I’m Deb Warren, a Bootcamper since January. Coach Carrie has asked me to share my complex story about what brought me to CrossFit.

I loved my grandfather. He must have known I was going to be the proverbial “work-in progress.” From the time I was 12, he started giving me a collection of books. Genres ranged wildly. From feminism, ESP, memory techniques and the “Power of Positive Thinking” to advertising, business, self-help—and yes, body building, with none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, after I gained my freshman 20. deb

The book he didn’t give me, however, was the “How to Beat Incurable Cancer” book. So I’ve had to apply all those other lessons my Grampa taught me. But how on earth did he know that all of these other topics would touch my life?

I more than dabbled in every bit of it. (Except for the one where I use weights and sweat, until now.) For decades, I’ve worked in advertising, learned to trust my intuition, vacillated between thinking I was Wonder Woman and thinking I needed a shrink. I’ve studied yoga, the mind-body connection, “The Secret” and all things metaphysical.

And over and over, I’ve read about the timeless wisdom of the body and how it innately wants to heal itself. I’ve also come to believe that we can bring about what we think about—how FEAR invites NEGATIVITY and how LOVE, gratitude and compassion invite POSITIVITY.

May marks my 5-year “cancer-versary.” 

So I’m celebrating life and my cancer with gratitude! Yes, I have an incurable blood cancer called SLL/CLL—with a nasty mutation (17p deletion) that will not respond to conventional treatments like chemo. But cancer doesn’t HAVE me, OWN me or DEFINE me. In fact, it’s probably the best thing that could ever have happened to me at this juncture.

As trite as it sounds, cancer has bestowed upon me a deeper opportunity to practice mindfulness and gratitude. I appreciate every day, every moment and every person who touches my life.

But after diagnosis, I didn’t completely come out of the closet with my illness. I had a 7-year-old daughter I wanted to protect from the “C” word. I made my confidants promise not to ask or talk about it in front of ANY children. I was on “watch and wait” status, meaning no treatment. As long as that was the case, there was no need to alarm anyone. For several years, I just had regular blood work to monitor disease progression. Things seemed to be going well.

Here comes the cancer coaster.

Last summer, when Zoe was 11, we had a huge health scare that forced us to tell her what was going on. Jake and I went to a CLL expert at The James Cancer Center at OSU for what we thought was a just a consult to inform us of new treatment options, if needed. (I always say “if” not “when” because the word “when” implies a sort of inevitability I won’t buy into.)

Alarmed at the size and nature of some recently-developed neck nodes, the OSU expert asked if I could stay for a PET scan. “What?” Jake and I were shocked. The doctor was concerned that I might have developed a new lymphoma on top of the CLL, or even worse, the deadly Richter’s Transformation. That entire week was filled with sleepovers for Zoe as we made trips back and forth to Ohio for blood work, a PET scan and a lymph node biopsy.  A sleepless week later, we got GOOD news! It was just more aggressive CLL that still didn’t warrant treatment/clinical trial. A few months later, the FDA fast-tracked approval for a breakthrough therapy we had been waiting for, an oral drug that offers patients like me hope, should the need arise. We felt such relief!

My local oncologist is surprised that I haven’t needed that drug yet. Statistically speaking, people with 17p are gone within a year of diagnosis. Last September, my doc said, (and I quote) “Deb, you should be dead by now. But look at you! You are doing so well!”

That comment was a life-changer.

So…do you take the “you-should-be-dead-by-now” comment as a compliment or an omen? As I wondered whether to thank my doc or smack him (verbally, of course) for planting the death idea in my brain, I found myself doing some serious self-inquiry. I reduced my hours at work, giving myself time for other priorities, at the expense of my finances and my Anthropology fashion fix.

Although I’ve always been a positive person, I’ve kicked that attitude into higher gear by envisioning my future—a long one, with purpose and gratitude—as if it’s a forgone conclusion. I do visualizations and occasional Reiki, which my doctor and I believe has helped. But I felt I had to do more. I had to back up my BELIEF in my continued health with ACTION—to show my body and the Universe (believing in assistance from above) that I love myself enough to take more control of my life.

So, although I’m not a runner, I joined The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon. My big goals were to GET MY BUTT IN SHAPE and RAISE FUNDS for LLS, whose very mission it is to fund the clinical trials that develop new therapies for blood cancer patients like me.

Serendipitously, I saw a Facebook post about CrossFit’s new BootCamp, coached by Carrie. That was it! Cross training! I thought, “I’m in. I’m scared. I’m intimidated. But I’m in!” And while I found every excuse in the book not to run during the harsh winter temps, I showed up for BootCamp #1, then #2 and now #3.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the ½ Marathon!

I discovered that I LOVE working out! I love/hate the intense burn, but then it’s over! I’m hooked. I’m stronger, more toned and more confident. And magically, this intense exercise gives me more positivity and energy like I’ve never had before. It carries me throughout the day, allowing me to be more focused and productive. It’s like the 1-hour I invest in each BootCamp class gives me an extra 2-3 hours of daily physical and mental productivity.

I’m using some of that excess energy to drum up LLS donations and to pay it forward by helping family and friends in need. I’ve been on the receiving end of so much love and support through my journey that I feel…worthy, and therefore responsible for helping others feel worthy, too. Helping people fuels me like another form of alternative medicine. It feels like a beautiful spark of energy, begging to turn into a flame. I guess my cancer story is part of my path—which it was meant to be. It’s humbled me. It’s awakened me. It’s challenged me to become a better person.

So, I’m inspired to help people understand that…

Life isn’t what happens to you. It’s what you make of yourself, in spite of it.

When bad things happen, there is often a silver lining. I choose to focus on the good stuff, set goals, lean into the wind and let it carry me. I made it my goal to be the #1 fundraiser for Team in Training. And thanks to the generosity of so many people, I am doing my part to help save lives.

And thanks to CrossFit, I am boosting my immune system—while elevating my outlook even more. To say that it’s been a “transformational experience” is an understatement!

At my 3-month checkup last week, my doctor reported, “Deb, your blood work is better today than in January. And your lymph nodes have gone down since then, too.” (HA! The new thing I added to my positivity toolbox in January was CrossFit!) My doctor half-jokingly said, “Deb, you can’t keep this stuff secret. You should share your magic with others.” So that’s the plan.

But, full disclosure: I’m a cheater.

Last Saturday, after 3 months of avoiding the group runs with Team in Training, I decided it was now or never. Their plan was 10 miles. I put my fears aside and showed up. I introduced myself, saying, “I won’t be able to go all 10 miles with you. I’ve never done more than 6-7.”

They replied, “Oh! You’re Deb Warren. You are kicking fundraising butt. What’s your secret?” I emphatically said, “I CHEAT. I have blood cancer.” They realized it was ok to laugh with me. After chatting, it was time to run. Luckily, there was a Galloway runner in the group. I tried it and found this run-walk-run method quite manageable. I went the distance—all 10 miles. Holy cow! I was shocked. I was proud and so grateful. I wanted to show up at Carrie’s house and give her a big, sweaty hug.

I totally credit my months of BootCamp for this accomplishment! While I hadn’t been running regularly until a couple of weeks ago, my CrossFit training is what gave this former couch potato the strength and endurance to blow away my own preconceived notions about what I could and couldn’t do.

When the mind and body are aligned, amazing things can happen!

I believe that you are your own spark—your own light to share with the world. You can assist in your own healing. You can help create your own future by expecting good things—and allowing your mind to overcome the naysayers and your own self-doubt. By not dwelling on what’s already happened (since you can’t change it anyway) you can envision a new life.

Finally caring enough about myself to exercise is the metaphorical equivalent of putting the airplane oxygen mask on first, before assisting others. I need to be at my absolute healthiest in order to be there for others, especially our daughter, Zoe. By watching me reach my goals, I hope she will get a deeper sense for what it means take care of her own mind and body, have gratitude, a sense of purpose—and go for it!

So, on Sunday, May 3rd, with Team in Training, I am literally RUNNING FOR MY LIFE—and the lives of 1.1 million Americans (like me) with blood cancer. 

(P.S. Hey Grampa – I’m sweating now. But I’ll NEVER sweat the big stuff! XOXO)