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20 Years Ago This Week, I Began a Fight For My Life

Have you ever had one of those days where all you can think about is how grateful you are?  That’s been my entire week.  Thinking about where my life was 20 years ago, makes me so grateful just to be alive to tell you this story.  In the interest of time I’ll give you the Readers Digest version.

December 1st, 1997, 1:45 p.m.

I left school early that day to go to a doctor for a second opinion on why such strange things were happening inside my seemingly healthy 15 year old body.  For weeks I had been having severe coughing attacks that were now causing such bad pain through my ribs that it felt like I was being stabbed.  On top of that, I had about a dozen lymph nodes around my neck, armpits and shoulders that were swelling up to between marble and golf ball size. My parents were getting worried and my view of myself as an invincible teenager was beginning to get challenged.

My Internist wasn’t sure what to make of it so she sent me to an Oncologist.  Upon examining my blood, he told my dad and I that I had leukemia and that I must begin chemotherapy immediately or I would die.

You’d think that news would scare me right away, but it didn’t.  I guess the optimist in me was focusing on the silver lining, which for me was taking the next 6 months off from school, being waited on hand and foot, and getting a prescription for medical marijuana, LOL.

Oh, how ignorant I was…


 December 2nd, 1997

 Before chemo started I had a nice little “welcome” by having a long needle literally screwed into my hip bone to pull out a piece of bone marrow for definitive confirmation of the disease.  It came back positive.

They started the treatments around 11 in the morning.  It began with a gallon sized bag of bright yellow liquid being brought in by a nurse in full body scrubs.  I remember thinking, they are going to put that stuff in my body!? She doesn’t even want it on her skin and its going into MY body!?  I found out within 24 hours that my concerns were quite warranted.

That evening I also met my first roommate, Mike.  Mike was 17 and was about to have his leg amputated because he had cancer all through his bone.  They said that if he didn’t lose his leg, he could lose his life.

I knew then that what I was about to embark upon was going to involve a serious fight.


December 3rd, 1997

 I was 24 hours into my first chemo treatment and I was already starting to feel lousy.  My energy was draining, my body felt weak and my stomach was beginning to turn.  I didn’t feel like doing anything so I just laid in bed and watched T.V.  They brought my dinner in that day and within about 30 seconds of them lifting the lid off the tray, the smell hit my nose and I immediately barfed all over the place.

Now I started to get scared.

From that day on, life just got more and more and more miserable.  So weak, so sick, so tired, so depressed and being home all day alone got so boring and lonely that I felt like I was going to go crazy.  However, even though I didn’t know the Lord back then, I realized later that all this was the preparation for my future calling.

After just 10 months, all the chemo, the hospitalization, the inactivity, the appetite stimulants and the comfort food left me 80 pounds overweight and so weak that even walking a few blocks wore me out.  I still had 16 months left to go and I knew something had to change.

That’s when I discovered the power of exercise. 

Exercise turned my body around.  It made me feel like I wasn’t dying anymore.  It made me feel like I was coming back to life.  Even the feeling of being able to lift my arm without as much effort brought me so much joy.  It made me know that at least part of me was getting better instead of worse.  That was enough to keep much the depression, the hopelessness and the fear at bay.

After a while I began to study information on nutrition and supplements and more sophisticated training techniques.  Over several years I lost around 80 pounds of body fat and packed on about 40 pounds of muscle.  I went from a hanging gut and man boobs to six pack abs, and I went from nearly passing out during a few block walk to being able to physically do everything I wanted to do, except dunk a basketball (which I’m still working on).

Best of all, I had obtained the hard-earned title of “Cancer Survivor” which I have never relinquished in 20 years.  Thank you Jesus!

Today I am more grateful than words can describe.  I have seen God take this horrific time of my life and birth something that has touched so many people in so many different difficult situations.  l’ve told parts of my story on television and radio, I’ve had parts of my story written about in the newspaper and I’ve shared pieces of it with crowds as large as 300.  I’ve also shared it countless times one on one with someone who really needed to hear it.  Those are my favorites.

This experience was also the genesis of the work I do today.  Had I not gone through it, I may never have known the blessing of helping someone live a more fulfilled life by helping them heal faster, become stronger, and do what they love without hurting so much

More than anything though, I am so grateful that my experience taught me how to live rightly to ensure my own health.  It taught me to honor and respect my body.  It taught me that good health is not a right, but a privilege.  It taught me that my choices matter and my life follows my choices.

It taught me that I can overcome anything if I’m willing to dedicate myself to the process, even when I don’t feel like it.  It taught me to shut the voice in my head up when it tells me to take the easy way out.  It taught me to never surrender no matter how many times I didn’t meet my own expectations.  It taught me to stop wanting things to be easy, quick and effortless and instead to desire the things that are hard to obtain in life, because those things are the only one’s worth obtaining.

It taught me to take responsibility for my health.  It taught me why I need to be grateful for every little thing I have and why I need to work my butt off to keep it.  It taught me that the only way I will fail is if I quit.

I don’t know what you might be going through today but I pray that my story gives you inspiration to fight another day, another week, another year.  To fight until you win.

Thanks for bringing me on the journey with you.

God bless!

Chris Vercelli  MATm, CPT

Founder: Non-Fiction Fitness

P.S. If you’d like to see some of the interviews I’ve done over the years, check out my newly updated media page by clicking here- https://nonfictionfitness.com/media/
There’s even a TV interview with me that was filmed when I was 17.  This was the first time I had shared my story publicly like this and it was while I was still in chemotherapy.  Most people who watch it say they can really hear the pain in my voice.
Check it out if you get a few minutes.

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