Michael is the kind of person that sucks you into his energy vortex. In a good way. It’s a whirlpool of authenticity, zest, and creativity. Yet, Michael will be the first to admit, his vortex swirls with some fear.

It was partly because of his anxiety, post cancer diagnosis, that he came to the meditation cushion at Above and Beyond Cancer’s Meditation class. It was in that dimly lit, cork-floored room with the circulation vents humming that I met Michael. He was months into the throes of chemotherapy. At age 31 he shared his cancer journey with me- two simultaneous and different cancers. He pondered why a triathlete, vegetarian and optimistic and healthy young man was given this path. I didn’t have any answers. Who does? What I did feel, was his ability to see this through. Not just see it through, but dissect it, uncover it, process it, defeat it, and come to peace with it. I sensed meditation was his friend in that quest.

“I believe in meditation. My best moments since cancer have been from moments when I was daily practicing meditation”

Michael isn’t just a survivor in the cancer club. He is an entrepreneur (founding RipRoar Events), a husband, a friend, and a son. He is a father of Theo, a smiley and curious toddler. Being a new parent he says “carves out part of you like nothing else can, that opens and expands me like nothing I have ever known.”

He explains, “on good days I tell myself that being a survivor and going through tough times gives me a lens for going through life that others may not have. Cancer gives you more colors to add to your palette, life isn’t black and white anymore.”

Michael became active with Above and Beyond Cancer programming after his diagnosis. In addition to attending Meditation Class, he trained with a team of 39 caregivers and survivors to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2017. He insists the transformational journeys Above and Beyond Cancer leads are “damn hard” and summit day was the most difficult physical challenge he has endured. He likes the challenges and believes in the importance of having them in our life.

“For me, Above and Beyond Cancer is a connection and a community. It’s the antithesis of pity.”

However, not every moment is a good moment. “Cancer set off a spark of not trusting my body. And that spark led to the raging fire of constant anxiety that makes me wonder if I’m healthy. On the bad days I get really fed up with people whose bodies work.. abusing them or not appreciating them. The truth is, and always has been, that I would give up my title of cancer survivor faster than anything else.”

Michael openly admits an increased anxiety because of Covid-19. His immunity is compromised due to his type of cancer treatment and shares, “I haven’t hugged my parent’s since February.” He is diligent about minimizing his exposure and that helps calm his anxiety some. He explains Covid for the general public is kind of what cancer is like. The unknown for how long the daily sacrifices will last, the feeling of not being able to plan for the future and having something to look forward to.

Despite the anxiety and “bad days” Michael shares he still finds adventure in every day. Adventure in little things like biking to work. “It’s hard to waste a day,” he says. Michael is using his creative leadership skills to juggle his home grown business, RipRoar, during these trying times. Michael is organizing our second annual Elevate Festival and managing extra precautions to ensure a safe and uplifting event for the community. The Elevate Festival brings life to a new kind of triathlon, this one includes yoga, meditation and a 5k.

Michael also serves on the Board of Directors for Above and Beyond Cancer. He offers the perspective of a young cancer survivor and advocates for AYA programs. He sees his role as an energy giver, which he clearly is. It’s evident by the way a Zoom call lights up when his face hits the screen. Michael says, “I’d like to see Above and Beyond Cancer continue to make Iowa the best place to fight cancer.”

“If you are so unfortunate to be diagnosed with cancer, the upside is it happened to you in Iowa, and because of that you get access to these programs and your journey will be made so much better. The community you surround yourself with will be motivated and the light of the end of the tunnel will be much brighter because of Above and Beyond Cancer.”

Above and Beyond Cancer’s Mission to Elevate the Lives of People Touched by Cancer is brighter and clearer because of Michael Zimmerman. His vortex of energy allows others to find more authenticity and adventure. He reminds us the sucky parts of cancer are real, and they don’t have to define you.

Mary Van Heukelom is the Program Director for Above and Beyond Cancer and Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer. Want to get involved, volunteer, or learn about our virtual and social distanced outdoor programs? Contact me 515–669–9879 or email mary@aboveandbeyondcancer.org

Mary is the co-creator and leader of Cancer Survivor Programs in Central Iowa. She is a yogi, nature enthusiast, and ornery mother of two and a pooch.