Why tenacity matters

My husband, Gary, was stubborn tenacious. Diagnosed with late-stage, slow-growing prostate cancer, there was a two-year life expectancy. But Gary stubbornly insisted on living ten years. Ten far-reaching, astonishing years.


Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash


I loved that I was married to a tenacious man.

One Friday afternoon in the tenth year of cancer—with low energy and chemo still in his system—Gary suggested we walk a three-mile loop of the trail along the river that flows through the middle of our hometown. As a prelude to our Friday date night.

He said we could always find a bench to sit on, and then turn back if he couldn’t go the distance.

But we walked the full three miles. Because he was that stubborn tenacious.

Stress management expert George Everly Jr., consultant Douglas Strouse and an original Navy SEAL, and Dennis McCormack, all PhDs, compiled a list of shared characteristics in highly resilient people, based on relevant research and years of observations of people.

And tenacity made the list — this uncommon perseverance, especially in the face of setbacks and discouragement.

Based on my experience as Gary’s caregiver, here are 5 reasons his uncommon perseverance mattered:

1. Tenacity supports quality of life.

There’s no science to prove that our cancer team—good nutrition, increased physical activity, a tenacious attitude, plugging into community, giving back, strong faith—extended Gary’s life from the projected two years to ten.

But certainly our team was profoundly instrumental in providing a good quality of life. Which was important to the patient as well as his caregiver.

2. Tenacity encourages healthy risk-taking.

Gary and I stepped out of our comfort zones by establishing a non-profit, writing for grant funding, and sharing in all regions of the country what we were doing to live well with terminal disease.

It took tenacity to dare imagine there would be audiences for our proactive message, and to persist with the steps it took to get us in front of them.

3. Tenacity produces a positive attitude.

My husband didn’t sit around bemoaning the fact that he was going to die of cancer, “that is, if I don’t get hit by a bus first” (his words, not mine).

His determination to remain positive helped set the tone in our home. We didn’t have our heads buried in the sand; we knew that terminal meant … well, terminal.

But while we still had life, we were determined to live it.

4. Tenacity generates fun and memories.

Gary and I had more fun and created more memories in the cancer years. Probably because in our earlier years of marriage we were too frugal, and too busy setting aside for someday.

And then cancer knocked on our front door, and even though it insisted on accompanying us, we tenaciously climbed to the tops of more mountains, and took more road trips, and established a standing Friday date night, and laughed uncontrollably, and explored more places across this great land than at any other season in our marriage.

5. Tenacity creates hope.

My husband, on a hormone therapy regimen that induces exhaustion, had every reason to sit back in an easy chair and watch other people lead extraordinary lives.

But he donned hiking boots, and cleats in snow and ice, and turned on the lights in the bill of his cap in the dark early morning hours, and hiked to the top of a small mountain planted in the middle of our hometown — two miles round trip, 500′ elevation gain. Every workday morning.

I don’t do 5:30am, but on weekends Gary and I discovered the trails in the nearby Cascade Range. And we became addicted to fresh mountain air, and the smell of pine needles on sun-baked dirt, and the roar of waterfalls, and the startling beauty of wildflowers after snowmelt.

My husband’s persistence to live his remaining days well gave me so much hope that maybe he’d live longer than the experts projected.

Which is exactly how it turned out.

Gary personified the Bible passage in Hebrews 12:1-2 — “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

In that last August of his life, having completed radiation and opting for no more chemotherapy, Gary and I resumed our after-dinner walks through the neighborhood. More slowly than before chemo, but still …

One early evening we came across this flower growing out of the gutter. Which reminded me of my husband.


1 a4b-aoflower

Photo by Marlys


Hanging in there against all odds.

Surviving in limited resources.

Doing what it was created to do, even in less-than-desirable circumstances.

Yep. Gary.

One final thought …

James N. Watkins leaves us with this to ponder:

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.

Resolve. Determination. Grit. Persistence. Obstinacy. Tenacity. It doesn’t matter so much what you call it; it matters that you cultivate it.

What if we could all live our lives that way — with or without cancer?


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  1. Very inspiring blog. Thank you for sharing such a personal story of your journey together in such a beautiful light.

  2. Very encouraging and insightful post. My novel SEEING BEYOND deals with depression and loss as a young woman deals with the death of her parents and the fear of losing her sister also. Deep topics that touch many people as they struggle to understand how it fits with their faith in God. Bless you for your ministry.

  3. For as long as I can remember, Tenacity has been my middle name. It certainly has paid off by never, ever giving up. Thank you for sharing this story!

  4. Grace Lawson

    Thanks for your great sharing Dear Marlys !! And I totally agree with what the others have said !!!

  5. Loretta Gresham

    Hi Marlys,
    You are an inspiring writer. Let’s plan a hike together in the beautiful place we live?
    The weather at least in the afternoons is so wonderful right now…..what’s your favorite
    hike in fall? Look forward to hearing from you ?
    Loretta Gresham

    • Yes, Loretta, yes! I’m away from home for another week and a half. I’ll touch base with you when I get back in town, and let’s do a fall hike! Thank you for reaching out, and for your kind words.

  6. Lovay

    Inspirational share. We never really know what we are capable of until we are put through the test. And great life lessons come with that testing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. tanya neelon

    Have you written a book yet? If not, you really should. It would be a best seller immediately!!

  8. Beautifully written Marlys! Your story reminds me of our friend and his wife. He was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and they have tenaciously traveled, served, made memories with their kids and grand kids, and been a joyous witness through all the chemo and treatments and hospitalizations. I think that’s how believers should be – tenacious for life, but ever-ready for our life beyond with Christ.

    • Well said, Beth: “ … they have tenaciously traveled, served, made memories with their kids and grand kids, and been a joyous witness through all the chemo and treatments and hospitalizations.” I love that! Thank you.

  9. Karen Larson

    Marlys, I loved what you had to say. I’ve read it several times; I loved how you “showed “ things. Great word pictures, and you inspire me!

  10. Life serves up lessons where we least expect to find them. I am very sorry for your gigantic loss. I am inspired today to be tenacious and open to points A-Z! My friend and I are traveling and your stories will be on my mind this weekend, a respite from the news.

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