Cancer survivor, community builder and artist Steven Csorba, challenged the conventional approaches to battling cancer. In fact, his goal was not to beat cancer but instead to simply focus on helping others and to do so in the biggest way he could through a powerful “me to we” belief system of giving back, self-improvement and inspiring others. He also used arts in medicine therapy and trained like an Olympic athlete to elevate his immune function to overcome a disruptive 10-year battle and rehabilitative process.POWERFUL WORDS. POSITIVE DISRUPTION.
My mom died of cancer when I was 16. She was only 37. At 38, I was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer. As a lifetime non-smoker it was shocking news. When you hear those words, “you have cancer” what you actually hear is “you’re going to die”.
The reality of what followed next – a 14-hour radical neck dissection surgery – was scary. They cut through your jaw, down through your throat around both sides of your neck then peel your face off , crack your jaw and swing open half of your face. After theyremove and margin out the cancer, they rebuild your throat using parts of your left forearm. My entire face is held together with 249 permanent staples and a titanium plate fused across my lower jaw.
All of this was the easy part. Seven weeks of radiation treatments left severe burns to my face and inside my throat. I was in a lot of pain. Swallowing water felt like swallowing knives. Morphine became a staple in my diet. Eating was almost impossible, everything tasted like wood with the added risk of choking to death just trying to get food down. I lost over 70lbs, couldn’t work and eventually lost my disability pay because my insurance company had some “business obligations” to meet and said I was just fine.
Treatment and side effects for this type of cancer leaves patients with severe long-term issues. For me, it was 10 more life-disrupting surgeries over the course of 8.5 years to rebuild my jaw from the radiation damage. Dysphagia, another permanent side effect, makes it difficult to sleep at night. It took years to learn how to speak again.
The list goes on.
———• • FOR ME, IT WASN’T ABOUT BEATING CANCER – IT WAS ABOUT HELPING OTHERS.
For a lot of cancer patients and families the biggest disruption is the fear of the unknown. During this time I had 3 young boys to raise and a thriving digital brand-building agency doing work with clients like Xerox, the Department of National Defense and Apple. Only the boys mattered now. Given my limitations, I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. I wanted to see them grow up and know they would be ok.
In the face of this type of disruption I realized that I had to challenge the conventional approaches to cancer survivorship and play the role of a shit disturber. For the most part, the medical community was skeptical about a patient empowered approach. Seriously, how could creativity, training and eating like an Olympic athlete and giving 80% of your time away to help build community beat the physical realities of cancer?
In fact, I made it my goal to NOT beat cancer at all, but instead to simply focus on helping others and to do so in the biggest way I could while encouraging others to make more out of their own disruptions. Don’t make disruption about yourself. Think, how can your disruption help others – challenge yourself to make disruption a positive thing.• • MAKING ART WAS MY MORPHINE ———
In the face of this type of disruption, finding my reason why became the core driver of survival. Adding some creativity to the mix made for a powerful combination. Drawing upon creative solutions can empower any person to not only beat the odds, but enable them to use disruption to turn limitations into advantages. ———
Making art gives me the creative edge to deal with my new obstacles. Creativity can build resilience, but it’s not about building strong self-esteem or self-worth but rather self-efficacy. How effective are you in tapping into your creative resources when shit hits the fan? When I embarked on a program of Arts in Medicine, the purpose of art making became two-fold.
One was as a distraction strategy for coping with pain and day-to-day survival. Imagine living the rest of your life with 500 thick rubber bands strapped around your neck – a constant choking sensation that will never go away complimented by the bigger risk of choking to death every time you eat a meal. When I make art (or work out) that choking feeling often just disappears.
The other reason was to help others, so I donated most of the proceeds from art sales to support various charities. Kind of crazy when you’re barely scraping by, but I believe helping others can make you strong.
The donation of my art and community building has helped raise over $5 Million for a variety of charities in Alberta and across Canada. In 2014, an original work of art I donated to the Buchanan Centre for Parkinson’s Disease auctioned for $260,000! ———Whether you face disruption or not – you can’t go wrong in life if you believe and act on this one notion: all that is really worth doing is what we do for others. Think “me to we.”
———• • ABUNDANCE
As the chair of iHuman’s capital project, All In! Edmonton, I was able to convince countless corporate sponsors to come together to build a safe place for endangered,
traumatized youth to turn their life around through creativity and community building. It was like a modern day barn raising experience where 153 construction companies
came together with 700+ volunteers to renovate a 20,000 sq./ft ware house.
In our community building project, some of the biggest companies in the world, who typically compete for multi-million dollar bids, used creativity to work together. They figured out how to fit things like a state-of-the-art elevator into a 60-year-old building and how to use materials and labour from other job sites to just get’er done.
The new facility includes Canada’s first mental health clinic for traumatized youth, art, music and fashion studios, a youth intake area with kitchen, pantry, shower and laundry services plus an addictions counseling area and family room with programming to teach young homeless families how to heal and eventually reintegrate with society. They disrupted their billion dollar projects in a positive way, which motivated an entire industry to learn how to be more agile and adaptive to unrealistic conditions. Over $3.5 million of donated services and goods resulted along with the idea that “community” should be redefined as “the abundance we all have inside ourselves to help others”.• • MAKING A DEPOSIT IN
A WELLNESS BANK ACCOUNT
One other limitation I faced was a less than 5-year life expectancy and because of the radiation treatment I received a 1,400% increased likelihood that I would get cancer again. Not liking these odds, I practiced pre-habilitative medicine where I did strength and aerobic training prior to all my surgeries. Doctors said don’t waste your time. It will do nothing. Extensive clinical studies are now proving the worth of my radical approach. Pre-habilitative medicine or peri-operative exercise is gathering momentum as a realisticmeans to reduce patient surgical risk, enhance surgical outcomes and dramatically improve quality of life. Add to this the recent advancements in the science of exercise, bio-hacking, nutrition and how the power of rejuvenation can all synergistically optimize human performance and increase longevity – you’ve got a powerful preventative healthcare tool. Scientifically proven techniques and innovative ways to improve our health, to gain optimal results with minimal time and effort. In coping with disruption, wellness programs can alleviate stress-related illnesses that spike absenteeism, higher insurance claims, lost efficiency and lost productivity. Organizations that focus on the wellbeing of their people will have a significant competitive advantage over their peers. Consistent eff ort, not massive changes will get you where you want to go.• • DISRUPT THE DISRUPTION.
We can save billions by simply getting more people to move more, eat, sleep and rejuvenate better. Why are we waiting until the last two years of a person’s life before spending >75% of healthcare dollars on them? The lessons I learned fighting cancer – drawing upon creative solutions and practicing a ‘me to we” system, can empower anyone to not only beat the odds, but can enable you to use disruption as a tool to turn limitations into advantages. It’s taking energy to another level. Don’t make the world a little better, make it a lot better than you found it. You never know who is watching you and your elevated energy might inspire others to do cool shit.VIEW STEVENS GALLERY AT WWW.CSORBA.ART