My Cancer Baptism by Fire

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My Cancer Baptism by Fire

So it was Father’s Day weekend when I got the call from my friend, Wayne Elsey. After discussing a little business, he said, “Well, I’m on my way to Sarasota.”

“Vacation time?”

“No, I’m in discussions to be giving a TED talk at TEDx Sarasota later this year.”

Now I’ve never known anyone who has personally given a TED talk, so I was beyond thrilled. “Dude, tell me where, tell me when, and I’ll fly down to cheer you on from the audience.”

So imagine my surprise when twelve hours later, I get an email from Wayne. CC’d on the email was a woman named Judy Winslow. The message body: “Hi Judy, great meeting with you today. This is Dan, the guy I told you about for a potential TED talk.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I was overwhelmed with what I read. And then, I was overwhelmed with nausea.

I may have a background in radio, but I’ve never given a long speech or a talk in my entire life. This was not the place where I had ever envisioned giving one, let alone giving my first one ever. But in an impeccable example of a blind pig finding a truffle, Ms. Winslow agreed to not only have me give a talk, but she also introduced me to Jerry Jordan, the man who would coach me through the process.

And it was near the end of the process when I needed Jerry the most. With about a week to go before my final draft of the talk was to be turned in, I was in the process of a frantic video edit of Deb… a lady who was about to lose her battle with cancer. This “Goodbye” video for her daughter, Abby, was kicking my ass sideways, emotionally. I was in the process of editing the last fifty seconds when I couldn’t hold back the ocular seepage anymore.

There I sat in my windowless office, crying like a schoolgirl when my phone rang. It was Jerry. I hadn’t spoken with him in two weeks, and he was supremely busy so this was a call I had to take. I swallowed hard and and answered the phone.

Jerry barely said “Hi Dan” before I unloaded on him with the story of Deb, of how she had a daughter one day older than my son, of how we had the same oncologist, of how she had beaten cancer into submission the first seven times she faced it, and how it was not to be for time number eight.

Three minutes the diatribe went, and exhausted, I simply stopped talking. There was ten seconds of dead air on the phone. Nothing. Not a sound. I thought I had either ticked him off, or that the Sprint network had somehow failed me at that moment.

“Are you still there, Jerry?”

“Dan, that’s your finale.”

“Really? Do I hold back or go for the…”


And so Deb, a woman who was not famous in any discernible way, would now be the finale of a TEDx talk two months after she passed away.

So know that as you watch, or after you watched this, giving this talk was the scariest, and most wonderful thing I’ve ever done professionally, and if you get the chance, I highly suggest you take advantage of it. I learned so much that day from so many people… people who weren’t there to give a motivational speech, but rather to show how they saw something they could do to change the world, and they actually got up off of the couch to do it.

Thanks, TED 🙂

By | 2017-05-24T01:38:06+00:00 November 19th, 2013|Blog, tedx|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dan Duffy has been working in film, television, and radio for almost 20 years. Graduating from the Foundation Film program at the Vancouver Film School in 2000, he has been making documentaries, commercials, and short films since for companies big and small around the world. Prior to this, Dan spent five years as an assistant producer, sports director, production manager, and on-air talent for the nationally syndicated “Steve and DC Radio Show.” He has won numerous awards in his career, including a Telly Award Winner, a seven-time Telly Award Finalist Winner, and an AIR (Achievement in Radio) award, with two other nominations. In 2003, Dan was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. Through massive amounts of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, Dan was declared cancer free seven months after his diagnosis.

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