"When Fear Pushes You, Push Back!"4 Tips for Gaining Perspective on Life’s Greatest Hindrance from Cancer-Surviving Marine

What if you could overcome your fears? What would you do, and how different would you be?

“Most people have no idea of what they’re capable of; I think they’re almost trained by fear to not attempt the amazing things they dream of. But I’m living proof – if you can overcome fear, you can overcome almost anything,” says Jay Platt, whose feats include swimming across the Mississippi River while handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded. He’s subject of the new documentary, “Living Unstoppable.”

Platt was living his dream as a U.S. Marine when a cancer syndrome called von Hippel Lindau (VHL) exploded like a bomb on his life. It caused tumors in his brain and on his spine, as well as kidney cancer and the loss of his left eye.

“I was mad at the world, and maybe part of me was afraid of the fact that I would be considered a handicapped person,” says Platt, who was retired from the Marines due to his health.

After a personal journey of acceptance, however, Platt went on accomplish feats many world-class athletes wouldn’t consider. Along with his record-breaking Mississippi swim, he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco with his hands and feet tied, and he was one of fewer than 300 people to have hiked the 2,100-mile southbound Appalachian Trail.

He talks about five areas that helped him overcome fear and anxiety in order to rebuild his body, mind and spirit.

• Focus on the joys in life: When you realize it’s not all about you, the annoying voice that tells you to be afraid begins to shrivel and loses its poison. While still reeling from his diagnosis and its effects on his life, Platt heard the carefree laughter of a severely handicapped girl being pushed in her wheelchair by her mother. “ ‘Listen to the birds, Momma,’ I heard her say – she was just so happy to experience that simple pleasure,” he says. “That, more than anything, sent me on a positive path.” His family, friends and those to whom he donates money through various charities gives Platt strength.

• Spiritual preparation: Just as Platt trains physically for his feats, he finds it essential to work out spiritually in order to stand up to the fear and anxieties that life’s trials bring. To that end, he surrounds himself with positive messages and positive people, including his friend Les Brown, the influential author of the self-help book, “Live Your Dreams.”

• Use setbacks as a motivator: When something bad happens, one of the most common responses is fear – fear that it will happen again; fear that you’re less than you used to be; or irrational fear. Platt always knew he’d be a Marine; when he was forced to retire early, he had to recalibrate his entire life. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘What are you doing now?’ – It doesn’t matter what you used to be,” he says. Platt is always looking forward to achieving his next goal.

• Remember a greater good: When he started experiencing complications from VHL, which first manifested in his left eye, Platt promised God that he’d devote his life to others if he got through the scare. He has kept that promise – his Appalachian Trail hike alone raised $109,000 for charity. “Staying true to a promise might be the most emotionally solid aid to overcoming fear,” Platt says.

Jay Platt was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 1998 after suffering complications from the cancer syndrome von Hippel Lindau (VHL), a genetic disease that resulted in brain and spinal tumors, kidney cancer, and the loss of his left eye. When told his future would be considerably dimmer than his past, Platt set out to rebuild himself physically, mentally and spiritually, and to challenge himself by setting demanding physical goals. He was one of fewer than 300 people to have hiked the 2,100-mile southbound Appalachian Trail; one of three to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco with hands and feet tied; and the only person to swim across the Mississippi River while blindfolded, handcuffed and shackled. The proceeds from his adventures and sales of his documentary benefit non-profits, including the VHL Family Alliance.