Grudge Match: Joe Joyce vs. Cancer
Tuesday, September 29 2015
“I’m honored to have this opportunity,” says Joe Joyce, about that moment on November 19 when he’ll climb through the ropes of a boxing ring in the center of The Theater at Madison Square Garden to take down the opponent that tried to kill him five years ago.
One might call it a grudge match: Joe Joyce vs. Cancer. Only this time, Joyce will be fighting to raise money for cancer research and for treatments like those that saved his life.
Joyce was just settling in to a new post at the Japanese bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities in 2010, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and his world was turned upside down.
"Nothing in life can prepare you for hearing those three dreaded words: ‘you have cancer.’ It was a shock,” he says. “I was 35, I had my wife and two young kids; my son was 3 and my daughter was a newborn. I asked my old boss, who was a cancer survivor, for advice, and he sent me to Sloan Kettering for a consult. They said the good news was that, of all the cancers, mine had a high cure rate. So the next morning, I was in surgery."
Joyce recalls it was a very sad and scary time for his family. He started chemotherapy immediately after surgery, and was still in the hospital when his father-in-law, who had been ill, passed away.
“That was a very tough time, especially for my wife, Lindsay,” he says.
Over the next year, Joyce would endure several rounds of chemotherapy and six additional surgeries. He lost 50 pounds and by his own admission, “looked pretty rough.”
But Joyce looks back and sees a silver lining. He met Adam Glazer, who would later fight in the 2013 Haymakers for Hope event, during his chemotherapy treatments. Glazer was in treatment as well, and the two bonded immediately.
“We went to treatments together,” recalls Joyce. “We were even in the hospital for a month together. We kept each other going. We’d hold our IV poles and do laps around the hospital. We were keeping each other up. If Adam was feeling down, I’d kind of keep him going and he’d do the same for me. We still call each other War Buddies.”
When Glazer fought in Haymakers in 2013, Joyce was watching and cheering him on.
“It was an unbelievable experience for him, and he tried to talk me into doing it last year, but the timing just didn’t work out,” he says. “I told my wife I was going to do it this year. We — my wife and kids and I—all agreed that we had to devote ourselves to it completely. Lindsay got behind me right away—I couldn’t do it without her anyway.”
Though he’d never boxed before, Joyce signed on and started his training this summer at Gotham Gym.
“I started training three days a week, working the heavy bags and learning the footwork, and then in the third week, my trainer Mike Castle said, ‘We’re sparring today.’ And I said, ‘OK, what does that mean?’”
Right away, he says, he “felt very nervous,” especially when his sparring partners— Haymakers teammates Max and Sydney told him they’d both been boxing for a while.
“So I took my first punches and it was an eye-opener for sure,” Joyce says. “But you move, and you just do it. You learn how not to get hit. I just thought to myself, ‘You’ve faced much worse—so what if you see a little blood? It’s OK.’ ”
On training days, Joyce is getting up at 3:30 a.m. to take the train from his home in Long Island to Gotham Gym for his early-morning workouts, before heading to Mitsubishi UFJ, where he is now Director of Operations. It makes for a long day, but when Joyce gets home, his kids, now 8 and 5, ask him all about boxing. “They’re really proud,” he says.
While some of Joyce’s relatives say he’s “crazy” to fight and worry he’ll get hurt, he says his friends and his entire firm are completely behind him. “The company has a charity committee to talk about supporting different causes,” he says. “But right now it’s all about this fight. They’re holding meetings about buying tickets and making t-shirts for fight night. They know what I went through and they’re excited.”
Still, that’s just the beginning of what makes all the training worth it.
“Adam was right,” says Joyce. “He told me that not only would it feel good to train so hard, and to raise money for cancer research, but that all aspects of my life would improve. My focus, my drive, my determination. I already feel renewed in my outlook and drive. Boxing really has helped me focus in every area of my life.”
A former college basketball player, Joyce felt he’d been in decent shape before he got sick. But after treatment, his focus shifted to his family and his job.
“Then one day I realized I hadn’t been to the gym for a long time,” he says. “So this has gotten me back. And now, my leg strength and my shoulders—wow! It’s all coming back. It’s amazing. The feeling I have when I walk out of that gym? It’s great. Five years ago, I never thought I’d have the strength to lift my kids again, never mind boxing! It feels great to get my confidence back.”
Now, Joyce can’t think of a better way to use that confidence and newfound strength than to beat cancer again—this time in the ring.
“When you’re going through treatment, you fight every day. You fight to find strength to get to the next day. You fight to make it to the next treatment. When Haymakers for Hope came up, the idea of literally fighting for it meant so much to me.
“Cancer took a lot out of my life,” Joyce says, pausing a moment to compose himself. “That’s why this fight means so much. Cancer took my mom and almost took me. So I’m gonna kick its ass.”
Margie Kelley is a mom, freelance writer, master gardener and sometimes boxer. She fought in the 2013 Belles of the Brawl in Boston, and managed to convince her husband, Chris Fitzpatrick, to fight in the Rock ‘n Rumble in May. Settling arguments has taken on a whole new meaning in their house!