Pat Wetzel On The Success of CancerRoadTrip & Inspiring Positive Change For Thousands

Amar Singh Rathore

 

Our audience is keen to read about the stories of people creating a difference in the world. Tell us about yourself and your area of work.

Let me start with CancerRoadTrip and the story behind it. CancerRoadTrip is part documentary and part (kind) reality TV. Each quarter we give an amazing healing retreat to 7 people who have been impacted by cancer (we call them Travelers) and we capture it on film for education and inspiration for the entire cancer community.

Over time, we are creating a documentary series that looks at health, happiness, and healing across different cultures. There are currently over 15 million Americans living post-cancer treatment. Our current medical system treats disease, sometimes very effectively, but it overlooks the long-term social, spiritual, and psychological issues that result from cancer treatment. That’s where the power of the story comes in. Stories have the power to move and inspire others. They offer heartfelt engagement by touching our souls. And that’s where healing begins.

 

 

The Story Behind CancerRoadTrip

CancerRoadTrip grew out of my own cancer experience. In 2009 I was diagnosed with supposedly incurable cancer (lymphoma).

As a result, I became intensely interested in what creates health. I started a website www.AntiCancerClub.com and I designed a technology platform that modeled and rewarded compassion particularly during long periods of illness or incapacity. The world, I thought, could do with a bit more compassion. I hired a company to develop the platform. Instead, they took all my intellectual property and registered it with the U.S. Patent Office as their own.

My lawyers informed me pursuing this would cost in increments of half a million dollars, take at least three years of my life and there was no guaranteed outcome. Intellectual property theft is common. I was beside myself over these events. My hair was falling out, not from chemo this time, but from stress. With the failure of the technology platform, I could not monetize the website. I had to lay people off. One person filed for bankruptcy.

And I was vomiting blood. My oncologist speculated on several possible new types of cancer and suggested numerous tests and scans. If the past was any indication of the future, I figured I had maybe 12-18 months before cancer would come raging back to stage 4. If it already hadn’t. I simply couldn’t take it anymore.

I sold my home, put everything into storage and hit the road. I had no idea where I would go or what I would do. I needed to work for a living, but all my efforts to bring this platform to reality had failed. And it had taken a part of my heart with it. And that’s when I started CancerRoadTrip.

It started as a simple travel blog. But somewhere along the way, I got to thinking, if I could have a CancerRoadTrip to heal, why couldn’t others? And that set me off on a path I never could have imagined.

 

 

Your brand is known as CancerRoadTrip. What does it stand for?

CancerRoadTrip is about health, happiness, and healing. It’s about the adventure of life through the lens of travel. CancerRoadTrip is also about potential. Like any good road trip, CancerRoadTrip is about the possibilities we encounter and the choices we make. What makes it poignant is that the people telling the story–the seven Travelers– have had to face their death and now, a new life, after cancer.

Cancer forces one to pause and perhaps re-examine life. Are you living the life you want? If you could start anew, what would you do? What matters to you? Where would you like to go on this road trip called life?

 

What inspired you to start the Anti-Cancer Club? Walk us through your journey behind the process.

In 2009 when I was first diagnosed there was so little information on complementary approaches to health with cancer. My doctors didn’t believe in the impact of diet on health, mind/body connections or even acupuncture. The answers I was receiving from my doctor were just not satisfactory.

The lack of information sent me on a quest for knowledge. How does one manage cancer treatments and side effects? How does one manage one’s mind? Where does one find some control in an utterly out of control situation? For me, the answers came slowly.

And I realized that others had to be seeking similar answers. And that’s how Anti-Cancer Club started.

 

You are a cancer survivor and a trailblazer for thousands of people who take inspiration from your work. Are there any major changes that have come in your life after you recovered?

I hesitate to say recovered because I live in the limbo of “remission”. To manage and extend this I consciously and actively engage with my health. I work out; I make smart food choices; I pay attention to my thoughts. Life post-cancer treatment has been full of all sorts of gains and losses. It’s a story of learning to be grateful, dealing with reduced capabilities, and about learning to let go of the old to find new ways forward.

Post-treatment, I have become interested in the mind/body connection and its impact on health. I have a daily meditation practice that has been life-saving. I am very grateful for the peace and sanity it has given me in an insane set of situations. Every day when I wake up, I find five things to be grateful for, then I meditate.

And there have been losses. Loss of friends and relationships that simply couldn’t survive the changes brought on by cancer. Perhaps one of the most difficult losses has been the introduction of physical limitations as a result of treatment. Tennis and skiing are no longer part of my life. This has had a huge impact, compromising my fitness and taking away my traditional social networks and activities. But given the serendipity of the road, when one door closes another always seems to open.

One day, walking the beach in Florida, I took a photo of sanderling. It’s not the greatest photo, but it was good for someone who had just picked up a camera and whose idea of photographic adventure was shooting aperture priority.

 

Figure 1 A Sanderling on the Beach

 

That one picture started me on a path to photography. Now two years later, I’m on my third Nikon, I just returned from a trip to Africa with a Nikon Ambassador, and I’m active in several photo clubs. I recently won a place in a photography class with a humanitarian photographer in Vancouver, Canada. And I had a photograph published in a magazine.

 

Figure 2 On the left, photographing Ngorongoro Crater with Nikon Ambassador Kristi Odom

 

Photography is a new adventure that is changing my life, allowing me to see, create and share the beauty I see in daily life and travel. And it probably would not have appeared if it wasn’t for cancer, loss, and the road trip that ensued.

 

A deep social stigma still runs around cancer. What is your take on that? What actions must be taken to destigmatize cancer?

I think the social stigma of cancer is about the fear of death. And death is something most of us just don’t want to be near. So we distance ourselves. And we protect ourselves through our actions and speech. Nearly all cancer patients have stories about the unintended but hurtful comments that come their way.

But nearly 40% of us will have a cancer diagnosis (American Cancer Society). So I think it’s time we start talking about this. I hope that through our film series, people will have a much more human and personal understanding of the issues brought up by cancer. And it is my hope that compassion can replace fear as our friends and families are diagnosed.

It is said that you can’t know light without knowing dark; you can’t know happy without knowing sad. Similarly, I would say that death is a part of life. And when we can start to understand that, it makes life that much brighter. It’s a discussion worth having and a sentiment worth sharing.

 

How have your travels changed your perception of life? How often do you travel now?

Travel is about experiential learning. The experiences, people, and customs one encounters on the road touch and change you. As Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”

And with fresh eyes, we see things anew. A new lens offers a new perspective. Once you experience that type of paradigm shift, there is no going back. The curiosity to explore the world just expands.

I’ve come to see life as something of a road trip. Whether it’s an exploration through travel, through the lens, or daily life, there is so much to experience and to learn. I hope to share that joy with others, both through the retreats and the film series.

CancerRoadTrip is an ambitious project. As a result, my current travel is limited, centering mostly around photographic trips and classes. The majority of my time is spent behind the scenes, raising money, giving talks, and making the film series a reality for 2020.

 

Your blog looks like an awesome place to be. What do you usually write about?

My blog is a story of my travels, interests, and experiences. And it’s a bit of reflection on life in general.

What started as a travel blog has grown exponentially. There’s now a growing photo gallery. Donations are coming in as people get involved in the film project. And behind the scenes, we’re talking to sponsors and groups to make the film series a reality.

Over time, I want to put the spotlight on others. There are so many great stories to be told. And I hope through film, travel and the blog, I can share them to connect and inspire others as they navigate life with cancer.

 

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to someone battling cancer/ or someone who is on a recovery?

Learn to live intensely in the present. In the present, there is no fear of the future and no reminiscing about the past. There is just now. What do you choose to make of it?

Overall, cancer demands great patience. Our bodies have been assaulted; our hearts and spirits tested. It often takes years to integrate a cancer experience and its aftermath into a new life path. And that life path may not be what you would have chosen. But you can evolve and find meaning, beauty, and purpose in a new life. Slowly but surely, I am doing it. You can too.

 

Twitter: @CancerRoadTrip

Instagram: @CancerRoadTrip

Pinterest: @CancerRoadTrip

Facebook: @AntiCancerClub

Home Page: www.CancerRoadTrip.com

Blog Link: www.CancerRoadTrip.com/travel-blog

 

Plus, you can be in the film credits. Click here to learn more.

 

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