PATIENT PERSPECTIVES: Mindset Matters: Survive to Thrive

By: Tom Hulsey, Lived Experience Champion, Mary Crowley Cancer Research, ZERO Prostate Cancer, UT Southwestern Medical Center, North Texas Prostate Cancer Coalition | Posted on: 06 Apr 2023


I heard the words you never want to hear from my doctor on my birthday in 2015: you have prostate cancer (PCa). I’ve always been proactive with my health; that included an annual visit to see my urologist to get a PSA test and a digital rectal exam. It was a complete shock when I was diagnosed with PCa. I was overcome with so many emotions—anger, fear, and embarrassment. Most of all, I felt like a fraud. I had always advocated for a healthy lifestyle. I lived it my entire life—I was superman. Compounding my angst was the fact I had just witnessed my best friend lose his 4-year battle with PCa—it was gut wrenching. I did not want to go through what he went through. As a result, I was ready to give up and kept it inside and only told a few people. I was a typical guy and did not want to talk about a health issue, especially one that was below the belt. I suffered alone. Hindsight: it was a big mistake. I was mentally defeated.

Figure 1. 2022 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.


It took me over a year to talk about it. A friend who I did confide in knew that I was an IRONMAN (IM), and the motto of the IM is “anything is possible.” At that point I changed my mindset and set goals; those included being around to walk my daughter down the aisle and getting to the start line of another IM. Through my cancer and severe coronary atherosclerosis, I found a sense of higher meaning in my plight by switching from nursing my personal sense of tragedy to encouraging empathy for others. My journey has created a passion to help others battling life challenges. I used the skills and mindset required to compete in an IM to fighting 3 life-threatening illnesses. IM is a long day and is a metaphor for life; how you handle adversity is what defines you.

Figure 2. New York University (NYU) 2019 Sports Business Society Awards. Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau. Reprinted with permission from @Sorel.


As both a survivor and advocate, I am passionate about utilizing my lived experiences to fuel positive changes and impact the health of our world. Today, I am motivated to be intentional knowing I am providing hope and inspiration to those dealing with challenges in their life.

Quality of Life

Looking back, I realized one small but huge difference between my best friend and me regarding our outcomes with PCa was early detection. My friend missed just 1 year in getting his PSA checked and it cost him his life. My grandfather died from PCa, so I have been extremely mindful and diligent about yearly PSA testing. Being an 8-year PCa survivor, I know I owe those years to early detection.

PCa is a double silent killer because by the time symptoms present it is probably at a more advanced stage. In addition, men are not comfortable talking about PCa, which makes it in a way more deadly. One man’s story about dealing with PCa can lead to others being watchful and proactive about detecting the disease in their own bodies.