Why They Fight
Monday, May 14 2018
With 30 different men and women stepping into the ring for the first time on May 17th you can imagine there must be a lot of nerves and emotions swirling around. Excitement, fear, anticipation, hope, dread, the list goes on. They all have someone they are fighting for, they all have individual things driving them. Their lives have all been touched by cancer in some way. As fight night is approaching get an inside look as to what motivates these brave men and women who are stepping in the ring to literally knock out cancer.
Unfortunately, I don’t know too many people who haven’t been affected by cancer in some way. Whether it is friends or family I have seen it impact people close to me. In 2016 I was lucky enough to became a parent. I think when that happens it makes you more empathetic to what other families have to go through. Being a parent and having to watch your child go through chemo is unimaginable to me. The fact that it is 2018 and this is still a reality for a lot of people is why I am doing this.
If I had to list every time cancer has affected me, my fingers would bleed from typing. I’ve lost too many family members and loved ones to this awful disease and know a myriad of others who have successfully battled or are currently battling cancer. The person closest to me is my Mom who was recently diagnosed with MDS and just completed her first round of chemo. I loathe cancer so the opportunity to fight and raise money to help others in any way was a no brainer.
I have had a number of friends who have had cancer and have received amazing treatment at the facilities in Boston. One of the things that inspires me is bringing the care out to the local communities in New England.
I’m drawing my inspiration from every picture my cousin shares with me of her daughter sitting on a hospital bed with a huge smile on her face as she waits for her chemo treatment. I dig deep and work through minor aches and pains thinking about how she stays up late to finish her homework because she wants to go to school even though she’s had an awful belly ache or headache for days. I also think about how I felt on May 23rd 2013 when I turned 32 and realized I was older than my dad ever was… passing due to a brain tumor. I committed to living life to the fullest and taking advantage of opportunities like this.
Watching family and friends battle cancer has been a constant throughout my life. Their strength and courage always leads me to question, how can I help?
I will be fighting in honor of my cousin Bud or Major General AJ Stewart as he was known in the US Air Force, who passed away at the age of 55 from brain cancer. When told he had 3 months he said they haven’t invented anything that can kill me in 3 months and went on to live another 27 months. If he can do that, I can conquer this! I also hope to honor my family members, friends, co-workers, past and present who have either dealt with this horrible disease personally or have seen it's effect on someone they love. Cancer is an awful awful disease. If I can have a small hand in helping someone battle to simply see another day or somehow someway make a contribution to fund a cure, I'm all in. God has blessed me with the ability to do something for someone else and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability.
My grandfather lived with cancer for many more years than he was supposed to. In the end it wasn’t the cancer that took him, but his reluctance to have surgery for a heart attack as he was just sick of being a “lab rat.” I’m fighting to progress research so that one day a decision like that doesn’t have to be made!
The challenge. The top notch organization. The stories from former fighters, especially Jess Marino.
On the boxing side, I’ve spent a few years working long hours, late nights, and spending hours on the road letting my body atrophy and I wanted something structured and intense to kick me back into shape. It’s also a sport that I’ve very recently become fascinated with given its rich history. It’s something unlike anything else I’ve done and is highly appealing for that reason. I can’t imagine a better organization to go through this journey with (ask me again in April though).
On the cause side, cancer is a disease that has impacted my community frequently and often devastatingly. My Mother is an 8 year cancer survivor, my Aunt tragically passed a year ago, and more friends and family than I can count are battling currently or are anxiously awaiting their anniversary check-ups. My Mother’s diagnosis inspired me to spend a good portion of my senior year of HS in a lab at Vanderbilt working on research for radiology treatment enhancement. I ultimately dropped the science path for the business/finance route, but I’ve found myself in a unique position to make an impact financially and emotionally to support and encourage support for those pursuing a cure and providing support along the way. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there is a self-serving component for all of us as well, as the statistical likelihood is probable enough that each of us will some day need the services of the same people and institutions that I’m looking to support today.
A good friend runs an organization called Family Reach that supports families who are going through cancer treatments, providing both financial and emotional support. It's a great organization and I thought I could help. And learning about Grant - who I am fighting in honor of - and the struggles he has overcome at age 3... it's pretty inspiring. It's easy to get to the gym when you think about what he and others have gone through to fight against cancer.
My younger sister was diagnosed with, and was treated for Wilms' Tumor when I was in middle school. This was incredibly tough on my family, and if it wasn't for my mother's health insurance (she works as a visiting nurse), things could have gone poorly. However, it's been over a decade cancer free at this point.
I'm drawing inspiration for the dozens of family and friends who have already battled this terrible disease.
Both my grandparents have battled and survived cancer. My grandmother is a two time breast cancer survivor, and my grandfather is has survived prostate cancer. Not being around or able to help them out like the rest of my family, I always wanted to be able to pay them back. Participating in Haymakers for Hope is my way of honoring my grandparents. In addition to my grandparents, I also have plenty of friends who have been affected by cancer.
Last November marked my 40th birthday. Leading up to that milestone though, the number I was focused on was 12. My father died 31-years ago, at the age of 52, from pancreatic cancer. While I never considered 52 old, approaching 40 made me realize how young 52 really is. The question of “what if I only had 12-years left?” hit me like a ton of bricks (or perhaps an uppercut, I will learn). At the time, I was overweight, in terrible shape, and was missing out on a lot of great aspects of life. Meanwhile, my wife was diligently going to boxing class at 5AM almost daily and the kids were getting bigger and more active every day. I knew I had to make a change fast. Instead of easing into anything, I went "all in". I went to a nutritionist, took blood tests to screen food sensitivities, and then actually followed the recommended actions. For exercise, I was doing a boxing-based workout at Crushit Fitness. After shedding over 30-lbs I felt like I could start to think about taking on a big physical and mental challenge. I must have been feeling particularly good one day in December when Paul Karger, one of the TwinFocus founders and an avid advocate for boxing and combat sports, sent around the Haymaker’s signup to inquire if anyone on the team would consider participating.. I applied to participate and here we are. While there are plenty of nerves that come with signing up to box someone just as motivated as you are, in front of a crowd of 2,000, I am excited to be putting myself out there and to test myself. The opportunity to keep working hard and get in great shape while fighting cancer made too much sense, given this all started with the question "what if I only had 12-years left?".
I draw my inspiration from the following: My Mom: Judy Cuccia- Lost November 2016 My Stepdad: Michael Cuccia- Lost July 2017 For Caleb and every kid that didn’t deserve this fate. I've run a marathon and a handful of half marathons for a Children's Cancer Charity in Florida, in memory of Caleb Whan. And I fight for those still fighting. My Dad: Parker Willard Sr. 3-0 vs Cancer and still swinging My Papa: Carl Cuccia… In his 90’s and still Fighting the good fight! (And for all you survivors and fighters out there!) A little known fact also is that my wife has had a trip to Dana Farber as well. We have been very blessed that her issues were benign in nature. But I draw my inspiration from her strength and determination and from the love of my boys, Parker (9) and Piers (3). Cancer has punched us too many times. It's time for some counter-punching!
Unfortunately, I became aware of the disease at a young age as my grandfather passed away from cancer when I was 8 years old. His battle w/the disease and the impact it had on my family is something that I will never forget.
Growing up I spent every Sunday after church at my Nanas house. I am one of 24 cousins so Sunday at Nana’s was always busy. My parents, aunts and uncles would gather in the kitchen drinking coffee and my cousins and I would play. She was diagnosed with cancer and ultimately lost her battle. Those Sundays were never the same after that. I also lost my uncle Carleton to cancer. He was the kind of guy that when you talked to him it didn’t matter what else was going on in the room you were the most important person to him in that moment. He was special, kind, thoughtful and a real role model. I still miss him. These are just two examples of what Cancer has taken. I aim to take some of that back. If a dollar I raised helps fund research that leads to an extra day for a mother to have with her child it will be worth every moment.
Having been around EverybodyFights for the past 18 months, I have witnessed a couple groups of people train and fight for Haymakers for Hope. Some of these folks I am lucky enough to call friends, but all of them I am inspired by. I knew I wanted to sign up before the last Belles of the Brawl - but that night really cemented it for me. I saw how hard the Belles worked and they put it all on the line. If you have never been to an event, trust me, it is hard to walk out of the venue that night without feeling totally inspired. Also, there are so many people fighting much tougher battles on a daily basis. And if they can do that, and do it bravely, then I can take a few punches to support the cause.
During my Junior year of college my grandfather was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. The absolute Superman of our family, hearing him cry on the phone to my sisters and I when telling us broke us all. But he kept being that rock that we relied on through it all. I was fortunate enough that I was close enough to home that I was able to sit with him through every chemo session. One of the last pictures I have of him is sitting in therapy with a huge smile on his face. His strength before, during and after each round is what drives me.
Outside of my personal experience, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances whose lives have been affected by cancer. Haymakers is an opportunity for me to represent all of those people that want to have a voice in the fight for a cure but don't know how or what they can do about it.