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Boot camp instructor with lung cancer asks for only good thoughts

SOUTH TAMPA — It started with a cough over the summer.

John Hannon thought it was a chest cold and went about training people in his Body Bash Bootcamp at Ballast Point Park and on Harbour Island.

"Hit it hard," he told students.

"I blow the whistle, I get people in shape," he said.

Some of his students call his words of encouragement "John­isms."

What do you want for yourself?

You're here because you wouldn't work this hard on your own.

You're gonna look smoking hot for spring break.

He would send them off with instructions to get a bowl of oatmeal and a piece of fruit and to hug their loved ones.

The popular 43-year-old trainer has taught outdoor group fitness classes in Tampa since 1998 and practices what he preaches.

Which was why he couldn't understand his sudden shortness of breath.

In September, he went to the doctor. It took him a week for the news to sink in. Then he sent an e-mail to his friends.

"Last week I was diagnosed with stage 3b lung cancer of the left lung. It's called adenocarcinoma and is the most common form of lung cancer among non-smokers. It's a mass resting on the bronchial passageway to my left lung with partial intrusion into the lung itself … basically, my left lung is shut down."

• • •

Hannon's father died of cancer that started in his liver, and an older brother died of leukemia. His mother is a breast cancer survivor.

He never thought the disease would catch him, though.

Neither did his brother Mark Hannon: "As healthy as he is, you would never think …"

The trainer worked out at least six days a week and ate a diet of lean proteins and vegetables, his brother said. Occasionally, he splurged on pizza with his two sons, P.J., 20 and Matt, 14. He had never smoked.

But his is an insensitive cancer. It doesn't care who you are. How much you've helped others. How well you take care of your body.

Lung cancer kills more Americans than any other cancer. Experts say survival rates are slim for Stage 3 adenocarcinoma. But Hannon ignores the odds.

"Stats," he says, "they're for losers."

He's focused on surviving through faith in God and the love of family and friends, including his girlfriend, Shanna Halsell.

"He's not going to show any weakness," Halsell said.

He calls her an angel.

With treatment, his tumor has shrunk. It has to get even smaller before doctors can remove it.

A sub now covers his boot camp classes, although Hannon hopes to be back training in December.

He misses the rewards, seeing and hearing his clients' progress:

I've lost 20 pounds and feel so good.

I'm wearing a dress I haven't worn in ages.

I'm playing football with my kids.

After sending the e-mail announcing his illness, Hannon was deluged with support.

"It was very humbling," he said, tearing up last week in a hospital bed at Tampa General Hospital, where he was being fed through a tube in his nose.

He had come in five days earlier, suffering from excruciating pain while at home in the Slade at Channelside. He documented the experience on Facebook and plans to use his story to inspire others in overcoming cancer or other illnesses.

"There's a lesson hidden in here and every day it reveals itself and someday I'm going to teach the lesson."

Hannon, a graduate of Chamberlain High and the University of South Florida, said he has lost about 20 pounds and endured chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation. He could not swallow; it was too painful. As he rested in his hospital bed, talking tired him, too.

Still, he had several things he needed to say.

First a warning. For about 45 days he had tried to shake off the odd feeling in his chest, thinking he had bronchitis. He wishes he had caught it earlier.

"If you feel like something is not right, get in to see your doctor," he said.

And he had to give words of assurance to his cousin, Frank Sicoli, 50, of Windemere, who had stopped by to visit. "Dude, just know this is just something I'm going through. This is a bump in the road. I'm going to beat this."

Hannon said he doesn't fear the huge battle ahead of him.

What scares him is that he may never be able to repay all the people supporting him.

Friends formed a committee to help cover his expenses. His health insurance policy has a $1,000-per-day cap and a $100,000 total limit on cancer treatments.

His treatments will likely exceed this, he says, so fundraisers are under way to help cover costs.

Supporters are selling T-shirts and wristbands and planning a half-marathon and a spin-a-thon with people pedaling on spin exercise bikes.

Steve Parker, a lawyer and friend on the committee, signed up to spin. He has been a student of Hannon's for more than a year at his morning camp.

On Mondays, Parker said, "He tells us it's time to work off the poor choices you made over the weekend."

Hannon was released from the hospital last week. Several times a week he returns for hourslong chemotherapy treatments.

During his recent stay, his mother, Barbara, sat at his side. She is his inspiration. Like her, he plans to survive.

His e-mail was clear on that.

"I'll need all of your support on my journey. No pity parties, feeling sorry for me or long faces at boot camp. Nothing but good thoughts moving forward. You are what you think and I want positive thoughts all around me, please."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

>>fast facts

To help

John Hannon's friends are organizing fundraisers to cover his medical expenses. A "spin-a-thon" will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at SOHO Cycling Studio, 2019 W Kennedy Blvd. A half-marathon will be held Nov. 21. For information, visit sohocyclingstudio.com and click at the bottom on "Spin for a Cure" or "Run for a Cure." Or call SOHO Cycling at (813) 944-3044.

Boot camp instructor with lung cancer asks for only good thoughts 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 4:30am]
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