“ Open and honest communication between everyone, patient, family caregivers and health care providers, is the most important thing to grow and maintain healthy relationships.
Michael Lang is a mAss Kicking Thrill-Seeker from Canada! He is currently a Health Researcher at the University of Calgary while working on his MSc. in Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. In his spare time, he is the Director of Survive and Thrive Expeditions AND the Film Producer of “Wrong Way to Hope: An Inspiring Story of Young Adults and Cancer”, “Ebb & Flow: Storytelling for Cancer Survivors”, and Valleys: The Webseries. We first met him a few years ago at a conference in New York and have stayed in touch. We were very fortunate to catch him in some rare downtime and ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for hangin’ out Mikey! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
ML: I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in May 2008 when I was 25 years old.
mK: What were your symptoms?
ML: I was a ski patroller and adventure guide and started noticing that I was having a hard time breathing when climbing, hiking and skiing. I thought I had asthma but after 1.5 years of trying different asthma medications that didn’t work, the doctor decided to do a chest x-ray and found a grapefruit sized tumor in the middle of my chest. The tumor had compressed my lungs to 50% of their capacity and was starting to close off my windpipe. Apart from the breathing I also had some crazy night sweats, itchy hands and feet and was down to 118 pounds!?
mK: Whoa… Why did you get involved with advocacy? What exactly do you as an advocate?
ML: I got involved with advocacy when I realized that closing my eyes and waiting for cancer to be over so I could get on with my life, was not going to work for me. I was really angry and bitter about what had happened to me because I was doing everything right! I was eating well and was super fit… and I still got cancer. This bitterness started to destroy me emotionally and I realized that I had to engage with what was happening instead of hiding from it. So, as I was finishing up my treatments I planned a kayaking trip with 8 young adult cancer survivors from across Canada and found a film crew to follow us down the river. This turned into our first documentary film Wrong Way to Hope: An Inspiring Story of Young Adults and Cancer.
Since then I have made two more documentary films (you can watch them all here (www.survivethrive.org/films), continued to run adventure trips with young adult cancer survivors through our non-profit Survive & Thrive Expeditions(www.survivethrive.org), coordinate the CancerControl Alberta Survivorship Program, public speaking at patient and health care professional conferences all over North America and Europe and am also a full time Health Services Research MSc. student at the University of Calgary.
mK: Very cool! Who is your hero?
ML: My dad is my main heroes because he has lived his life in a very unselfish way. I general I really like people who are actively doing what they can to make the lives of people around them better.
mK: What motivates you?
ML: I have a very simple purpose on this earth, Love God and Love People. That motivates everything my wife Bonnie and I do as individuals and as a couple.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
ML: A month after finishing treatments my wife Bonnie and I took off to work on a sailboat in the Caribbean for 3 months to get away from the whole cancer thing. At the end of that trip we ended up in a tiny little town in Northern Trinidad and we spent a week hiking around the jungle and climbing big vines like Tarzan and jumping off waterfalls and watching massive turtles lay eggs in the beach and having bonfires at night. That week was the first time I really felt like myself again, enjoying life and new experiences like I had in the past.
mK: Wow! Truely going out and “living life”. What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
Cry – Watching other young adult cancer survivors cry when they are honestly sharing their story. I know how they feel to be that frustrated and disappointed with life.
Angry – Judgmental cancer survivors/professionals. The experience of cancer is fundamentally subjective and no one has a monopoly on the best way to live with it. Each person’s journey is unique.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
ML: One summer during University I spent four months hitch hiking around Asia, including six weeks in the Tibetan Plateau.
mK: Crazy! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
ML: Purposeless suffering. In the midst of treatments it felt like the whole thing was just a waste of the best years of my life. It all felt so useless and purposeless, with no meaning. Then one night, when I was at the complete bottom of despair, I felt a strong sense of peace come over me and I had the life changing realization that I needed to engage with what was happening to me. Everything that has happened since my cancer experience is a result of that one realization and I don’t think that I overcame this sense of purposelessness on my own. I believe that in that moment God reached down and comforted me and opened my eyes to a different way of viewing suffering, a different way of viewing life in general. I am not afraid of suffering anymore because I know that trials and difficulty connects you to other suffering people. There is no such thing as purposeless suffering for me anymore because every difficulty I face is just another opportunity to connect me with all the other people who have experienced the same things… and we can walk the journey together.
mK: You definitly found your purpose! What is your guilty pleasure?
ML: Movies. I love going to movies with my wife Bonnie even though it is really expensive in Canada. Sometimes we feel like sell-outs because we enjoy mainstream Hollywood movies so much…
mK: Movies are a great escape! Random question time… If you could have any super power, what would it be any why?
ML: Transporting. It would be so awesome to snap your fingers and be on a different continent. That is a cheap way to travel.
mK: I’d be careful abusing that power because “With great power comes great responsibility.” What do you like to do in your spare time?
ML: Hike to the top of big mountains and then ski down them… and basically every other type of fun sport you can do in the mountains. I just love to be in mountains and canyons.
mK: What are you up to now?
ML: Right now, I am working on our newest documentary, recruiting for our summer trips and also recruiting for my thesis research project which is evaluating an online, professionally facilitated synchronous online chat group for young adults with cancer in my home province of Alberta.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
ML: Open and honest communication between everyone, patient, family caregivers and health care providers, is the most important thing to grow and maintain healthy relationships.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
ML: As a child, I hated the outdoors. My parents would drag me on a hike once in a while and I absolutely hated it.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
ML: Make some time to Reflect, Refocus and Rebuild your lives in a way that is meaningful to you after cancer. It is important do these things if you hope to move forward in a healthy way… and if you need some help, come on a trip with us this summer and you will get to do all that and have a helluva good time in the wilderness!!
Michael Lang: International hitch hiker, Hollywood block buster movie fanboy, a man always on the go, proactive leader in the fight against young adult cancer, and all around nice guy! Check out Survive and Thrive to keep up with him!