It always staggers me how one decision made or one risk taken sets off a sequence of events that you never see coming.
For instance, one time about two years ago, I decided to take a day off work and bring our boys to the pictures. That choice turned into picking the Smurf’s Movie. This set in motion the ordering of popcorn with extra butter. That begat a nervous rumbling in the dark recesses of my innards, thus precipitating my dire need to leave the theater fourteen minutes early, concluding with the fact that I now know that I’m highly allergic to movie theater butter.
Actually, that’s a bad example. Forget I ever wrote it. This next one is better.
This one time, at my oncologist’s office, Dr. Needles asked the simple, but rarely answered, “Any questions?”
Ten days prior, I found a lump in my abdomen that I thought was the size of a Titleist. It was more the size of an NFL football. From that discovery, to finding a doctor who would actually see me, to the emergency C/T (which had the same effect as movie theater butter), to the full biopsy, to the diagnosis of stage 3 testicular cancer, I was mired in such a fog that I would not have been able to tell you the color of an orange.
Yet my father, Ray, the man who rarely says boo to an MD, had the guts to pull this out:
Doctor, my father died of cancer, and ever since, I’ve been making contributions in his honor to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Three months ago, they sent me a handwritten letter thanking me, and offering any help they could give if I ever needed it. This has all happened so fast. Would you be willing to call up to Sloan to see if this is the best course of action for my son?
You could have knocked my mother, Marie, over with a feather. Marie is the advocate. Marie is the caretaker. Marie is the one who had the stones to once ask an anesthesiologist, “How many people have you killed?”
“I did my residency at Sloan Kettering. I’d be happy to call, Mr. Duffy,” said Dr. Needles.
What my father did not know was that this one short, sweet, almost innocuous request set in motion a chain of events that borders on the unbelievable.
*Dr. Needles then reached out to Sloan Kettering.
*Sloan Kettering had just finished a study on certain types of testicular cancer just two months prior.
*The study proved that my particular type of cancer, simple seminoma, now required only two chemotherapy drugs: Cisplatin and VP-16. The widely prescribed third drug, Bleomycin (or as I like to call it, “The Carpet Bomber”), was no longer medically necessary.
*Dr. Needles heeded the advice. I took twenty rounds of two drugs in eleven weeks…not twenty rounds of three drugs in eleven weeks.
*At the end, lefty was removed, thus halving my ability to help create a child.
*Two years later, when my wife Stephanie and I thought seriously about trying to have children, I assumed that the chemo killed any hope at all. I made the appointment to get tested.
*At the conclusion of my “test,” my urologist, Dr. Leonard Gaum, said the unthinkable:
I have bad news, bad news, and good news. The bad news is that one-third are dead. The other bad news is that one-third are deformed, which means they act like a rotor-less helicopter, spinning off in circles. The good news, and with the amount of chemo you had I can’t really explain it, one-third appear to be completely normal. I see no medical reason why you can’t go out and make a baby. Good luck.
*Eleven months after that test, Stephanie gave birth to our first child, Sam.
*She gave birth to Ben, our baby, two years and two months later.
To this day, Dr. Needles says, “It’s because you were young and healthy that you were blessed with kids.”
And he is the doctor, and I trust him. But deep in my gut, I know that had that third drug been in the picture, my life would be vastly different today. And it was all born from an unlikely question from an even more unlikely source.
And you could even take cancer out of it. Wait until you hear this one?
- A friend named Todd Newton asked if I could shoot a video for him, as this is my chosen profession.
- I said yes, and with so many things that went wrong on that shoot, we still made him a cool video.
- Four months later, he called and asked if I wanted to go to Haiti to shoot a video for Soles4Souls, as he was now their good will ambassador.
- Three months later, I met Wayne Elsey, the founder, on the way to Port Au Prince.
- Four months later, Wayne offered to help re-brand The Half Fund, our tiny non-profit mission to tell stories about cancer.
- From reading one of our blogs on our new site that Wayne’s team built, an editor from the Huffington Post asked if we’d submit a post to their Healthy Living section, which started an avalanche of posts that are still going strong.
- Six months after that, Wayne introduced me to Judy Winslow, who ran TEDx in Sarasota, FL, and she asked me to give a talk. She also said she liked our blogs on HuffPo.
- From that TEDx talk, I’ve received fifteen more from around the country, and I’ve been honored to speak to thousands of people about how important it is to tell their stories… to make the world a better place with the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate.
- From the blogs and the talks, and thanks to a mutual friend named Jeremy, I met Teri Griege, a stage 4 colon cancer fighting badass who raced in the Kona Ironman just a few months after her diagnosis.
- From reading Teri’s book Powered by Hope, I met her writing partner, Amy Marxkors, who from reading our blogs told me I should write a book.
- Six weeks later, after initially laughing at Amy, I finished my book.
- And four months after that, I am thrilled to announce that it’s going to be published by Lucky Bat Books, thanks to the work of another cancer ass-kicking author, Sarah Kugler Powers, who found us through, you guessed it, the website that Wayne built, from our meeting in Haiti, that was all started by agreeing to make a small little video, gratis, for a friend.
When Todd called me three years ago and asked me to make a video for him, I never, ever could have foreseen all the adventures to where I’ve been led, just like my dad could not have foreseen the very real possibility that the question he asked may have just been the reason why we have Sam and Ben today.
So when opportunities present themselves, and they always present themselves, take a risk. Ask a question. Say “yes” to an experience to which you would normally say, “no.”
And will every decision you make lead you to great adventures? Of course not, but the unpredictability of life proves time and time again what Pablo from The Backyardigans said (over, and over…and over again) in the classic Super Secret Super Spy: “Always expect the unexpected.”
And I only know this because I have children. Thanks, Dad!