Tag Archives: Survivor

Far Better To Dare Mighty Things


One of my favorite quotes in the world is Theodore Roosevelt’s, “Far Better to Dare Mighty Things”.

“Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy nor suffer much, in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

No one on earth lives this wisdom more than one of our Project Athena “Survivors”, Alli Morgan. I created Project Athena to help women survivors of medical or other traumatic setbacks achieve their adventurous dreams.

When Alli was 15 years old, she tore her ACL in a soccer game. She went in for a routine surgery to fix her ACL and was progressing toward recovery until she faced intense pain and couldn’t advance further in her therapy. It was discovered in an x ray that a screw was lodged in the joint and the replaced ACL was too long. So she underwent a second surgery to correct the first. A few weeks after her second surgery, a staph infection set in, and her surgical wound refused to close. The ligaments and hardware in her knee became septic and were removed, but the infection continued to spread.

Over the next four years, which were spent on crutches, Alli endured over 40 surgeries and spent a collective 15 months in the hospital, missing college. To literally add insult to injury, her leg had become irrevocably locked straight, and no surgeon could provide her with an answer about whether she would ever be able to bend that leg or walk again. So at the very young age of 20, Allie decided to make a very brave decision to avoid the “gray twilight” her life had become, and she dared to do a very mighty thing.

She decided to become an elective above the knee amputee to gain her life back. She applied for a grant to become one of our Project Athena “Athenas” for the Keys to Recovery Adventure, which is a kayak and bike ride from Key Largo to Key West. She completed all 120 miles of that journey in 2012 surrounded by a supportive group of fundraising gods and goddesses in and crossed the finish line with her new bionic leg and her new life. She’s now a member of the US Paralympic Skeleton Team.

For me, Alli truly embodies Theodore Roosevelt’s Far Better To Dare Mighty Things quote, because she knew that there would be fear, failure, and pain along the way….but a far bigger fear for her was to take rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy much nor suffer much in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. She knew her life would be harder in many ways, but as she said in an interview, “I didn’t know if I was going to get my life back or what would ultimately happen, I just knew I had to try”. Brave words, from a brave young lady who would much rather have victory or defeat than what ifs.

So what is your gray twilight? How are you in limbo in your life? It’s time to channel your inner Alli Morgan and dare mighty things!

Robyn Benincasa is a World Champion Adventure Racer, 3x Guinness World Record Kayaker, San Diego City Firefighter, 10x Ironman Triathlete, sought-after leadership speaker, New York Times Bestselling author of ‘How Winning Works’, proud owner of 2 bionic metal hips, and the Founder and CEO of The 501c3 Project Athena Foundation, which helps survivors live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery. In her spare time, Robyn’s favorite hobby is inspiring people to do insane, life affirming things like run their first triathlon, start their own business, hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, or kayak and ride 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West. For more information visit www.robynbenincasa.com and www.projectathena.org.

Care Connects WWII Survivors and Syrian Refugees to Bring Happiness

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As of almost 1 year ago, there were more than 4 million Syrian refugees, a number that increases daily as conflict grows across Europe. Babies are being born in refugee camps. Children are experiencing years meant for exploration, imagination and fun in a landscape that is scary, violent and often times changing moment to moment. They’ve experienced loss at far too young an age but they are not alone in this.

Care is an organization responsible for sending care packages to children affected by WWII. If anyone understands even a margin of what modern children in war-torn nations are experiencing, it is the survivors of WWII who are now being recruited by Care to write letters to children receiving packages today. Care was created in 1945

Does he go to school? Does he have a father? Does he have something to play with? I never played as a kid.
-WWII Survivor And Letter Writer

The first 20,000 Care packages reached the shores of France in 1946 and 70 years later, Care packages are still arriving on far off shores. Today those Care packages include letters from alumni who seek to help children feel known, heard and understood in this time of crisis. Watch their story: Continue reading

Rock Stars: How the Story of the 33 Chilean Miners Breaks All the Rules

 When US Air 1549 splash landed on the Hudson River last year, the entire drama took only six minutes from initial impact with a flock of geese to touchdown on the water. All 150 passengers survived thanks to Capt. Sully Sullenberger and his crew. It was plane crash with a happy ending. In the annals of survival stories, what could be better?

Now we know the answer: A mine disaster with a happy ending.

In so many ways, the Chilean story is like US Air 1549 played out in super slow motion. Instead of six minutes, it took 69 days.

The saga of Los 33 is by far the most exceptional and unusual story that I’ve encountered in my research on who lives (and who dies) in extreme situations. The so-called "Miracle of San Jose" has many of the time-honored features of survival epics going back to the Shackleton Expedition of 1914-1917. But then it breaks all the rules.

To be sure, the first 17 days of the mine disaster followed the prototypical pattern: 33 isolated and desperate men battle for survival with a dwindling food supply and little chance of getting out alive. Above ground, the frantic search is going nowhere. In desperation, the government reaches out to four psychics who survey the scene and announce there is no hope.

"Forget it," they say. "They’re all dead."

Underground, the men subsist on 2 bites of tuna, a cracker, and a swig of milk every 48 hours. When they are finally located, they are reportedly down to their last two tins of tuna.

In the following 52 days, after a supply line is set up, the story departs from every tradition. Yes, there is great danger – will the earth shake and the mine collapse again? – but the timeless survival saga quickly morphs into something very different: A new-fangled reality (or perhaps "surreality") TV show with life and death stakes.

A few examples:

  • Instead of a small vigil at the site of the disaster, the whole world fixates on this story. Even Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber follow the rescue. Kardashian tweets: "Wow seriously in tears watching this Chilean miners getting released on CNN. What a tough struggle they made it through!!!" Bieber adds: "Just found out the miners of chile are being rescued!!! happy for the families being brought back together. miracles do happen."
  • Instead of being confined in a cramped, caved-in space or pinned by a boulder – like Aron Ralston who sawed off his arm to escape death – these miners can roam. Indeed, one miner (a fitness addict) reportedly ran six miles a day through the tunnels.
  • Instead of scrawling farewell messages in the dark as oxygen runs out, these miners receive media training from a public relations specialist in order to prepare for the avalanche of attention when they surface.
  • Instead of starvation (or cannibalism), these miners eat empanadas, rice with minced meat or chicken, barbecued steak, sandwiches and yogurt, along with special nutritional supplements.
  • Instead of wasting away, these miners exercise and slim down deliberately to fit into the narrow rescue capsule.
  • Instead of the terror (or tedium) of extreme isolation, these miners watch live soccer games on a projector via fiber optic cable, gamble in a "casino," and communicate regularly by telephone with rescuers, family, friends and a psychologist.
  • Instead of abandonment, these miners receive a steady stream of gifts from above including a signed soccer jersey from one of Spain’s World Cup superstars.
  • Instead of turning against each other, these miners reportedly ask an attorney to write an agreement for them to share equally in the proceeds of selling their story.
  • Instead of looking haggard, wild-eyed or deranged, these miners are shampooed, shaved and (shoe) shined.

To be clear, none of this is meant to diminish what the 33 endured in their subterranean Hell. No human beings have ever survived underground for so long. Surely, we have no idea of their horrors and hardships. And we all await every single detail.

Los 33 command our attention – and bring tears to our eyes – for so many reasons. Thirty three men rise from the dead. They’re reborn into the world. They’re reunited with families, friends (and mistresses). And now, they can breathe free.

It’s a suspense thriller, psychological drama, love story and wish-fulfillment fantasy all at once. And now, we get to follow these men on a roller coaster ride to an unknown destination.

Does posttraumatic stress disorder lie ahead? For most, the answer is no. They will be fine. For some, there will be surely be flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness, and anxiety.

Does Hollywood beckon? Definitely.

Will dreams come true? Absolutely.

Consider Edison Pena, a 34-year-old Elvis Presley fanatic who reportedly led other miners in sing-alongs underground.

From the start, Pena’s family seems to have grasped the possibilities, sending a note of encouragement to him underground with a photo of Elvis attached.

"Hang in there," they wrote, "because soon you’re going to be more famous than Elvis."

They may not be entirely right about his fame, but they weren’t wrong about the opportunities.

Presley Enterprises in Tennessee has offered Pena and his family an all-expenses-paid trip to Graceland. Says a spokesman: "When he feels up to it, we’ll welcome him . . . with open arms and make him feel like a rock star."

Photo: Flickr CC//thomaswanhoff



Life After Cancer: Moving into Survivorship

Two-time survivor and filmmaker Lori Benson shares her advice about making the transition from treatment to the rest of her life.

My last chemo treatment was harder than I imagined. Not because of the drugs I was getting, but because I would be moving on from active treatment into my life as a cancer survivor, just hoping to survive. When you’re actively getting treatment, there’s no time to get anxious about the cancer returning; you figure the chemo is killing any cancer cells that might be floating around. And yes, all the doctors’ visits were a hassle, but it was comforting to be examined so frequently.

As crummy as getting chemo was, I was surprised when a new sort of anxiety set in a few weeks after I finished my last treatment.  The “what if?” anxiety hit: What if it recurs? What if I get all those dreaded long-term side effects? What if my daughter has the gene (my biggest obsession)? I started focusing on all the things that were on the back burner while I was in treatment. Now what, I thought?  In some ways, the real healing started here.

Now was the time to transition back to “normal” but what was that?  To be like my old self? My old self had two breasts. My old self did not live with the fear of dying young from breast cancer. My old self had straight hair before chemo (it grew back super-curly). Normal was looking at my daughter and the beautiful life she has a head of her. Now, often I look at her and wonder if there will be a cure for breast cancer when she’s older. I look at her and ask myself I am doing everything I can to protect her future.

The transition into life after cancer was the transition into accepting that so much of what we think we can control we actually can’t. And one thing is for certain: There is no going back. I can’t rely on the comfort of the old and so I realized I had better make myself stronger because life was definitely not going to get any easier. But I figure if I continue working hard and being honest with myself, I may just get a little wiser.

I am a two-time cancer survivor. I can be proud of that. I’m here. That’s a good start for looking ahead. To quote my boyfriend Tom Paul in a song he wrote, “Hallelujah! I am alive!” I say yes to that. Hallelujah, I am alive.

I say yes to doing my best to accept life’s uncertainty. And wasn’t that the Eureka moment I claimed for myself at the start of this journey — that it’s ultimately a positive thing to come face to face with the only other absolute thing that will happen in life? Maybe I was just kidding myself, because I’m still scared. But I do know that NOW is the time to appreciate this precious time we have on earth. Now. Because there is no other time. It’s the simple moments that must be appreciated, the everyday moments. I get that. I know that. I will remind myself of this and take the advice I am offering here for myself on the days I need a reminder (which is probably every day).

So honor your journey, remember how far you’ve come and honor yourself for being so brave. Acknowledge the strength and the hard work it took to get where you are now. You toughed it out, made it through the surgeries, got to the end of treatment and hair loss and are on the other side. And here you are. Intact. A whole person. Congratulations.

Here are a few other things that have helped me transition from patient to thriving survivor:

  • Remember that every little ache and pain is not cancer.
  • Take one day – and one moment – at a time.  Be in the moment and remember that the highs and the lows are a part of life. On a low day try to find a way to see the beauty in one thing and focus on that as long as you can.
  • Smile. I just read that research has found that smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood for the better. It just feels good to smile, too, so do it often!
  • Giving is receiving. You’ve been through it all and you have no idea how much someone just starting out would love to hear from you and receive your knowledge and wisdom.  It feels so great to share the experience, knowing I am helping someone; I think it actually helps me heal. I recommend reaching out. You will receive in gratitude and good feeling more than you can imagine.  Your story could be thing that helps someone else get through their cancer journey.

I have discovered in my own life, that there is so much comfort in letting people in and being reminded that I am not alone. Sharing my experience has helped me heal enormously and I am grateful for those who have offered me blessings for good health and who have shared their stories with me as well.

I think the most powerful part of  sharing stories has been in having the conversation about the more universal truth in life: That, cancer or no cancer, we all must live with uncertainty and accept the discomfort of not knowing what lies ahead, and that we cannot control the inevitable.

The key, I guess, for those of us living with a cancer diagnosis, for those of us who live closer to the discomfort of the unknown (as we get our constant check-ups and blood work and panic over every little ache), is to learn to embrace life more fiercely, and if possible, consider the gift of consciousness that cancer has brought us, as an opportunity to live a more fully realized life.

I would like to close by offering a blessing to all of you who came to read and share your own heartfelt stories. With intention and love, I want to share a sweet, simple line in a song my daughter Talula just wrote:  “Life is beautiful, life is beautiful, every day, I choose my way, life is beautiful.” 

Lori Benson is the director of “Dear Talula,” a documentary chronicling her experience with breast cancer Since her film aired on HBO in October 2007, Lori continues traveling the country sharing her story. To learn more about Lori and Dear Talula visit www.deartalula.com

Visit Breast Cancer: Healing the Whole Woman to read all of our breast cancer content.   

Fear of Reoccurrence

It’s been quite awhile since I wrote a blog post on this site. I’ve been busy with my life and running Pink-Link. My two kids are pretty much grown (19 and 16) and I’m starting to feel the "empty nesting" stage creeping up slowly. I’m looking forward to that stage in my life, 3 years from now, but as a cancer survivor still have that nagging fear of reoccurence and the thought that "maybe I won’t be around." I

I’ve been cancer free for over 5 years now and feel great. I exercise more than I’ve ever before and eat healthier as well. I recently put a water filtration system in my home so I’ve gotten rid of all the "plastic" water bottles, so I’m greener to boot!

 So, things are going well, but every once in awhile, the fear rears it’s ugly head and I have to remind myself that I’m still taking a proactive stance on my cancer and will continue to do so. My survivorship plan is in place with bi-annual mammograms, a yearly MRI, quarterly visits to the breast surgeon and oncologist as well as taking Tamoxifen daily. That makes me feel better.

If you’re a survivor, talk to your oncologist about creating a survivorship plan to help combat your fears.

Hug the Monster: 4 Secrets of Surviving the Recession

In the remote forests of Washington state near the Canadian border, where the air force teaches its aviators to survive in hostile environments, the instructors hate the sunshine. They like it cold, wet and miserable. Rough weather, they say, makes the best pilots and survivors. Adversity is the best teacher. Stripped of every comfort and left to their wits, the pilots are forced to think, adapt, and make a plan.

The same goes for the sinking economy. Survival means adapting quickly and forging new plans. Tough times also create opportunities for those who can change their attitudes and actions. For the past few years, I’ve explored the secrets of the world’s most effective survivors and thrivers while researching and writing The Survivors Club. I met people slammed by life who managed to recover, repair and rebuild. Along the way, I spent some time at the air force’s SERE school in Spokane, Washington, where survival specialists teach men and women how to survive, escape, resist and evade in extreme situations.

The basic lessons of survival school apply to all kinds of adversity, like vanishing jobs, foreclosed homes and disappearing 401(k)’s.

1. Situational Awareness. The military acronym is S/A and it means knowing what’s going on around you and being able to act. Are you alert to threats to your survival and what’s your plan and backup if everything goes to hell? In this tough economy, many of us don’t have much S/A. We see the grim economic headlines but don’t change our behavior. We refuse to open our 401 (k) mailings because we don’t want to see the wreckage. S/A means facing reality. It means recognizing that as many as three million jobs will be lost in the next year – or 340 pink slips every hour. Nearly half of America’s households are underfinanced for retirement. The average retirement account has lost a third of its value in the last year; collectively, some $2 trillion in retirement savings have been erased. Sure, many of us may realize this, but the air force guys know there’s a big difference between awareness and action. It’s not enough to notice your wing is on fire. You need a plan. When it comes to a crisis or emergency, experts say that as many as 80 percent of us freeze and fail to act. We wait for an authority figure to tell us what to do. If you want to survive, you to take action. Quickly.

2. Hug the Monster. It’s pretty scary to watch your 401 (k) disappear. Worse is letting your fears run wild. Neuroscientists say that the fear of losing money can activate the same alarms in the brain that go off when we’re attacked, unleashing neurochemicals that can wreak havoc on clear-thinking and decision-making. The Air Force calls this "analysis paralysis." What to do? Instructors tell trainees to hug the monster: grab hold of their fears, wrestle with them, and turn them into motivation. Grapple with your fears and they become more familiar to you. Soon, those fears can become your allies and help you survive and thrive.

3. Eat an Elephant One Bite at a Time. Survival is one big ornery animal, and if you try to swallow a 15,000-pound pachyderm in one gulp, two things can happen. You’ll either give up or you’ll get really bad indigestion. The key is to slow down. Take one small bite. Chew. Swallow. Then take another. Using different language and metaphors, nearly every survivor described the same method: Divide unwieldy challenges into achievable tasks. One goal at a time. One decision at a time. One action at a time. Before you know it, you can make real progress. The military acronym is STOP: Stop, think, observe, plan. Follow those steps in a financial crisis, and soon, you’ll be moving deliberately in a better direction.

4. Know Yourself. In the end, experts say, the best survival kit is right between your ears. So use it. It also helps to know your Survivor IQ. How do you behave in a crisis? What are your strengths (and weaknesses)? Working with a team of personality testing experts, I developed the Recession Survival Quiz that gives you a glimpse of your Survivor Type and matches you with top business leaders who share your strengths. The free and fast quiz also points you to some of the best resources and guides on the Web for dealing with unemployment, credit and debt problems, and other financial challenges.

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