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What does it take to survive a crisis? Life is full of ups and downs, but how do you react when the bottom falls out? I’m talking about a diagnosis. I’m talking about injury. I’m talking about loss.

In this interview, Josh Komen, a former athlete and a cancer survivor, shares his personal story of overcoming the odds to become an inspiration for everyone who has ever felt hopeless or lost in their own life. You will learn about pain, gratitude, and realization.

In 2011, Josh was the number one 800m runner in New Zealand. Then the tables turned when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia not once but twice. Over ten years, he would receive life-saving radiation and chemotherapy treatment, undergo Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant, Graft vs host disease, ten days on life support, and trigeminal neuralgia, which is the worst pain known to man, heart attacks and severe depression.

Get Josh Komen’s book, The Wind at My Back –

– Josh Komen

Raw and Real Entrepreneurship with Josh Komen

Topics covered in the interview

Mental health aspect of running
Hearing the diagnosis
Taking opportunities
Realization in travelling
Finding the faith
Josh’s list

Josh Komen's Bio

In 2011 Josh was in the form of his life, fit healthy and happy. He was ranked number one 800m runner in New Zealand, only 23 years old. Then the tables turned and he was about to run another race; a race for his life. He was to be diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia not once but twice. Over a Ten- year period, he would receive enduring lifesaving radiation and chemo therapy treatment, undergo an Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant, Graft vs host disease, 10 days on life support, trigeminal neuralgia – which is described as the worst pain known to man, heart attacks and severe depression. Then finally flown to Melbourne Australia receiving treatment for Graft vs Host Disease. Life is chaotic, ardours and downright unfair. For me Josh, this only built courage, resilience, a new-found strength, and an understanding of how people can get knocked down but still have the courage to continue on. And he, for one, feels grateful to be able to share his story.

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Show Notes

Read Full Transcript

Josh Komen 00:00
I'm not Josh Komen anymore. Who am I? I had no idea. So I went there, put a leg over. And in that moment, Susan, as a runner, as I talked about, you were so connected to the nature, and especially the wind and the sun and everything. I felt this breeze hit the right hand side of my face. And I turned around and I saw my mother's cup of tea.

Welcome to the Susan Sly Project where entrepreneurs rule, startups launch, and the side hustle becomes the main hustle. Ladies and gentlemen, your host, Susan Sly.

Susan Sly 00:33
So what's up everyone, I hope you are having an amazing day. And I just want to thank you for being here. You're here because maybe today you're needing a little bit of inspiration. Maybe you're needing some tactics. You showed up here and you're like, I just need a little something. Well, I'll tell you something, you will leave here inspired, you will leave here on purpose. And you will leave here, feeling that no matter what gets thrown in front of you, you can endure and you can overcome any challenge. And my guest today is an author. He is an amazing former athlete, but someone who managed to transcend almost every odd that was placed against him. So in 2011, he was in the peak shape of his life. He was fit, he was healthy. He was ranked the number one 800 meter runner in New Zealand at age 23. And the 800 was my specialty in high school, I have to say. And my daughter, one of my daughters, she is an 800 meter runner. But then the tables were turned against him and he had to run another race, the race for his life. And he ended up getting diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia not once but twice. And today we're gonna dive into his story, we are going to hear how he ended up going to Everest base camp and becoming a solo skydiver, which is not on my list, but I want to hear about his list, not mine. And really how to persevere. So my guest today, Josh Komen is the author of The Wind at My Back. And thank you, Josh. Josh is live from New Zealand, a fellow Commonwealther. It's wonderful to have you.

Josh Komen 02:15
It's fantastic to be here, Susan. Thank you very much for having me.

Susan Sly 02:19
So Josh, I want to backtrack. So many people are you know, I know curious about your story. But I want to go a little further back. Because before the show, we were talking about being, you know, very high level athletes. So when did you start running?

Josh Komen 02:36
I started running probably when I was about 13, or 14. Yeah, I ran around here on the West Coast. And it's a beautiful place where I live. But um, for me, as a young, young kid, I just love being outside. And for me running was pure freedom for me where I could get out of school and get out of my mom telling me off or whatever. And I could just be myself.

Susan Sly 02:55
We have a lot of young people who listen to the show. And running is a big part of our family. So my youngest daughter, Emery, she's 12. She just started running cross country and all of her older siblings have run. So the young person perhaps who's listening right now, or maybe they're, you know, not, either useful in their attitude, perhaps I'm not on their driver's license. I just want you to share, you mentioned, you know, is that, that escape, and I always tell my children that as long as you have running, you have a form of therapy. But let's talk about running just for a moment. What is it about running that really provides that incredible mental health aspect?

Josh Komen 03:43
I think it comes down to, for me, essentially, it was coming down to my breathing and feeling my heartbeat, especially when I was a kid. I really understood what my body was capable of doing. I could really feel i. Itt wasn't just sitting in a classroom hearing information. I was feeling my body, you know, the heartbeat, how my mind was, the sweat, you know, that all that heat coming out of my body. And I was really in tune with myself. And I really found my feet essentially, you know, excuse the cliche, but I really found my feet, my feet on the ground running the wind and nature around me. And it was it was real freedom. Yeah, that's how I kind of describe it as a young kid. And it was just me, the wind, the nature and myself. Yeah.

Susan Sly 04:27
Yeah, it's, and it's the thing I love about running, one of my life's missions is to inspire people to be healthy. And I started running when I was 11. Because I was an obese child, and the Olympics was on and I think it was LA, maybe 1984. And I saw these women running and I thought, oh my gosh, I would love to look like that. And so I went out my door at five in the morning. And I could run maybe half a kilometer or so if you're in America, what does that mean? It's, uh, you know, around a quarter, not even, maybe, you know, just over a quarter of a mile. And I was breathless. And I was like, doubled over, Josh. And then I, you know, then the next day I went out and I said, I'm gonna run a little further and a little further and just like Forrest Gump. So, you know, here I am, almost 40 years later, still running. I just did a 10k road race last weekend. And, and it's, as you said, it's that that feeling of freedom.

Josh Komen 05:32
It is. And I think too, also setting goals as you just stated, I mean, you were depleted on that first quarter mile. And then all of a sudden, the next day, you're a little bit more, a little bit more, it was hard the first time then it gets a little bit easier, a little bit easier. But it's still hard, but it becomes more comfortable. And that's the part of running I love as well.

Susan Sly 05:51
And the reason I wanted to start there is because you have a reference point. Athletes know their bodies. And at the same point, we will train through pain. I remember doing 800 meter repeaters when I wanted to get my 5K time below 18 minutes. And I had shin splints, I had, you know, something was going on with my knee. But I kept on you know, doing them anyway. We train through pain, we train through adversity, because as athletes were taught, especially if someone's listening, and they've never done an 800 meter, there's, it's, they make it look easy to athletes, but there's, there's a lot that goes into that. So you are at the peak shape of your life. When did you start to know that something wasn't right physically.

Josh Komen 06:45
I did a bike race. I did a bike race, actually, my body was starting to deplete and I started to get onto the bike. So I did this bike race, was 130k bike race. And I collapsed halfway, which was so unusual. And I was just depleted and I had to stop at a shop. I had to sit down, I had to breathe. And I got inside, I got a chocolate bar. I thought I was low on sugar. And I just willed myself to the line. Because then myself, I say just finished the race just finished the race. And I was gone. And I finished dead last. And the ironic thing about that bike race is the last person overtook me was the guy who I knew from my town, and he had been diagnosed with cancer. And I said to myself, even a cancer patient can beat you. And I was just, didn't know what was going on. And I threw my bike down. And I said, I'm never riding a bike again. And I slipped for a week. And I knew something was terribly wrong with my body. But 23 years old, you're young and dumb. And I waited to go to the doctor, I just thought it would heal. And it took a while. That whole week, probably another two more days. 10 days and I collapsed. At the scene, I just collapsed and I got taken up to hospital. And sure enough, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, that's kind of, that bike race was the catalyst for me going into the to the hospital.

Susan Sly 08:02
And, and Josh I'm so, I'm so happy you shared that aspect of it because there, there oftentimes when, as say an entrepreneur is just pushing through, pushing through, it's like, I'll just live on Red Bulls or Monster Energy drinks, and you know, then I'll take stuff to sleep. I'll sleep for four hours. And, and as athletes, you know, yes, there were times, especially when I was traveling and racing overseas, or you know, on a race tour, where I did, I raced on very little sleep. And like you, I had the sense that something was wrong in 1990, late 1999. And I, my doctor was like, Oh, you're just stressed. And every bike ride just felt so hard. And every run felt so hard. And I went away to Jamaica to go on vacation. I slept for a week, I didn't even leave the room. And that's when I came back and I had my yellow post it and I was like, I want this test, this test, this test. And it's a very, very similar story. How did you react mentally when they gave you the diagnosis?

Josh Komen 09:13
Was pure confusion. I was so confused. I've never seen my mom and dad so upset and I thought, Holy heck, what have I done to them? What have I done to them? And in that moment, I decided to go back into my running phase. It was just me, no coaches or nothing and just do it myself. I'm not going to talk to anybody. I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to close my door, get this cancer job done, whatever it was, because I didn't even understand what leukemia was. But I was just so confused. And all I knew was to go through what I was going through and get it done, finish that race and then go home. But I didn't understand what I was in for, Susan. I had no idea.

Susan Sly 09:52
When I was in university, Josh, there, I am, one year I was doing a science degree and I could take these electives. And one elective was called love, and the other one was called death. And so, the, in the death course, we studied Elisabeth Kubler Ross's phases of death and dying. And when I was diagnosed, I was so grateful that I had taken that class because there are different phases. So it's, you know, someone finds out they're terminal, it's like their, their, you know, denial, then there's the the, you know, anger, then there might be guilt of you know, about the people who are suffering around them while they're suffering. And so I went through these phases. And I remember when I was diagnosed with progressive MS, and the doctor said, you will be in a wheelchair in 10 years, and you'll be dead in 20, of my first thoughts was Josh, I haven't done the Boston Marathon yet. Like, that was my first thought. Did you have any crazy thoughts like that, like, Oh, crap, you know, I haven't, you know, gone to the Olympic shed or I haven't, you know.

Josh Komen 11:05
Absolutely. I mean, that was just the first part of it, that confusion, and then it became anger, because I was taken away, and it was in an isolation room, and then it became guilt, then resentment that I couldn't participate. And then I reflected on my life of what I hadn't done, you know, all these things, you know, I was on the brink of going to the Commonwealth Games, and representing New Zealand, which is my childhood dream, and it all been taken away. And then after all those emotions that I just expressed, and you just told me about, it became deep depression, you know, I couldn't handle the mental tirade that was going through my mind. You know, I woke up, my body stripped and depleted, ball here, and I was skinny, and I was pathetic. And I used to see myself this fit, physical man that could run, do a standing backflip, you know, he could put his mind to anything he wanted. But here he was spewing and shitting himself in the hospital, crying every night, and calling himself that utter, most horrendous words in his head. And he's never done that before. And I couldn't handle it, I really couldn't. I had probably four months of treatment. So I go in for a month, had a heavy month of chemotherapy and come out for a week. And about four months into it, I got out and this mental tirade was just going through my mind. And as a runner, you understand short term pain, you know, I run the 800, or I train for an hour, then you can come home and rest. There was no risk for me inside my mind, there was no risk whatsoever. And I didn't know how to handle that. As a young 23 year old boy, I didn't have to know how to communicate my feelings or do anything like that. And I just had enough and I thought, I'm going to take my life. And this was the lowest part of my whole journey. And, and I thought, now I'm going to end it, I can't contain what's going through my mind. So I decided I'm going to jump up a balcony where I was staying when I was getting my treatment when I was outside of the hospital. And I was on the fifth floor. And I thought now I've got to go, I can't handle it anymore. I'm not Josh Komen anymore. Who am I, I had no idea. So I went there, put a leg over. And in that moment, Susan, as a runner, as I talked about, you were so connected to the nature, and especially the wind and the sun and everything, I felt this breeze hit the right hand side of my face. And I turned around and I saw my mother's cup of tea. And instantaneously in that moment, I felt my mother's love come inside of me. And I couldn't put the pain I was feeling on my mum that I was feeling. I just couldn't do that. So I stepped away and I just cried hysterically. And I had to really use my strength and ask for help. And luckily, in New Zealand, we've got many foundations that we can reach out to. There was this foundation I came to, and I asked Listen, I need to talk to a psychologist, I really need help because I'm losing control of my mind. And luckily, I got, I got someone to talk to. And I managed to kind of calm down those feelings inside my head or not calm them down, at least control them. So essentially what he told me, but he communicated, it wasn't me that wanted to die. It was just the pain and situation that I wanted to die. So I had to go back into my room and start utilizing some tools that I had. And I was a big fan of journaling. I was a big fan of visualization, I prayed, I meditated, I did all these little things that could, I could do to help myself. You know, I used to sit in my hospital bed and close my eyes and they had this beautiful view of the park in Christchurch of Hagley Park. And I used to pretend I was one of the leaves feeling the wind flowing around and close my eyes and say, you're going to be there one day. You're going to get there. You're not going to die. Just keep calm and continue. And I repeated that to myself so often. Even though those mental tirading thoughts would come in. I use those tools that I just articulated to help mitigate there. So that really helps sustain me. Even though those thoughts did come in, it was finding that balance, I'm in control. This is not going to be forever. I need to persevere, breathe and continue.

Susan Sly 14:50
Persevere, breathe and continue. And I love that, the visualization piece and being able to step away from pain. And, and like yourself, there were so many times, I wanted to take my own life. And because with the, what I was going through with MS, and not to compare us, I mean two different things. I was in pain all the time. And here's a funny story. So I remember, I went in the shower, Josh, and I get out and I'm red. And for those of you who can't see me, or have never seen me, so I am a mixed race. So I'm like, darker skinned. So for me to get red is like, It's hardcore. And I come out of the shower, and my, I'm red and my husband's like, your red, what's going on? And I was in the shower, and it was full on hot, hot, hot, scalding water, and I couldn't feel it. Wow. Because a MS attacks the nervous system. So I couldn't feel it. And he's like, Susan, your red, like, look at your body, and I was like, my skin is all red. And, and I look back at those things now, and I can really laugh at them at the time. You know, I remember after that I just started crying. I was like, I can't even feel hot water. And they were, they wanted me to stop driving because I couldn't, I would just drop things that I didn't have, you know, I would think, Oh, pick up this tea cup, but my hand wouldn't pick up the tea cup. And, and my body was shutting down. And I, in August of 2003, I was going to take my life by running a tube from the exhaust of my car and, essentially is asphyxiating. And there, my daughter was, had a bit of a cold and couldn't go to summer camp that day, and she was home so that you know, wrecked my plan and the whole series of things happen, that I didn't obviously end up taking my life. I look back now, I can laugh about the shower. Is there anything now, Josh Komen at this stage of the game, can look back now and there's maybe something you could laugh about now, but you couldn't then?

Josh Komen 17:10
Yeah, I think, I think just being able to shoot myself, constantly in spew, and the nurses been there for me. I laugh about that now and I laugh about it with the nurses now. You know that kind of, that kind of aspect of it. You know, this is disgusting. Everywhere that you know, I look, look back and I laugh about it now from where I was to being, I've just been in the hospital bed with spew all over me and everything like that. I found that quite funny now. Yeah.

Susan Sly 17:36
Let's just give love to nurses for a minute. My mom was a nurse, my mother in law was a nurse. Let's just give love to nurses. Like seriously, if you know a nurse, give them so

Josh Komen 17:47
much. My wife's a nurse. And she's absolutely amazing. And they do a tremendous job. And they were angels in that hospital room. They were more than a nurse,. They were way above what I thought a nurse was. They were your counselor, your mom, your doctor, your everything you could imagine, you know, sometimes I'd come in and just hold my hand and talk. It was, that was so amazing. You know, they were incredible people.

Susan Sly 18:09
So let me ask you, you eventually go into remission. So talk about that. How long from the time you were diagnosed was it before you went into remission?

Josh Komen 18:24
Yeah, so I had that eighth month of treatment and then I got into remission. And then I got out of hospital. And I was a bit confused there too. I couldn't really associate myself with a lot of friends. I kind of distanced myself from a lot of people, because so much had gone on in that short eight month period of time. And my mind was starting to change. What's life about? You know, you talked about the life and death course that you did. That was my life and death course. And I'm starting to think what's going on in this world, you know, what's this all about? So I went surfing, I used to surf a bit, and I was just out the surf all the time. And I was, I used to pray a lot and think and meditate and trying to collect my thoughts. And I come to a bit of a clarity that sometimes I wasn't in control, and I just had to trust the path I was on and suffering for that 8 months really served a purpose too because it brought me closer to my father, especially my dad, you know, he was a hard man. And it's the first time I've seen him cry. And I saw a real abundant love come from a lot of people that I hadn't seen before. So suffering really gave me that and I was very grateful in that aspect. But I was into surf, Susan and my friend rang me up when I got out. And he said, Do you want to come to Nepal to Everest base camp? And I said, No, mate. I've just been in hospital for eight months. I'm not going up to base camp. No way. So I went back out there and something just hit me about opportunities and there was a high chance my cancer would come back, the doctor said and I thought no, mate, you've just got to grab this opportunity. Take it with both hands and go with it. So I rang my friend, been back up and I said yes, I'm going to Nepal with you, little guy. So five months after my last diagnosis, getting out of hospital in remission, I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, trekking to Basecamp. And landing in Nepal really changed my life, Susan. I mean, I landed there, and it was just sensory overload. You know, the smells, the people, the, the atmosphere, everything can I was in this tuktuk, driving down the road on a bumpy road. And this moment really changed my life, my perspective on life. And I saw these kids, they had no t-shirts on, barefeet you know, shorts and just playing with one another in the, in this rubbish, just pure rubbish everywhere. And they looked at me with these beautiful wide smiles, and were waving to me, now wave back. And it hit me Susan. And I thought how lucky, how grateful was I to suffer in such good conditions? You know, I was in a hospital room, Western medicine. I had my mom, I had good food. I had everything I needed to suffer in good conditions. And these kids were just playing in rubbish. But they had these beautiful smiles and they were happy and content. And I just burst out crying. I said, Thank God, I was in a good place, you know. And thank you for those young kids that just waved to me in their condition. And I just went back with so much gratitude. So much gratitude. So isn't, and I was grateful to suffer?

Susan Sly 21:16
Josh, that's so beautiful. And I, I've always wanted to go to base camp in Nepal. So when I read that about you, so curious about how did that end up happening. And I love, you're such a, you're such a powerful storyteller. And for everyone who's, if you are on Youtube, drop a comment below, about like, seriously, is it you know, it's just like I was there. Seeing these children and, and travel, especially in the developing world yields perspective. You know so many times when I'm going through something, and I think about, I spent a lot of years rescuing girls from trafficking in Cambodia. I've been undercover in brothels nearly being killed and all sorts of crazy fun things that I've done but when you're, you, you see with your eyes, you feel with your heart, you hear with your ears, and it is, it is powerful with that perspective. And my mind also went somewhere else with your story, Josh. So every time Shark Week is on Discovery. They're always in New Zealand with these 36 foot long, great white sharks. So you surf with these sharks, like...

Josh Komen 22:32
No, so I'm on the West Coast. There's not too many sharks down there. Those sharks that you see are down the South Island at the bottom, in the Stewart Island. A lot of big Great Whites down there. So there's not too many where I go surfing. I used to surf, not anymore.

Susan Sly 22:45
Well, it only really takes one but I was like this guy goes surfing in New Zealand. So base camp is like, not a problem. So yeah, yeah, that has deterred me from certain things. Anyway, so Josh, when did you find out that the cancer came back?

Josh Komen 23:09
Yeah, so I went up to Basecamp. And I just want to touch on this Susan, because it was just a small, perfect moment in my life, something that no one could take away from me, you know, I set out a goal and I achieved it. I walked in Basecamp, it took me 13 days. And I was so lucky enough to see the sunrise come over Mount Everest. And you know, that's something that no one, not even cancer could take away from me and I call it, I just bookmark those little small, perfect moments in my life. And put it in my heart and I said, that's going to stay there forever. So I went back down and I backpacked around Asia and you mentioned Cambodia. I hitchhiked around Cambodia. What an amazing place that was. And I come back to New Zealand. And there was another childhood dream that I wanted to do, was become a professional skydiver. So I entered and I enrolled in a commercial deployment and skydiving. New Zealand's the only place in the world that has-- a skydiver. It was just an amazing feeling jumping on the plane, it was pure freedom, just like running. But no, you weren't running. It was just falling, falling, falling. You could see the world above you. You could be in the clouds. It was just incredible. And that was to be short lived. So I was in the course for about seven months. So basically, after a year, maybe 14 months, when I was put into remission, my cancer started to come back. And I found that out by going up to 20,000 feet for my 200 skydive and I got hypoxic, you know, I was low on red blood cells. And I was starting to see about 20 of my friends up there. And it was a scary time, I pulled my chute at 10,000 feet and just floated down and I knew my cancer was back. But I was mentally prepared this time, but I'm on the physicality of what was going to unfold. I didn't have an understanding of the pain that I was about to go through. It was going to be horrendous. I mean, I already knew where my mind would go and I was prepared for that with the tools that I've accumulated with the coming to skydive, over going to Everest base camp, journaling, meditating, praying, visualization. I had it under control. But the physical pain that I was about to go through was going to be horrendous. I was going to have an allogeneic stem cell transplant, which basically means my hemopoietic stem cells, these are the factory cells that create your immune system, we're coming from someone else. They we're coming from a young girl in Germany. So it wasn't a complete match, my transplant. So the protocol was having three months of normal chemo, and then I'd have two months off, and then I'd have my transplant. I had three months of treatment. And then on my last round of chemo, I developed neutropenic sepsis, and sepsis is a bacterium in the blood plus I was neutropenic. And they sent me into the intensive care unit, and I was put on life support. And I told my mum and dad that I, there's a good chance your son won't wake up here. And God willing, I did that after 10 days, it was a miracle that I did, you know, I should have died in that situation, in that position in my life. I woke up and they, and then they said to me, Josh, we found your donor, we found you a transplant, you've got two weeks to get ready, you know, Susan, and I was in a wheelchair, I could not walk, I couldn't talk, I was 51,52 kg. I was like a skinny, little alien. I couldn't do much. And as I stated before, it was two months after your last round of chemo to have your transplant. And I had two weeks to get ready to be able to have this transplant out of getting out of ICU out of a coma. And I didn't know what to do. So the only thing I didn't know what to do was sit and wait, pray, meditate and visualize. That's all I did. And I sat outside, pretended I was around a, pretended my, saw myself healthy, getting through what I needed to get through. And soon enough, the transplant came, I had these stem cells. And during that time, I was like in a semi comatose state. It was a very tough time. I was in isolation for three months. You know, my body was basically rejecting this transplant. It was trying to accept it, reject it, accept it, reject it. And finally it was starting to accept. But one thing that really helped me and I really want to talk about this was I couldn't drink or swallow any food because this, all my stomach lining had stripped off my esophagus and my stomach. So I couldn't put anything in my body. So it's been through a chew, but my mom would come over with carbonated water, sparkling water. Now I used to sit there and wait for it, I'd hang out, I'd see her coming past my window. And I'm like, Yes, she's coming. She put it in a cup and put it in my mouth. And these small little moments that I talked about earlier, these little moments that really sustain you. You know, these little bubbles had slipped through the straw and pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop through my mouth. And holy moly, it was just so joyous. It gave me so much, so much faith to go forward with what I was going through. Those small little carbonated bubbles popping in my mouth just felt so refreshing from all the steroids and immunosuppressants and all the drugs that they were putting into me. And I used to put that back, put my head down, cry and just have a smile on my face and just got back to sleep and visualize getting myself back together.

Susan Sly 28:05
Josh, as you're, as you're speaking, in the day, for all the listeners that we're recording this, one of my closest friends is, he's got sepsis, and he's in a, he's in the ICU right now. He has pancreatic cancer. And he's had three surgeries in the last seven days. And he's in Canada, so I can't go see him. And he's, he's, the last report I had, which was last night which is we're not sure he is going to make it. And that's what I want to, I just got, I just got chills and that's why, everyone knows I'm raw and real like there's, I, like I'll just put it all out there. Anyone I know, and I know a handful of people who've been in that situation where they literally have, like, almost like a choice. I can surrender to this and die. My friend Dottie, she flatlined, she's, she sadly, Dottie Lazard. She's passed now. But she was an athlete. She had she flatlined twice on the table. But she talked about, you know, essentially seeing the light but making a choice, right. Did you have that moment where you knew you could choose to surrender and die or fight to live? And maybe I'm not even articulating that the right way, Josh, but you know what I mean, like, was there that moment when you were there in ICU that you knew you could just give up or you could fight?

Josh Komen 29:40
Yeah, I mean, I can't remember that 10 days. I can't remember it all. But there was a vivid dream or a lucid dream or whether it happened or not. I just, I saw an angel above me and I still remember it today. And there was a choice there. It was just so beautiful. It was just, lit up my room, whether I was conscious or unconscious, but I still can't don't remember anything, I still can't remember getting put in the coma. But I can remember that. And it gave me the face to go forward knowing that there was this beautiful sense within my room. And I thought, when I, when I thought about it afterwards, you know, that was probably the moment that kept me sustaining me forward, that there was something bigger than me out there, helping me go forward with my life, looking after me, protecting me. And that's probably when I became closer to God, essentially. And I started reading the Bible a bit more and things like that. And I started understanding that some things were just out of my control. But I had to have the faith with inside myself that my map, my path had already been mapped out. And I had to have the courage to go forward with whatever situation I was in. Yeah. It was a profound moment for me, to be honest, Susan, it really changed my life. Seeing that image.

Susan Sly 30:51
What do you say to a person, this is a question I always asked myself, What do you say to a person who doesn't have that level of faith, but is going through a challenge? Because people like yourself or myself, the faith is what has helped us endure, Right? But what do you say to that person who doesn't have that level of faith?

Josh Komen 31:11
That's a great question. I mean, it's simple. In a way, I'd say, reach out and find that faith, I really would get out of the head and into the heart a bit, and look for faith outside yourself. Because I do believe something's we're just not in control, even though we, we think we are. And there's something bigger than us, really guiding us along. And if we look inside ourselves looking amazing our body is ,everything's connected together. I think it's just a wonderful homogenous world we live in, and something has to be guiding us bigger than us. And if we kind of give that up sometimes, you understand how much strength you actually do have. And it's quite profound when you find that out. When you give yourself up to something bigger, you understand that you have so much inside yourself. And it's quite profound. I mean, I can only talk about it. But it's hard for people to find it themselves. But if I'm talking and you're talking, and we both have the faith, something bigger than ourselves, maybe if they're listening right now, they can find that for themselves in their own way, in their own way.

Susan Sly 32:19
Yeah, that's powerful. Captain Charlie Plumb was on the show, and if the listeners haven't heard that show, that it was, Captain Plumb was in a concentration camp for years. He was, his plane was shot down over Vietnam. And he talks about, you know, he's being tortured, and he's angry. And eventually he got to the point where he was so broken, he, he turned to God, and he ended up becoming the chaplain for the whole concentration camp. And, and he spoke about that. And I really believe, I think my show ends up being this place where everyone who's had the biggest challenges, they also have the biggest faith, and for my friend, Josh, who is in the coma right now, the night before his surgery, I messaged him because I knew he was struggling with faith. And I said, Can I pray with you? And I called him and it was just like a, you know, a three minute prayer that, you know, we prayed together. And I think that, you know, sometimes if, if you're someone listening, and you have a lot of faith, and you know, someone going through a challenge, just maybe say, Hey, can I pray for you? Can I pray with you? Right? So, Josh, you, I feel like we're best friends already. It's like,

Josh Komen 33:37
There'e so much in common.

Susan Sly 33:41
I know. So, so after you came out of that, you know that, that second time of nearly dying, What decisions did you make about your life that were different than the decisions you made the first time?

Josh Komen 33:57
Basically, I trusted in God a lot more. I really put my faith into God and let Him direct my path. And I said to myself, whatever is ahead of me, I will continue just like the story of Joe, you know, in a way, everything was taken away from him. So I decided whatever was taken away from me, I would try and reclaim it with whatever was put in front of me. And I said that to myself, and I told myself, I'm not going to die, God's got, God's in control, and you can control what you can do. And that was continue to go forward. And I just told myself that even though the mind came back and told me, Hey, you gotta go, you know, all that depressing thoughts that we just talked about. So that was the biggest thing for me. And also to just, the love that I had for my family and friends just escalated. It was just profound, you know, I had great relationships with my parents and family, but it wasn't that sure, that I had before because I know it could have been taken away from me and seeing them when I got out of a coma, you know, it's, it was so profound, Susan. And I really hung, hung on to that. And every time I say goodbye to someone, I looked them in the eye, I told them, I love them. And I said, I'll see you later. Whether I woke up tomorrow or not, I just made it so meaningful, being able to see them later. Because it was such a privilege to have those people in my life. For that minute, that hour, that day, whatever it was, it was just an honor to have them in my presence.

Susan Sly 35:23
And so that, that, so often, we say things like, see you later, but we don't meet it, right? Or even I love you. But it's just like we're saying, hey, love, you know, love you whatever. To say something and to be present, and mean it. Because suddeny it has more meaning. Yes. It's huge. So the

Josh Komen 35:47
meaning behind my words were just more profound. I would, Yeah, they were just more profound. And and you feel it more.

Susan Sly 35:54
Yeah. So what's, what's next for you now? What's what's on your list?

Josh Komen 36:01
Ah, to be honest, Susan. I mean, I've been through a bit more than what we just talked about, you know. I got this, I'll just touch on this quickly. So I got, this graft versus host disease, this graft, graft rejection, and I had numerous complications with it. You know, I got to this point where they gave me trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia is described as the suicide disease, which is the worst pain known to man. I was put into hospital for three months with this pain. The pain was horrendous. The trigeminal nerve goes around here to describe that pain. It was like someone was burning my face while stabbing my eye while a cheese grater was on the back of my face. It was just immense. And this GvHD, this graft versus host disease that I talked about, this graft, this rejection was gluing my body together during that time. So I got this pain diminished, I went up into the ICU room. They give me lidocaine that numben the nerve. I can still feel bits and pieces today, but nothing to the extent it was, but the graph versus host disease really got out of control, and I had to get sent to Melbourne, Australia to get the special treatment. It's called extracorporeal photothermolysis. And I was away from my family there. So I got sent over to Melbourne to get this treatment to dampen down this GvHD. And you can see my face, my eyes, the pigmentation, it's kind of gone from my skin. And this is what this, this rejection was doing to me. It was basically eating my skin away, my endothelial cells and my epithelial cells in my body. So I went over to Melbourne, I was away from my family and friends, and the treatment was starting to go well, and three months, four months into it, I woke up one day with a massive heart attack. And I had a huge heart attack and I got taken to the Geelong hospital, and I got taken to the Peter McCallum Cancer Center. I was getting treatment and they sent me to the Royal Melbourne cardiac unit within the Melbourne Hospital and I was in there for 24 days, Susan. And I had 12 heart attacks, tuning the ECGs upside down. And this GvHD was really attacking my body. And it was the endothelial linings within my heart that it was attacking. And the doctors didn't know what to do with me in the situation. And I wrote them a note. I said, listen, they weren't too sure whether they'll give me a heart bypass or stent, my leaf main. They didn't know whether to cut me open just due to my skin, this thickening of the skin that I had. And I wrote them and I said, I don't care if I live or die, just please make a decision. And we can learn from me as a patient. Just make a decision. Next day I had a heart attack. ECGs went upside down, went into the cath lab, they stented my left main artery, and I was out after three days and the pain has started, the pain went. But the GvHD had flared up and I had to go back into the cancer unit in Melbourne to get intensive treatment. And it was starting to kind of flush it out and the body was growing stronger. And I started flying back and forth to New Zealand to Australia. After about a year. I spent a year in Australia. Then I started flying back and forth for this treatment. And as I say, this has been about when I was flying back and forth. This is probably about seven years now. And there's always a silver lining with you. Whenever you persevere there was so many times I wanted to give up. But guess what, Susan, I sat down on the plane, the whole plane was full. One seat was empty between me and this beautiful girl that I was sitting next to from Switzerland. And I said hello to her because I was starting to get better. My depression was starting to lift a bit and she said hello back. We had a chat. She was an amazing woman. And I asked her what does she do for a job and she was an oncology nurse and she was backpacking around New Zealand and Australia. And I said to her, this is a great pickup line. I said listen, I'm going to get, going to get some treatment graft versus host disease and I said, you want to come and see it since you're an oncology nurse? She had never heard of it. And she said yes. So our first date was going coming to see me in the in the Pedro McAllen Cancer Center getting this four hour treatment. So we hung out, we had a lot in common and we spent the week together. And, um, this is, this was four years ago when I met her and started this year, she's been living with me for three years. And we got married at the start of this year in this beautiful beach and she's my wife. And yeah, she's changed my life. And she's been the catalyst to real health. And she's helped reclaim my house. And I've got a real purpose with her. And she's an absolute beautiful angel that I feel God sent to help me. So there's always a silver lining. Well,

Susan Sly 40:30
I love that story. And I've never heard that pickup line before. You're right.

Josh Komen 40:35
I don't recommend it. I don't recommend it to anybod but worked for me. But yeah, so we've been, we've been married now. And we've been together for about four years. And it just blows my mind to be where I was before. You know, this is, I got diagnosed 11 years ago, 10 to 11 years ago. And here I am. Happy, healthy, strong. I'm coaching. I'm coaching young, young kids athletics. You know, I'm part of that, again, I'm playing a bit of sport, I've got a full time job again, I'm doing a lot of the talks, I've written a book and my life's completely changed. And I'm so grateful for it. And I've got so much in my life that I had have now that I didn't have prior to cancer. And every day, I'm just so grateful to wake up and seize the opportunities that present themselves. So what lies for me, Susan, just continue appreciating what I do have to continue with that. That's what lies ahead for me. And if any opportunities come in, to be able to have great conversations with people like yourself, just to help other people through those, for their own arduous times. And that's what lies ahead for me, you know, to help them and that's what I'm here to do. To share my story and hopefully, my story can help other people because I'm a big fan of books and I love reading other people's stories, you know, Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, I don't know if you've read Unbroken, Louis Zamperini. They were two big books when I was first diagnosed, that really helped me through what I went through. So my story is just really articulating the same message that you and I are doing, persevere, trust, believe, go forward, things will change.

Susan Sly 42:07
Josh, I am so grateful to have this conversation with you. And I know the listeners and the viewers are as well. And, and congratulations on your marriage. I love that story. You could do a whole side book called, you know, Pickup Lines For People Who Are Undergoing Treatment. And I think it would be an international bestseller. And you know, and I really hope and pray that people listening today have been touched and blessed by your words and your message. And I would encourage everyone to go to and order a copy of your book. And, and really one, one thing I'm taking away from the conversation, I love that you said is, reach. If you're struggling with faith and belief just reach for it. Right, just reach for it. So thank you so much for being here. I so appreciate you.

Josh Komen 43:07
I appreciate having this conversation, Susan. Like you said before I just can't believe how much in common we have. So no, it's been an absolute privilege. Thank you so much for having me on board today.

Susan Sly 43:17
Well, thank you. When I come to New Zealand, we will, I would love to see you. I'm racking up a list of new friends in New Zealand. So when, when the world opens up again, I will be there. But thank you, Josh so much for being here. And for all listeners, we, Josh and I would love a five star review. Please share, tag us on social and by all means if you're here on YouTube, just drop a comment below. I am the person who responds to all the comments. So with that, God bless, go rock your day and I will see you in the next episode of Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. Thank you.

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Author Susan Sly

Susan Sly is considered a thought leader in AI, award winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker, best-selling author, and tech investor. Susan has been featured on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime, ABC Family, and quoted in Forbes Online, Marketwatch, Yahoo Finance, and more. She is the mother of four and has been working in human potential for over two decades.

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