In 2011, Don Konantz — an athletic, active 48-year-old, who loved participating in Ironman competitions — was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery, followed by drug protocols, hormone treatments, combination therapies and radiation. After completing treatment, Don was strong enough to dive back into his Ironman training sessions. But in late 2014, the cancer showed up again, and Don says he’s considered himself a cancer “swimmer” ever since.
“I don’t refer to myself as a survivor, because I’m absolutely still in the heat of it,” says Don, who is currently on three medications to combat and slow his cancer while under the care of Stand Up To Cancer-Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team member, Martin Gleave, MD, at the Vancouver Prostate Center in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I feel like someone’s thrown me a life raft, and I’m trying to get back on the boat,” he says. “I’m not on it yet, I’m still swimming through an uncertain and unwanted diagnosis, so for that reason I call myself a cancer swimmer.”
But Don is quick to point out that while his diagnosis comes with tremendous physical and emotional challenges, it’s also triggered profound and positive changes in himself and his life.
“I liken it to watching black-and-white TV,” he says, “and since 2011, I’ve been watching high-def color TV. I would never want to go back to standard black-and-white. Life has completely transformed on this side of cancer. I’m at the center of an effort now to slow down this disease, restrict it and ultimately, to cure it.”
Because of his cancer journey, Don says he has also become passionate about practicing gratitude in his daily life, which he discovered in an unexpected way. After his diagnosis, he decided to change everything in his life (“I even changed my pillows,” he says) including taking the bus to work, which led to an epiphany.
“I noticed that everyone was on their phones, and I decided to utilize my time differently.” Don began writing gratitude notes to people who have helped him along the way.
“I had a long list, and the more people I thanked, the more I realized I needed to thank,” says Don. “People would write me back, so happy and engaged, and I felt so good that I had a skip in my step when I got off the bus. I realized what a power engine gratitude is for happiness and well-being.”
“It’s impossible to be grumpy and grateful at the same time,” he adds. “What lies ahead of us or behind us is nothing compared to what lies within us.”
Running his own business is another source of gratitude for Don, who’s the CEO and owner of Hops Connect, which sells hops to breweries all across Canada. Hops Connect allows him to work with his family, who help him run the business.
“We’re just having so much fun,” says Don, who was excited to discover he’s been recently named a finalist for an Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Western Region of Canada. “Cancer is such a storm in a person’s life, so it’s important to have things which are steady and provide income and the fact that my family will be cared for is really, really important to me. It gives me enormous peace of mind.”
The more he’s able to give to others, the better he feels about himself, and his future.
“I think there’s a big pay it forward, and the more I give to people, the more awareness and funds I can bring to doctors who have compelling, underfunded research projects,” he says. “We will solve it. My thing is why not now? This is what I’m super motivated by these days.”
Don has continued to maintain a very active physical lifestyle. Though he’s traded in his Ironman workouts for yoga, long walks and swimming, he recently completed a 160-mile bike ride that helped raise $9 million for a cancer charity in British Columbia.
“I’m living powerfully with cancer,” he exclaims. “I’m a passionate advocate and patient for Stand Up To Cancer, and for the cause of cancer research.”