Inspiring Stories

Joan Janek, 67: Mastering Fear

Welcome back to this special series featuring the stories of the Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes as they pursue their fitness goals in 2020.

Joan’s story is the second in the series; check out the first one here. Joan is an occupational therapist, a PTSD survivor, and a three-time cancer survivor, and she’s sharing about how learning to trust herself and her body through a grueling Outward Bound experience gave her a renewed commitment to health in 2020.

“In 1994, I signed up for an Outward Bound event taking place at their home base on Hurricane Island, off the rocky coast of Maine. It was for survivors of PTSD or cancer. At the time I signed up, I was healing from my PTSD with the help of great therapists. But I didn’t know that my first bout of breast cancer was brewing.

What an experience Outward Bound was to help me gain the skill of believing in myself! In order to get ready for the event, Outward Bound advised us to practice running or swimming in an Olympic-sized pool, doing 10 laps 3 times a week. I chose the latter, swimming. It was extremely challenging, but I did it!

So off I went to Outward Bound in Maine. We had to carry backpacks that weighed 50-75lbs, climbing steep terrain and crossing brooks with the packs on our back. Oh my god, I thought. This is boot camp. What have I done? After pitching our tents and hoisting our food up trees to protect them from wild animals, I slept from exhaustion. And that was only the first day.

Our all-female group was also going to learn how to climb cliffs and rappel down a mountainside. You’ve got to be kidding. Really? I thought. This was an all-day event: practice, practice, in order not to die. I learned how to trust in my partner to control my rappel—and I DID IT.

The following day, we canoed to an island to pitch our tents, surviving not being carried off by the troops of mosquitoes. We stayed here for 3 days, canoeing the lakes during the day—and bumping into mama Moose and her baby! Boy, we got out of there fast. Again, I slept from exhaustion.

“The mind is a powerful healer, and a powerful overcomer of adversity.”

Joan Janek

The last few days, I walked a ropes course 25-50 feet off the ground, climbing from tree to tree, thinking trust, trust, trust your partner to hold the belay. The last but not least of my hurdles was bungee-jumping off a 100-foot tree, high up in the air. It took some people an hour to jump down. But they did it.

I was no longer thinking Oh my god, I can’t do this. Now it was, I AM doing this. There were screams, tears, and laughing.

Let me tell you: there were a lot of fears, a lot of I can’t do this, all the while thinking, what’s next? But we did more than survive the event. We became believers in ourselves. We overcame our fears one moment at a time.

What I did not know was that this Outward Bound event would help me later in a fight for my life.

Just a year after my Outward Bound experience, at age 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had just purchased a 2-family Victorian home that I was hoping to rent out and that I’d need to keep up with. I learned to take one day, one moment at a time, as I had done at the Outward Bound event. Can I do this? Is this possible? I thought. Still, I never thought of death once—only of daily walks in my new neighborhood and planting a garden in my new home. Outward Bound and showed me how to persevere one day, one moment at a time. To know that I can do this, and to never give up.

I got through my breast cancer, but in 2010, I was diagnosed with lung cancer in my right upper lobe, and I had a lobectomy. Again, my life experiences taught me to see what I could do to build up my immune system. Again, I thought, Never give up. Never give up.

I continued to walk a mile every day, doing cleansing breathwork—4 breaths in, 6 breaths out. I drink a glass of Rishi tea each day, which I steep directly from the dried mushrooms. I meditate each day, thinking of abundance in my life. The mind is a powerful healer, and a powerful overcomer of adversity. Yes, I’ve had a second bout with lung cancer, but they’ve also been removed. Now I’m watched very closely by my MDs at Yale’s New Haven Hospital. I visit Yale for a check-up in 6 months. Wish me luck!

I’ve learned from Outward Bound 25 years ago to never give up. To take one breath, one moment, one day at a time. I’ve learned many things, too, from the teacher cancer: Believe in yourself. Take safe risks. Eat healthily and more alkaline for your body. Build up your immune system, safely. Exercise at least three times a week.

This year, I’m hoping to take my physical journey to the next level. Right now, I walk daily and do Jane Fonda aerobics on my Smart TV via YouTube. I’m interested in joining a dragon boat racing team, and I know I’ll have to build up my stamina for it.

Happily, I have a survivor’s story, and I’m so proud to be a senior athlete with Senior Planet.”



7 responses to “Joan Janek, 67: Mastering Fear

  1. Thank you, Joan, so much for sharing. I am writing to let you know that by reading your experiences, you are sharing your strengths with me. And, for that, I truly thank you for motivating me, also. I’ m sending you a big hug of energy. Gail

    1. Gail thank you. I am sending you a huge balls of energy. And I’m glad that my story is motivating you. It’s such A good feeling to know that your truly trying to take care of yourself. Then you have to let the rest go Up to the heavens.

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