Dam That Cancer: Strong Mind. Strong Body.


What does it mean to LIVESTRONG? For me, it means keeping a strong mental approach to all you do – especially in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

One cancer diagnosis affects so many people, and in so many ways. It was just over two years ago that my family heard the news, my father had been diagnosed with Stage IV Prostate Cancer. This is something so many of us hear, so many of us are touched by this, and this story is nothing new. But where this story takes a turn is what happened next.

When hearing this news, I somehow found myself amidst so many emotions and feelings. Everyone in my family was handling this in their own way, and for the most part, the mental toughness needed to cope with this news was too much. You see, this one diagnosis hit all six family members in a major way. It didn’t stop there. My father has many brothers and sisters, my brother and sisters are all married, and yes, you guessed it, there are seven grand kids. I saw right away how many people can immediately be hit by one diagnosis. It seemed as though there was an epidemic around the cancer, one that was not cancer, but was rooted in the news of the presence of this terrible killer.

I somehow soon found myself taking up a new hobby, one that put me on the place that I knew put me in the best mental state – the water. Every morning at 6:30 am, I began to stand-up paddle board on LadyBird Lake, putting myself is a sort of meditative state and preparing my mind to tackle the day. For those that don’t know what this activity is, picture a long surfboard, buoyant enough to hold a rider standing upright on a lake. The rider uses a long paddle to propel him or herself across the water, garnering the sensation of majestically gliding along the surface without a care in the world. The exercise and meditation helped, it fueled my mind, and this quickly led to a regular gym routine with a trainer. Making the connection to my father’s cancer diagnosis and how the work and meditation I was engaged in was helping me cope, I knew the next step to mental strength and wellness would be to find a great counselor, schedule some sessions and continue to get my mind right. This was where I found my new purpose. It was time to promote how important it is to support the mental health of everyone around the diagnosis, including not only the diagnosed, but also their entire support network. Too many people are hit by one diagnosis, and unity is strength. With strength, we overcome.

Soon after this realization, I connected with a close friend, Rob McKinnie, who had taught me that his best tool in his battle with testicular cancer was mental toughness. He even put a number on it, telling me that 80 to 90% of his fight was mental. I then put in a note to Doug Ulman and his team at LIVESTRONG, informing some friends in the office that I was really wanting to spread this message that we felt was important. This was a message that I felt was often missed by many, but NOT by The Lance Armstrong Foundation. We wanted to share with everyone how important mental health is to overcoming a cancer diagnosis, and LAF has been promoting this fully via the mission of empowerment and even through powerful projects like LIVESTRONG at the Y.

What soon followed in the summer of 2010 was a 21-mile paddle board journey with friends and supporters of the cause – all out to share how important mental health is to overcoming diagnosis – directly and indirectly. The message was well received, and fire was lit.

Seeing the success of the first year of the paddle, a new organization called The Flatwater Foundation (FWF) was created in Austin with a singular mission, to provide access to mental health support and counseling for those in need affected by a cancer diagnosis. Today, The Flatwater Foundation utilizes The LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center (LCNC) locally as a referring agent for services and care. The the LCNC identifies a candidate in need, a quick referral can be made to The Flatwater Foundation, and the Foundation moves ahead to identify the top provider available in its network of care to provide formal counseling services, free of charge, for the survivor or family member in need. Often, the counselors and psychotherapists utilized by The FWF are survivors, themselves.

The first step in all of this process is making sure people are aware of The LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center, and how powerful this center is in the battle against cancer. Beyond the mental health message, there are so many important issues and items that must be addressed, from medical bills, to clinical trial matching. Nowhere else in the world will you find such a powerful gathering of tools, caring personnel and resources so ready and available for those who reach out and seek help. The LCNC has more partners than we can all imagine, comprised of a super-powerful arsenal of lists, organizations, databases, and people ready to help. The Flatwater Foundation and so many other organizations are a small part of this circle of care, and centers like the LCNC and organizations like The Lance Armstrong Foundation bring it all together. That is the true power of unity. The true essence of the meaning of LIVESTRONG.

And It’s so easy to get help. It’s so appropriate the web address for this center is www.livestrong.org/Get-Help.

Today, this annual stand-up paddle board journey and celebration is called DAM THAT CANCER, and is known as “the biggest dam party of the year.” For the third year in a row, next week in Austin, Texas, a dedicated group of 75 men and women from LIVESTRONG, and from all over the community, will again complete their mission by paddling 21 miles, from one dam to the next, and then celebrate the cause at Hula Hut. EVERYONE IS INVITED TO JOIN THE PARTY, all you need to do is SHOW UP! Come celebrate with the paddlers at Hula Hut at 5:00 pm as they complete their goal and reach the finish line! If you can?t attend the party, and want to donate, click here. Dam That Cancer.

Mark Garza
Founder/Executive Director
The Flatwater Foundation


  1. Wow cool story and well done to you and your family. This is a great idea and sounds like a nice way to start exercising. I think using your passion for your family has produced something really great…I also love that phrase “Dam that cancer” really dam you!

  2. Mark says:

    Thank you Matthew, very kind words. Exercise that can meld with some nice meditation at times is a wonderful way to find mental toughness, I have found!

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