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Take the Wins

Steve and Samantha Tribanas make an incredible team. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

Knowing that his last scan yielded a result of no disease detected, 30-year-old Steve Tribanas walked into the clinic at the tail end of his prescribed six month chemo regimen, then turned around and tried to leave. “I didn’t wanna be there anymore. I knew it was just gonna suck so much.” But he was stopped in his tracks by the don’t-even-think-about-it stares from his mother and wife. He turned back around and went through the session. This was on January 18th, 2023. A subsequent scan in February yielded another no disease detected result, which felt like a nail in the coffin for his cancer. By the end of March—only six months after being diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—Tribanas and his wife, Samantha, would run the 7.6k option of the Philadelphia Love Run. But it’s been a challenge the entire way.

In May 2022 Tribanas discovered a lump on his neck and asked Samantha, who is a physician’s assistant at Penn, to check it. They decided to monitor it for a week or two, and contacted his doctor when it grew in size instead of going away. Steve spent his 30th birthday on some nasty antibiotics for what he hoped would turn out to be an infected lymph node. The antibiotics didn’t work, which led to an ultrasound. “That was the first moment it felt kind of real, because I was in a cancer center…” Next came a needle/core biopsy, the results of which he received before his doctor did. “The report said the lump was ‘suspect of Hodgkin's Lymphoma.’ which was unsettling, but the real emotion came after I had some lymph nodes extracted and the diagnosis confirmed—Stage III Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, with cancerous lymph nodes in my neck, armpit, chest, and diaphragm.”

Rather than wallow in self pity, Tribanas shows tremendous grace and humility in his description of what followed. “Treatment was just 12 rounds of chemo. I had it good, you know? Based on what I saw other people going through. I’d see little kids there, people by themselves. I’d see old people with no one, struggling. I had my mother and Samantha with me every single treatment. It's hard enough to walk this road with a loving support system, but seeing kids in the same hallway as me and the same chemo chairs, walking with their infusions….that was rough.”

"Never give up, don't ever give up!" Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

After his Hodgkins was diagnosed, Tribanas reached out to an old friend who had beaten the disease. His friend sent him a copy of Stuart Scott’s book Every Day I Fight. Scott had been sports anchor for ESPN who passed away from a brutal form of cancer. Scott’s “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” philosophy inspired Steve “Scott’s chemo was much rougher than what I went through, and he would go to the gym after his chemo sessions and box for hours; so two days after my chemo, I hopped on my Peloton for 20 minutes and I felt effing great. It felt amazing.”

With no hesitation, Steve shares that the most important lesson he’s learned through his challenging battle with cancer is “Slow down with your life. Don’t rush it. I was always trying to fit everything in—like FOMO (fear of missing out) x30. I would stay up late just so I didn't miss the crazy home run that happened, losing a slot of sleep, just going too fast. Slow down to be more present. Embrace the day. We don’t have every day guaranteed. These days are precious. You know those cliches? Like, hey, today’s precious, tomorrow might not come. At the end of the day, you could prepare, plan, think where your life’s gonna go, what you wanna do, and it can all change in four seconds. We had a summer of weddings planned, just a totally different idea of what we thought our year was gonna look like. Never did we think that we would be sitting in the Abramson Cancer Center every other week. It realigns your priorities, makes you think honestly about every day—about what and who is important, and how you spend your time. Not that I would wish this on anybody, but it is a different lens that helped us reprioritize our lives.”

He met Samantha online during Covid in 2020 and they got married after his first chemo treatment. “We got married in his parent’s backyard. Steve lasted like two hours at our wedding, before having to call it a day.” recalls Samantha. Steve adds “I took my own hair the day after our wedding. I was in control of that. I wasn’t letting cancer take my hair. I have a lot of hair that I can't control, ever.” Steve’s hair is finally growing back, a thickening fuzz.

Tribanas training with the core of his support system, his wife Samantha. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

Tribanas was not a runner. He claims that he was "allergic to running his whole life. No thank you, I don’t wanna run.” He started running because he never wants to be in the hospital ever again. "I don’t want to be unhealthy ever again. I don’t want to ever have to go back to the doctor. I don’t want anyone telling me the schedule. I did not control my schedule—my doctor would text me that 'we have an opening tomorrow, you have to come.'" Thanks to Rachel Kipphut, a nurse practitioner at Penn and also a good friend of Samantha’s, they started training in February for the Love Run 7.6k—shortly after he finished chemo. Samantha shares “Rachel connected us with Love Run and Legacy of Hope at the same time. She’s been going through a similar journey after having a tumor removed. Love Run was something exciting for her to get involved in—since she could run after having the surgery. She told us about it and we got excited. This was right when Steve was finishing chemo. We looked into Legacy of Hope and we were sold, excited. It motivated us. We started training, and wanted to be involved—either donate or come to the race, or both.”

Bravo to Love Run 7.6k finishers Steve and Samantha Tribanas. Not too shabby for someone with a self-professed allergy to running, who started training two weeks after finishing a six month chemotherapy regimen, eight weeks ahead of race day. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

They ended up doing both; after completing the Love Run 7.6k Steve and Samantha took a week off. Apparently no longer allergic to running, Steve is keeping his running goals to a manageable nine miles weekly—three miles x three days a week. After some prodding, he confesses that he may opt for the Love Run Half Marathon next year. So things are looking good for Steve. He knows that, before he can say ‘My cancer is cured,’ he needs to accumulate a streak of no disease detected results over the next five years. So, for now, he and Samantha are slowing down and taking their wins. In the meantime, we hope to see him—his head full of sweaty, uncontrollable hair—crossing the finish line with his amazingly supportive wife at next year’s Love Run half marathon.

Steve and Samantha may have finished their Love Run 7.6k, but you can still become a donor for their fundraising campaign, which will be active until April 30th. for Legacy of Hope’s Emergency Patient Support Network.