So my wife, my two daughters, now 30 and 20, they were a huge part of the support. And my sister and just so many friends, and not to mention just all the people at Huntsman.

I remember my first impression coming into Huntsman. I walked through the front doors, and even though I was just expecting to feel like I was walking into a hospital, it just didn't feel that way. It kind of felt like I was walking into a hotel.

Just all of the support and . . . I mean, it was key. I was laser-focused on doing whatever it was I needed to do, but I couldn't do that alone.

And just the things . . . I had people come over and take care of the yard because I wasn't supposed to be around dirt with my immune system being the way it was. People come out of the woodwork.

Scot: That really filled my heart when you just said something as simple as coming over and helping with the yard work. That must have felt pretty good to know somebody was there and had your back.

John: Yeah. It felt good, but at the same time, I learned a lesson there that I was not great at receiving help.

Scot: I knew that was coming.

John: I was very good at giving help, but it took me some time. It's like, "Well, what goes around comes around." And it took me a little bit of time to realize, "Hey, I've got to accept help. I just can't do all this on my own."

Scot: Not only have to, but you can. It's okay. I go through that same struggle, too, right? It's so weird.

Troy: I would be the exact same way, too. Yeah, it would be so hard for me.

John: I remembered something my dad used to tell me. He said, "If you do good, you get good." But accepting the "get good" is sometimes harder.

Troy: I think that would be tough.

Scot: It is tough. But the thing is people like to help other people, and people like to help other people that they care about. It's something we all do, and actually letting somebody else help makes them feel good as well. I think when I finally started to realize that, I'm a little bit more accepting of taking help.

John: Yeah, exactly. And one thing that comes to my mind that I just want to share is that . . . So speaking of my wife and my family, my wife, she held down every . . . We shared a lot of responsibilities with the kids and everything, and I wasn't always there to be able to do that anymore. I was in the hospital for seven to eight days. Sometimes when I'd come home, I'd have a few rough days hanging over the toilet, throwing up, and things like that.

But the other aspect of that was going through my chemo and just the effects that it has on your body and mind. I reckon it to I would feel like I was watching an episode of "The Twilight Zone," where the world was just moving past me at 150 miles an hour. And I would see that, I would recognize, and I just felt like I was on the Audubon going 150 miles an hour, but I wasn't really comprehending a lot of exactly what was going on because my mind just wasn't keeping up. So without the support of other people, that would've been a lot worse.

Troy: Now your wife's a runner too, isn't she?

John: She is, yeah.

Troy: So what were her thoughts about you running and . . . Was she running with you, or was she just like, "John, this is too much"? I'm curious how she looked at that.

John: No, she was very supportive of it. Yeah, we'd go out run together. Obviously, she'd be concerned that maybe I was doing too much. But yeah, she didn't say much to keep me from doing it.

Troy: Yeah, it sounds like she was supportive, and that's the time you had together to run. Yeah, that's cool.

Scot: You talked about people physically helping you out. What about emotionally? Did you open up and express emotions to other people, or did you do what I probably would do, just, "I'm fine. I'm doing okay"? How open were you emotionally with other people in your life?

John: Yeah, I think I was very open. And then one thing, kind of a side note, I was able to participate in a new program up at Huntsman called the Mind-Body Skills Group. I was part of the pilot program up there, and it was exactly that. It was other cancer patients, and it turned out it was mostly men. There were a few women in the group. But we would meet once a week, sometimes once every other week, and we would always open it up with some kind of meditation. But the rest of the remaining time of the group was just sharing how you feel.

And I'll tell you . . . this is another thing too. Everybody empathizes. Everybody can kind of have an idea of what you're going through. But talking to other cancer patients, there's just that level of understanding that really helped.

I opened up. I didn't really hide anything, and including once you've gone through all that treatment, there's no modesty either. Yeah. There are some stories there. I've never really been a super modest person, but now I'm definitely not modest at all.

Scot: And then you talked about fighting and beating cancer, and you wanted to talk about this story that we hear in society about how a patient gets cancer, a patient beats cancer, and then we all think it happily ends ever after. But that isn't necessarily the case with cancer. There are long-term complications, both physical and emotional. Tell us more about that.

John: It's always there. So I keep it in the back of my mind a majority of the time, but sometimes it comes out. So the mental aspect of it is there. I actually went through some therapy this year just because I felt like, emotionally, there were some things that I may not have completely worked through. So I was doing some EMDR therapy, and it's really helped.

Scot: What's EMDR therapy?

John: So it's just a method of going through and assigning recognition to a certain aspect of whatever the trauma might have been and then just changing the view of that. An example would be the feeling you're getting, assigning it a shape, a color, and then changing that. That's kind of an under-simplified way of looking at it.

So I definitely did that, and I think it helped me. I have a few things that I still holding onto.

But the physical aspect of surviving . . . Specifically one thing that I've dealt with quite a bit is I'm now immune compromised. I go in every six months for lab work for my immune system. And they found out that about five years post-treatment, I started getting hospitalized with simple viruses like RSV and human metapneumovirus. And after the second hospital stay, I . . . My allergy doctor is also an immunologist, and I just said, "Hey, something is not right. I shouldn't be ending up in the hospital with these viruses."

And so we did the blood work and found out that my immune system was definitely compromised. And so, as a result of that, that's something that I deal with every day. I still have to be careful when I go out. I wear a mask everywhere I go.

But I also have to do what's called gamma therapy. So every 21 days, I give myself home infusions with subcutaneous needles. And so I'm treating my immune system, and as far as my doctors know right now, it's something I'll probably have to do the rest of my life.

It's better than what the outcome could have been, but it's definitely something that I wish I didn't have to deal with afterwards. But hey, I'm still here, I'm still kicking, and I'm still running races and crossing finish lines.

Scot: Has your definition or philosophy of what health is changed? The John before the cancer diagnosis versus the John now, do you think of health differently?

John: I'm just grateful every day that I get up, and I'm not ill. And if I do get ill, hopefully I get through it quickly. But yeah, it definitely changed that perspective. And just looking at my health, being more of a gratitude perspective, than just, "Oh, I'm healthy. I'm doing these things, and that's why I'm healthy." People say, "How's your health?" And I say, "Well, my health is great right now until I get sick."

Troy: Like you mentioned, obviously, you've reached that five-year mark, and I'd agree that's a huge milestone, but you're still having to deal with some of the consequences of chemotherapy and some of the impacts on your immune system and the lymphoma itself. Where are you with running now?

John: I ran a couple races this year. I ran a 50-miler in June. I just finished a 70K in the Tushars Mountain range.

Scot: Again, Mitch, what's wrong with us?

Mitch: I know. That's what I was about to say. I don't know.

Scot: Troy, what's wrong with you? Why aren't you running?

Troy: I'm the one . . . I'm like, "What's wrong with me? John's doing this."

John: And I have the Wasatch 100 in September, so that's leading up to my big race. I actually took a few years off of racing during COVID just because I didn't feel like I could run the risk of participating in races with my immune system the way it was.

And when I say my immune system isn't working, it's not that it should keep me from doing what I would normally do. It's just my exposure to getting sick is just a lot higher risk.

Troy: Yeah. So Wasatch 100 coming up, another a hundred miler. What number is this for you?

John: So this will be my 12th start and 11th finish.

Troy: Wow.

John: I had one year where I was going for number 10, and I had a mechanical issue with my hip, and I had to . . . I didn't know what it was, and I didn't want to keep pushing my body, so I dropped out of the race. But yeah, this will be my 11th finish this year.

Troy: That's amazing.

John: For me, Wasatch 100 is a huge thing because it was a goal of mine to run the Wasatch 100 a year post-stem cell transplant. In fact, I ran Wasatch 100 exactly one year of my anniversary checking in for stem cell.

Scot: Wow. That's awesome.

As we wrap this up, what lessons have you learned from this experience that you think could benefit other men?

John: The big message I would say is whatever health journey it is, acknowledge it, accept it, but, again, don't let it define you. One of my mottos was "game on, live strong, constant forward motion, and sprint to the finish line."

Scot: I like constant forward motion. I've never struggled with anything as difficult as what you did, but sometimes it's just about putting your head down and taking one step at a time and keeping the feet moving.

John: For sure. And again, another important thing is men go into their cave, right? Don't do that. We're great at going into the cave and keeping quiet and closing up, but it definitely is not helpful. And I think if you don't do that, you're going to learn how much it can help you, and hopefully, you're more open and it helps you get through other challenges in your life as well.

Scot: And hopefully, men don't have to go through a major health crisis to learn that lesson that you just said. Don't go into the cave no matter what the challenge is in your life.

John: No, that's great. And that's a good perspective because . . .

Scot: You're the one that said it, so thanks.

John: But you said don't wait until you get a health challenge. That's the perspective. Don't do that. I mean, there's no reason to wait.

Scot: It can be hard not running in the cave.

John: Yeah. You're just bouncing into walls, right?

Troy: That's right.

Scot: One of the things that I enjoyed about this conversation, and there were so many, was how you talked with your doctors, and you said, "We need to work together on this. These are the important things in my life right now. And you guys might not be super excited about it, but let's find a way that we can come to a compromise so I can get what I want and you can get what you feel comfortable with."

I think sometimes when you hear the story of a guy telling their doctors, "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do what I want to do," it comes from a place of machismo or whatever, but I don't think that's where it was with you. I think you had priorities. I think you still respected cancer, you respected where you were, and you just said, "Hey, no, this plan does not work. Let's try to figure out a plan that can." And I love that part of this story, so thanks for sharing that.

John: Oh, for sure. And definitely not machismo. That was just my way to say if I'm not going to come out to see the other end, I just want to continue to do the things that I enjoy doing. And it wasn't coming from that perspective at all. So I think that was an important clarification, Scot.

Scot: Mitch, do you have a takeaway?

Mitch: I don't want this to come off wrong, but what is so interesting is a lot of times when it comes to health, and we've talked about it on the show before, especially men's health, this idea of you have to be strong, you have to be John Wayne, you've got to be the one who tells the doctors to go F themselves and you're the strongest guy in the room, etc. That's the hero journey that we're told.

And when I think about myself and some of the struggles I've had, it feels like you can't measure up. And so to hear John's story, thank you so much for sharing, but it was hard sometimes, and you did need to rely on other people, right? You didn't do it by yourself.

John: No, absolutely not.

Mitch: And that's not to lower or make you any less of a superhero, right? But that's such a different reality than we're often shown in media. And for me, that was extraordinarily helpful to hear.

John: Oh, good.

Troy: Yeah. I mean, I think this has been just remarkable to hear your story, John, and it's led me to reflect a lot on that initial question we started with. How would you accept or how would you feel if you received a cancer diagnosis? And the simple fact is that half of men are going to get diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

In the last few years, several women in my life, family members, friends I know, have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have gone through chemo and gone through that process. And I think hearing your story, John, and then knowing their stories as well, I'm just so impressed with so many people and just the way they handle it with such grace and resilience. And like you said, they just keep pushing forward. They don't let it define them. And I hope if or when that day comes for me, I can do the same thing. So I appreciate you sharing that with us.

John: Oh, yeah. Thank you. And just to kind of add on, I received a lot of gifts going through cancer, met a lot of incredible people. And so there's always a silver lining.

Yeah, what I went through was tough, and it was miserable at times. But I think having a perspective that whatever the challenge you went through, there's always gifts to be seen and felt during those challenging times. I think that's definitely helped me a lot recognizing those gifts. However small they were or big they were, I never ignored recognizing and feeling those gifts that I got, whether it was friendships, meeting new people, support from my family and friends. Yeah, I don't need any more gifts.

Scot: Back to the top of the show, to echo on what Troy said, I think you've shown us a very . . . I don't have the word, but you've shown me at least . . . I can only speak for myself. You've shown me a way forward if I'm faced with something like this in the future. I think going into it, I had kind of a different opinion. So I do appreciate that.

You don't always have to be the bravest one in the room, you don't have to be the toughest one in the room, but you do have to say, "All right. Well, what can we do about this? How can we go? How can I not let this define me?" And I think those words will resonate.

So thank you for everything you've shared. I think this is going to be an incredibly useful episode to anybody that listens to it.

And if you have a story that you would like to share or a perspective or something that you took away, we would love to hear from you at That's

Thanks for listening, and thanks for caring about men's health. And thanks for being on the show, John.

John: Thank you. Very honored to be on, privileged to be on the show, and thanks for the opportunity.


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