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Cancer Can’t Dance Like This

by Daniel Stolfi

Inspiration image

Cancer survivor Daniel Stolfi shows off his moves.
(Photos by Chris Frampton)

It was Valentine’s Day 2008. I know this because my roommate wanted the apart­ment to himself so he could have a “special” night with his girlfriend. The moment I stepped outside of my apartment building to give him some space, the cold winter air hit me like a punch to the face. This strange ill feeling in my bones swept through my body, and I thought to myself that I must have been getting the flu. This didn’t feel like your nor­mal, run-of-the-mill flu, but I went on with my life thinking it would pass on its own. Well, it didn’t pass.

After a number of mornings waking up in pools of sweat, accompanied by a chronic cough that just wouldn’t go away, I decided to visit the nearest walk-in clinic. They hastily diagnosed me with a sinus infection, gave me antibiotics, and sent me merrily on my way.

Things were looking good. I was an actor with a solid gig, and I was about to sign with a premier agency in Toronto. I was working on a one-person show for the Toronto Fringe Festival, and I had a handy vile of antibiotics to fend off my sinus infection. But when the night sweats and cough didn’t go away, I returned to the walk-in clinic. This time a different doctor was working. When I told him my symptoms, he immediately sent me out to get X-rays and an ultrasound. I knew something was up, but I had no idea it would be an 18-centimeter tumor sitting on top of my heart.

I cried when I was sad, I laughed when I was happy, I threw up when I was nauseated, and I grunted when I was constipated.

In a heartbeat, my whole life changed. I was diagnosed with acute non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, and it had spread to mul­tiple regions of my body.

Looking back, I would consider myself lucky it didn’t get into my bone marrow or progress to stage IV. But at the time, it was the worst thing anyone could have said to me. I would undergo two years of weekly chemotherapy mixed with spinal taps, radiation, blood transfusions, complications, all the side effects you could imagine, a couple of blood clots, and a dash of pneumonia.

I could sit here and list off all the side effects, tell you how difficult it was for my family and me, and explain all the “fun” stuff that comes along with fighting this disease, but that’s kind of boring. So instead, let’s talk about what I learned, what I did with my fight, and where I am today.

Well, I beat it. I took my treatment, the side effects, the sadness, and the ups and downs one day at a time, one minute at a time. I cried when I was sad, I laughed when I was happy, I threw up when I was nauseated, and I grunted when I was constipated. There were plenty of times I wanted to give up, quit acting, and abandon my passions. But I didn’t. I used the disease as motivation to share my story the only way an actor and comedian knows how – by creating a one-person show called Cancer Can’t Dance Like This. Believe it or not, it’s a comedy.

People often ask how I can find the humor in such a tough situation, and I still don’t know how to answer that. I just thought it was funny. Not funny as in “ha ha” funny, but funny like bizarre. Cancer is so random. It has a mind of its own. But I wanted to let cancer know that it can’t control me. It doesn’t own me. It can’t take my spirit, my soul, my humor, my passion. So I dance, I act, I sing, I move, I laugh in the face of cancer. I am so thankful for all the great things in my life, but some­times life bites. When it does, bite back.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Daniel Stolfi is an actor, comedian, writer, producer, and non-Hodgkin T-cell lympho­blastic lymphoma survivor living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He won the Canadian Comedy Award for his one-person show, Cancer Can’t Dance Like This. Daniel con­tinues to share his story, raising awareness of the disease and providing hope to sup­porters, fighters, survivors, and thrivers. Learn more about Daniel and his show at CancerCantDanceLikeThis.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2013.