Monday, October 31 2016
I am participating in Haymakers for Hope to raise awareness about oral cancer in memory of Peter McGee Hoffman. Peter was a high school classmate at the American School in London who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of tongue cancer at the age of 24. Peter died just seven and a half months after his diagnosis following a courageous battle. This blog post describes my experience raising money and awareness for the Oral Cancer Foundation while training for my Haymakers for Hope fight on November 18th. Please help me remember Peter Hoffman by supporting the #ifightforpete efforts, helping raise awareness about oral cancer, donating to my fundraising campaign or making sure you and your family get screened for oral cancer.
I have been a boxing fan since I became aware of Mike Tyson in the late 1980s. As a six-year-old, the star of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! was seemingly invincible. I remember being utterly floored by Tyson’s loss to Buster Douglas in 1990. I continued to follow boxing, becoming a devoted follower of Chris Eubank while living in London. Eubank had an incredibly arrogant ring persona. He would strut to the ring, chest puffed out like a peacock, before staring down the crowd and hurdling the ropes, all accompanied by Tina Turner’s anthem The Best.
I must appreciate arrogant boxers, as I first went to a boxing gym after being inspired by Eric Kelly’s viral video Weak Men Pay This Boxing Coach To Tell Them They Are Terrible. I didn’t get serious about training until I went on a trip to Cuba last November to train at the legendary Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo in Havana – the home of Olympic Champions like Félix Savón and Teófilo Stevenson. After my trip to Cuba, I was desperate to get a chance to fight, and soon found my way to Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo to begin training with two-time professional world champion Joan Guzmán. To my delight, two-months later I was accepted to participate in Haymakers for Hope’s NYC 2016 event.
I immediately knew that in participating in Haymakers, I wanted to raise money and awareness about oral cancer in Peter Hoffman’s name. Peter wrote a number of update emails to his friends as he battled cancer, and would include things such as “P.P.S. My parents are having a pretty rough time with all of this, and for those of you who know them I'm sure it would mean a lot to them to get an email from you. Their email address is .” Peter demonstrated such bravery and selflessness in his concern for his parents and others as he fought cancer that something seemed so fitting about preparing for this fight and fighting to raise money and awareness in his memory.
Peter’s battle with cancer was awful. He underwent surgeries that removed large parts of his tongue and throat leaving him with major limitations in eating and drinking. As his condition worsened and his cancer spread, he was left unable to speak and reduced to communicating with a pad and pen. Peter’s quality of life had been entirely decimated and he made the decision to forgo additional painful treatments that offered no cure, but agreed to undergo a tracheostomy and have a feeding tube inserted so that he could recover enough to be able to spend time with his sisters – but he never recovered.
At Peter’s death, his parents Gary and Peggy wrote, “we cannot begin to convey to you how proud Peter has made us throughout all of this. His behavior has not surprised us because Peter is Peter. But he has been strong beyond belief and tried every which way he knew how to shield us from the pain that we couldn’t be shielded from. Never once over these months did Peter ask “why me”? To the end, he handled himself with dignity, humor, grace and strength of character. He left us a long letter to be read after his death in which he said that he felt he had probably finally drawn the “short straw” after living what he felt had been a fairytale life filled with loving friends and family. Peter’s life these past seven months has been extremely difficult but no one would have guessed that from his positive news updates. He was determined not to let people get depressed about his illness[.]” This is why #ifightforpete, and why I’m asking for your help in the fight against oral cancer.
Oral cancer is treatable if caught early enough, but a person dies from oral cancer in America every hour of every day, and 48,000 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016. We all have heard of or know someone who is battling or has lost a battle to oral cancer, including Babe Ruth, Sammy Davis Jr., Humphrey Bogart, George Harrison, Diane Von Furstenberg and Aldous Huxley. When found at early stages, oral cancers have an 80 to 90 % survival rate. Unfortunately at this time, the majority of oral cancers are currently found at late stages. It’s crucial to get screened for oral cancer whenever you see your dentist or doctor. The screening is quick, painless and could save your life. Learn the signs of oral cancers, including sores, swellings, lumps or thick patches anywhere in or around your mouth or throat, red or white lesions in your mouth or lips, or a feeling of a lump or object stuck in your throat. Get screened and donate to my fundraising campaign to help knockout oral cancer!
I began my fundraising efforts for Haymakers as soon as I was accepted to participate. My approach has been to try and interweave the various threads of Peter’s story, training for the fight, and oral cancer awareness over social media platforms and any other means possible. I had 1,000 business cards printed with my social media details (https://www.instagram.com/gpcopeland/ & https://www.facebook.com/gpcopeland) so that I could give anyone I spoke to about the fight a way of following up. I made a poster to promote my fight inspired by an old Ali boxing poster that I’ve put up in the gyms I go to and at work. I have had 100 shirts printed with Peter’s smiling face on them and the Joan Guzman Boxing Academy logo on the back. Peter’s whole family posted on social media wearing the shirt. Fighters at Gleason’s, including former World Champion Yuri Foreman and undefeated soon to be 15-0 pro Mikkel “Slikk Mikk” LesPierre have #ifightforpete shirts. I’m also hoping to get some fairly high profile supporters to do Instagram or FaceBook posts wearing the shirts between now and the fight – so contact me if you have tens of thousands of social media followers and are willing to help raise awareness!
The largest aggregate donor to my fundraising effort will also get two of the highest priced tickets to see Hamilton on Valentine’s Day 2017 – these have a face value of $849.00 each meaning they would cost about a million dollars on the open market. Through these marketing schemes and an array of blast and direct emails, I’ve now raised about $50,000 from over 125 donors, including $35,750 in ticket sales and hope to raise many thousands more before the fight.
My training for the fight has been as much fun and as rewarding as the fund and awareness raising. I know my coach is easily the most talented boxer involved in Haymakers this year, with a Hall of Fame professional record. Developing as a boxer alongside him and the stable of JG Boxing Academy fighters has been incredibly challenging and rewarding. I’ve been supplementing my boxing training with conditioning work at Velocity Sports Performance, pushing sleds and doing all sorts of cycles and power endurance stuff I don’t really understand but seemingly has made me better at getting out of Coach Guzman’s way when he starts swinging at me. I know come the 18th of November that I’ll have done everything possible to be prepared to fight, and am so grateful to have such incredible support coming to watch me.
Peter’s sisters will be there on the 18th, and his mother recently wrote me “[y]ou should know that Peter’s main goal for when he recovered was to increase awareness of this disease, about which we knew nothing until he was diagnosed. What you are doing is what Peter was unable to do. We watched as Peter fought with everything he had for seven and a half months until his death, and I like to think that his spirit will be there on November 18 in the Hammerstein Ballroom as you fight in his name.” I can’t think of a better reason to be fighting or an opponent more deserving of being defeated. #ifightforpete. #kooralcancer.