A Hot Cuppa Kickass

Coffee king Sebastian Sztabzyb keeps reaching higher while kicking cancer's butt

Sebastian Sztabzyb
Sebastian Sztabzyb stands next to the coffee roaster at Phil & Sebastian's in Calgary's East Village.

When Sebastian Sztabzyb sips an espresso, he doesn’t dwell on “what ifs.” Instead, he draws on experiences and skills from sport and business to stay focused on one goal — beating cancer once and for all.

“When you’re sick and there’s uncertainty with your health, it’s amazing how quickly nothing else matters… like zero,” says the co-founder of Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, trendy coffee outlets in Calgary.

Sztabzyb was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007, the same year he and his business partner, Phil Robertson, opened their first cafe at the Calgary Farmer’s Market. As far as cancers go, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is highly treatable and has an encouraging survival rate. Right now, he’s in remission, but there’s a good chance he’ll need a stem cell transplant to be disease-free and, hopefully, even cured.

“We all get something, we don’t get to choose when,” says Sztabzyb, who’s turned to endurance running as therapy. “My attitude when I’m running is very much of defiance. Despite my body not being right, I’m just not letting it slow me down. And that actually really motivates me.”

Sztabzyb and his wife, Emily, are active members of Team in Training, a running program that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. So far, they’ve taken part in three Team in Training races in Toronto, Florida and New Orleans.

Earlier this year, Sztabzyb ran a post-cancer personal best half-marathon time of 1:51 at the Rock n’ Roll Marathon in New Orleans and was named the Team in Training Honorary Hero at the event. It’s a remarkable achievement considering, just a few years earlier, he endured chemotherapy and was hospitalized, twice, after the chemo drug basically wiped out his immune system.

He says his background in competitive tennis and the boardroom has taught him how to deal with stress and overcome the spiral into negative thoughts.

“When you hear the C-word, you immediately think, ‘How many days do I have left?’” he says. “But, I just try to stay positive. You get a diagnosis, you deal with it, you get through it and you keep pushing forward.”

It’s been a long road back to health, but Sztabzyb now enjoys cycling, playing tennis with his three kids and he plays soccer in an over-35 league.

While his disease and treatment remain uncertain, his striving attitude is resolute. Sztabzyb is turning 40 this year and he’s got big plans to crush his next half-marathon this fall, with sights set on completing a triathlon next summer.