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Write Your Own Story: Meet 2016 Recipient Andrew O'Bleness

11/01/2016 6:00 AM -

 

"I told myself when I got diagnosed that this is going to be a great story when I am in remission, write your own story and don’t let cancer bring that down." - Andrew

 


If there is one thing in the world you could change, what would it be and how would you do it?

I want to continually help the young people of our nation to not feel like they have to fit into a certain box for their life/ career. I was one that thought that I had to do a certain thing or be a certain type of person as far as jobs and careers, and it amplified my stress while making me feel a heavy burden to make sure that I get to that point in life. I find myself happier than ever having found my niche in what I am studying now, and feel that radiating through the rest of my life which I am so thankful for. I want to use my platform to help others pursue goals and aspirations that they are passionate about and instill in them that while it takes hard work to get there, a life that you want to lead is possible especially in today’s world. The changes that we would see around us if everyone was continually pursuing something they seek to become rather than settling on another thing, it would make for an exciting and more ambitious timeframe.

Where do you see yourself 5 years after graduation?

Five years after graduation, I want to have an established health clinic where I am able to think about how I can pivot to help people at a broader level if that opportunity arises. I want to be a father (maybe of more than one child), and have financial and time-specific freedom to pursue large dreams that will help others achieve their own goals. I hope to lead a life where everyday I am helping out people locally with their health, and setting out through tech and other resources to improve the health of the nation.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Call it intuition, spoken word, or what have you, sometimes we move towards something in life that we didn’t even know we should be pursuing. So, I believe that the chicken crossed the road to find something to better it’s life and make it more whole.

What makes you happy?

I am happiest around my wife, knowing that I currently am at the perfect time and place in my life, seeing new cultures/ traveling, and after a really tough workout

What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia- diagnosed June 16, 2014

How did the diagnosis of cancer rock your world?

I’ll never forget the night I was diagnosed, I was in an ER room with my wife (then fiance) and I felt everything stop when the doctor started talking about cancer. I realized that I wasn’t living life to the fullest, and that I did not want to let my fiancé (now wife) down. Upon diagnosis, I changed my career path, put the important things in life back in focus and manage stressors and everything else better, and realized that there are much bigger things ahead.

Describe the process of getting back into life after treatment.

It had been a little over a year after graduating from undergrad that I was diagnosed with cancer, so in reality it was a great chance to refocus and ask myself again “What do you really want to do?” I took a couple of part-time jobs to get my feet back below me a bit following diagnosis, while applying to grad school, because I realized that becoming a doctor and helping others out with their health is really what I was put on this earth to do. I enjoyed things so much more, although I wasn’t making very much I knew that we had enough, and that was all that we needed. Now in grad school, I am determined to make a difference with my life, and that fuels me every single day.

How has overcoming cancer made you stronger?

I was one that always thought I could ‘outwork’ something, whether that be for school, for athletics, or even when I wasn’t feeling well, I just always had the remedy of going to workout harder and ‘sweat it out’. I realized that I was missing a key point of emotional and mental strength, and that far outweighed any workout that I could ever complete. Now, I take the time to actually enjoy exercise rather than trying to outdo myself every time, and I know that it has it’s place but shouldn’t be something that I am worrying about constantly. I do however, feel the increase of my mental fortitude and the capabilities that I can be that I did not even know. Sometimes I think people think that I smile too much, or wonder if something is wrong with me, but in reality I have seen the valley for my own life and how sick I was (in every sense of the word, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally) that I know that I can be better than that and there is so much more to life than carrying stress around with me in every situation. Having cancer gave me the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate everything that is going on around me, and realize that there were so many things that were influencing me in a negative way. While I am still trying to improve my workouts and get back to where I was before diagnosis, more importantly I am stronger than ever in how I approach life, the goals and dreams that I aspire to achieve, and the how I can maximize out every minute of life.

Many people aren’t familiar with the financial, physical, and emotional toll when treatment is over. Describe your process of recovery after treatment spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

I often say that this is the second best (after meeting my wife) thing that happened to me was this diagnosis, based on how much I have learned from this experience with cancer, but I also don’t want to oversell the struggles that we had at that time. Upon diagnosis, my wife and I were both one year out of undergrad and were finding our footing in the professional world. I was working at a scientific research lab and at night was working on launching my own start-up, while my wife was working as a therapist with autistic children in the Charleston, SC area. We were loving life and having a lot of fun in our new city (Charleston) but I continued to feel worse, and worse. Upon diagnosis, it was an interesting time as I was nervous about what was happening and what the next steps of our life would be like, but I knew that I was not going to let my wife and our family down. I was inspired, and ready to do all that I can to beat leukemia. We chose to do an integrative approach to my care, which meant a lot of the costs would be out-of-pocket payments, and we had no idea how we were going to pay for it. Our families and friends hosted multiple fundraisers for us and we moved in with my brother- and sister-in-law to focus on my health. When those fundraisers were going on, I literally had goosebumps seeing people come up to me, donating to our cause and wishing us the best with treatment; I broke down to tears often not because I was worried or sick, but just how moving it was to have our respective small hometowns rally behind us and help us take on this challenge. I wasn’t fighting this for me, it was a team of my wife, our families, and all our friends that I carried with me everyday, and knew that there was a bigger picture than just me getting better.

Furthermore, now I want to be a ray of sunshine and positivity for everyone around us upon getting through that time in my life with cancer. With every post we make, conversation we have, or anything else, we always want to make sure we were smiling and saying something that is positive. The strength of my wife showed with this as she did so much for the both of us in that time that I will always admire in her. Financially, I am in graduate school looking at a loan of $175,000- 200,000 by the time I am officially a doctor, so the help of this scholarship for me is truly a huge relief. Emotionally, I am better than ever and have left so many of my burdens in the past and live every day to the fullest. And finally spiritually, this opportunity has grounded me much more in my faith and beliefs where I truly live in the moment more and am so thankful for all the amazing things in my life through these experiences.

What does it mean to have a support community during cancer treatment?

So much! Truly, I am one that gets inspired by those around me and hope to build up others as well. Like stated earlier, having our small hometowns literally rally around my wife and I was so humbling and motivating that I knew this was so much larger than me. The messages that I received from family and friends in that time are things that I will always cherish, whether it was a text, a call, note, or anything else, I realized that the influence that I can have by taking this cancer treatment with a positive attitude is one of the best ways that I could give back to them. A few times throughout the journey, I was talking to my family and said statements such as “I don’t know how I am ever going to pay all of these people back after this” and really had a tough time accepting money to fight leukemia because they were people that were very close to me. My brother-in-law (whose family had taken us in to help after the diagnosis) said to me that all I have to give back to everyone is be happy, healthy, and fight with all I have. It was so profound yet so simple, in that moment I had never felt more resolute about the plan and everything that was going on, and I am forever grateful for the care team at the clinic, the doctors, and of course my family that did so much for me in that time frame.

What does it mean to receive scholarship money to help you achieve your academic goals?

Being someone who constantly worries about making sure everything is paid for and we are able to live in our means (although I continue to try to improve on my stress relief skills) that when I got the call that I had received this scholarship, I felt my shoulders sink down and realized how much that had been weighing on me. I am so grateful to have received this scholarship, and will put it right to use to pay off some of the interest on my graduate school loans and for the books and clinic equipment that we have to purchase. Further, it shows that people believe in me to use this scholarship properly to give back in my own way in the future, and I am so excited for that chance. I have been given so much throughout my life and have been helped through my cancer adventure, that I will carry that motivation with me in every way in my life, and know that it will be a driving force for me when we are running our own clinic.

How has the MHH scholarship helped you?

At our school, most students have the same loan taken out and then may apply for a grad- plus loan where you get extra money to use for attending seminars, pay for materials needed for school, or anything else that may come up, so this scholarship helps me not have to take out the ‘plus’ loan and still live our lives. The grad-plus loan while great has an even higher interest than the typical student loan rate, so having this is truly saving us so much. Also, it gives us more of a chance to save anything that we can as we hope to purchase or build-out a clinic once we are out of school, which is a process in itself. I am so grateful that MHH believes in me and finds our story/ situation worthy of this incredible opportunity.

Top 3 things you are grateful for since remission.

I am grateful to wake up in the morning, symptom-free and ready for the day. I never take any day for granted now and don’t want to ever forget that feeling.

Finding my path in life. I was just launching my first startup when I got diagnosed, and it really proved to me that my true passion is becoming a doctor and helping out those that have gone through things like I have, or better yet improve their health so they never have to face that.

Having family, friends, and acquaintances ask questions about my health and ‘how we did it’ with the path that we chose for treatment. There was a girl that was a year younger than me that was diagnosed with something similar and followed my path with the integrative approach and the nutrition and mindset aspect of health as well. Hearing people say “I wouldn’t be here without getting to talk to you” is something I didn’t expect from this experience but it is so powerful and helps me stay focused on what I need to do in my own life. 


Top 3 life goals (places you’d like to visit, things you want to do, etc.)

Be a father. When I was diagnosed with leukemia, the doctors were fearful that I probably wasn’t going to be able to do so based on my state of health (not the exact thing you want to hear as a 23 y.o. male with your fiancé in the room). It was motivation to not just beat leukemia, but be healthier than I ever have been. Having accomplished that, whenever we think about children it will be even more gratifying to bring life into this world.

Be an innovator in the health and wellness world, helping both the patients that walk into our clinic but also on a larger scale helping people optimize their health and hopefully prevent diseases and sickness.

Build a life to where we experience all the beauty of the world. I hope we have freedom, whether you want to take that as financial, time, or any other way, to ‘clock- out’ on the stressors of life and continually connect with my life. 


Biggest take-away(s) from your cancer experience. 
We can conquer things that we may not even know are possible. While I set out to beat cancer and continue living my life, I didn’t know that it was going to be such a moving experience as far as inspiring me daily to be a better person. It is like I have a new shade of sunglasses on, more optimized, clearer, things are in fuller colors, etc. after cancer, and I am not going to let that go away. I am also realize how powerful a smile can be, whether it was the doctor who encouraged me to keep going with a smiling face or seeing another person in the clinic down that day and trying to uplift them with a smile knowing what they are going through. I am so invigorated to live life and want to extend that to everyone, regardless of what they have been through. 

 

Advice for other young adult cancer survivors.

Smile and let this be the best experience of your life. I told myself when I got diagnosed that this is going to be a great story when I am in remission, write your own story and don’t let cancer bring that down. Pick things that you want to live for, whether that be a person you care about or an achievement that you want, and stick to them; for instance, I was engaged when I was diagnosed, and I wanted to live to be the best husband that I could be, but also wanted to be in remission by our wedding date. Having those goals in front of me constantly kept my mind on the bigger picture while I worked daily to achieve the smaller goals.

Words to live by.

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” -Emerson


“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own things to derive benefit from his illnesses.” -Hippocrates

Any other comments about survivorship and resilience?

Life is beautiful, and everyone has so much to live for. Enjoy the process of healing and improved health while never forgetting the motivation to beat cancer.

Lastly, thank for your hard work for cancer survivors that are pursuing something special with their life and helping them accomplish their dreams through this scholarship. I am so grateful and look to organizations like yours for motivation knowing there are people out there doing special things.

 


More info on Andrew's Hero Powers here

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