Kurt Gibson knows life is an amazing race. During his last semester
of college, the 22-year-old ultimate Frisbee player began to notice
that he was more fatigued than usual and had blood in his stool. “I
was in peak physical shape, so I just figured this was the result of
my active lifestyle,” says Kurt, who decided to ignore what would turn
out to be colorectal cancer symptoms.
When the fatigue and blood didn’t go away, Kurt saw a doctor on
campus. The doctor said there was nothing to worry about and to come
back if the symptoms continued.
A colorectal cancer diagnosis
A few months later, Kurt graduated and moved to Dallas for a new
job. His symptoms persisted, so he found a new doctor and underwent a
flexible sigmoidoscopy. It didn’t show anything, so the doctor
recommended a colonoscopy. It revealed a polyp that was too
large to be removed. A biopsy was taken, two days later Kurt got a
call from his doctor. The polyp had cancer cells. He had stage III colorectal cancer.
“What is going on? Is this real?” he recalls thinking. Kurt tried to
call his mom … no answer. He tried to call his dad … no answer. He
called his girlfriend at the time … no answer.
“All I could think was ’Is this really happening, and what do I do
now?’” he says.
“What do I do next?”
Kurt had total colectomy surgery where 90% of his colon was removed.
Afterwards, he spent six weeks recovering before starting chemotherapy. He tried to go back to his life and
be “a normal 22 year old,” but after the first few treatments, he felt
lethargic and sick.
He took a leave of absence from his job while he recovered.
Eventually, Kurt was able to return to his favorite place — the
ultimate Frisbee field, where he led his club team to three USA
Ultimate Club championships. He won two gold medals at the World
Championships as part of the USA Men’s National Team and two semi-pro
championships in the American Ultimate Disc League.
Cancer lessons help Kurt through “The Amazing Race”
In 2015, his friend and Ultimate Frisbee teammate called him and
asked if he wanted to be on “The Amazing Race.” After initially saying
no, Kurt agreed to participate in the reality competition show. The
pair ultimately were the sixth team eliminated from the competition.
Looking back, Kurt says that going through surgery, chemotherapy and
cancer treatment side effects prepared him for
the ups and downs he experienced on the show, as he competed in
foreign countries on little sleep and with the pressure of being eliminated.
“Those were the times that helped me get through not only the tough
situations I confronted in the race, but also in life,” he says.
Life as a young adult cancer survivor
Today, Kurt is focused on life after cancer and “The Amazing Race.”
He returns to MD Anderson each year for
colonoscopies. But like many young adult cancer survivors, he’s still
trying to find his way.
“Being young with cancer can be daunting, intimidating and can put
you in a weird spot in a social environment. A lot of young people
don’t know how to interact with people with cancer,” Kurt says.
Gratitude leads to support for others
But, in many ways, he looks back on his cancer journey and feels
grateful for what it has brought him. “I can not only manage future
challenging times better; I can also support others going through
tough times,” says Kurt, who hopes he can be a shining light for other
cancer survivors. He has volunteered at MD
Anderson in the Ambulatory Treatment Center and the MD Anderson Children’s
“Volunteering was the least I could do after my life had been turned
around after my experience with cancer,” Kurt says. “Spending time
with other cancer patients was one of the most amazing experiences of
He also shares his story with others at speaking engagements around
the world. Kurt will be sharing his story at the Cancer 180 Young Adult Survivorship Conference
on Saturday, June 10.
“As a young adult patient, you can always be a role model for others
facing similar challenges to you,” he says. “The times when you show
them how to get through is when you can change their lives for the better.”
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