Living with Purpose: How a Three-Time Cancer Survivor Dedicates His Life to the Future | with Doug Ulman

Doug Ulman has dealt with several crises in his life, but his upbringing led him to approach those with the perspective that anything was possible. As a three-time survivor of cancer, that perspective has not only served him well — it’s been proven out time and time again.

Doug grew up with a focus on service. He was a student member of the school board and picked up from how active his parents were in the community. His friends would tell him that, even if he had never had cancer, he would still be doing the same type of work — maybe not in the same field, but something in service of others.

Much of Doug’s childhood was devoted to soccer and his coach had a profound impact on him. He made students juggle a soccer ball with their feet 150 times before being allowed to try out for the team — just to show that they have the discipline to train towards a goal. He made them run every time they made a mental error, which is anything you know how to do but didn’t execute because you weren’t concentrating. These seemed irritating at the time, but now Doug looks back and sees the behaviors they instilled in him.

In his sophomore year of college, Doug was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. At the time, he didn’t even know enough about cancer to know how scared he should be. It was caught early, they were able to surgically remove it, and he was able to go back to school. But eight months later, he was diagnosed with melanoma, and three months after that he was diagnosed with invasive melanoma.

A year after his third diagnosis, Doug got an email from Lance Armstrong. He didn’t know anything about him at the time, but Lance had just finished his cancer treatment and this led to a two-year back-and-forth, until Doug ended up moving to Austin, Texas, to help Lance’s organization, LiveStrong. 

In the middle of the fallout around Lance’s drug use, Doug made the decision to move to Columbus, Ohio, where he became the CEO of Pelotonia, a three-day experience focused on raising money for life-saving cancer research. Along the way, Doug and his family also founded the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and connecting young adults, their families, and friends who are affected by cancer.

Doug didn’t expect to end up where he did in life. As a kid, nobody would expect to be diagnosed with cancer so young. And even as an adult, Doug had no intention to move from Austin to Columbus until the opportunity arose. Our circumstances impact the course of our lives, but as his friends said — Doug was destined to work in service of others. And he followed the opportunity to get there.


What Brett asks:

  • [02:31] Can you share your childhood story and what that looked like for you?
  • [06:26] What kind of influence did growing up with a parent who has an artist have on you?
  • [08:41] What was it like as you progressed through high school?
  • [15:11] Have you had any reflections or thoughts about what this time is making you assess?
  • [18:05] What learnings did you gain from playing soccer at a high level?
  • [21:35] What happened when you got into trouble as a kid?
  • [29:18] Can you tell us the story of when you were diagnosed with cancer?
  • [38:31] What happens after college and how do you get into the career you are in?
  • [44:58] What was your experience working with Lance Armstrong?
  • [53:34] What fueled your decision to move to Columbus?
  • [58:17] What is going on in the future of Pelotonia?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • All of our experiences lead from one to another to take the form of our life. You don’t need a tragic experience to define your life — you just need to take the opportunities that are presented to you that make the most sense. It’s not until we look back in hindsight that we can connect the dots and see what led us there.