I consider myself a pretty level-headed guy. But when I heard the news about Stuart Scott on Monday morning, I’m not ashamed to say I started to cry.
As I read about his life, his family and all he’d achieved in 22 years with ESPN, questions were running through my mind, probably the same ones we all have. How could a guy so brilliant, so funny, so powerful and so inspiring lose his life so soon?
We know the answer. And it makes us so uncomfortable we might not want to talk about it.
But I will. I have to, because I live in the same world where Scott spent the last 7 years of his life. Without the willingness to share what we know, that world can be a very lonely place.
Seven years ago this coming June, on a sunny Friday while packing to go on vacation with my wife and 3 young daughters, I got a phone call I’ll never forget.
It was a nurse who works with the dermatologist who’d recently run tests on a big, dark sore that had developed on the back of my head and wouldn’t go away, even after a full course of antibiotics.
“You need to come in right away for more tests,” she told me.
“No problem,” I said. “I’m heading out of town, but when I get back I’ll call you for an appointment.”
There was a pause on the line. Then she said, “You don’t understand. You need to be here first thing Monday morning. This is life-threatening.”
Any ideas you have about yourself being a big, tough guy just dissolve in moments like those. My wife heard me break down and rushed in from the next room to see what had happened. Somehow, we managed to tell our daughters that our trip to North Carolina to visit their grandfather would have to wait. Even harder was calling my Dad to tell him I loved him and I’d see him as soon as I could.
Tests confirmed I had squamous cell carcinoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. First came surgery to remove the cancer itself, then a second surgery to remove the bone and tissues all around it and restore muscle, skin and blood vessels to the area.
The first surgery was no big deal. The second one absolutely kicked my butt. My head swelled to the size of a pumpkin and the pain was very, very real.
After a third surgery to make the skin on my head and neck look as normal as possible, I underwent 7 weeks of radiation therapy at Loyola University Medical Center. Because you come for treatment every week, you see the same people over and over again. I met a guy who was probably in his 50s and we’d chat whenever we ran into each other.
One day, he could tell I wasn’t doing that well. As we walked together to the parking lot, he said, “I know you’re feeling like crap today. This is my third time through, so I totally get it. But I just wanna remind you, it’s a lot better than the alternative.”
His words snapped me out of the funk I’d fallen into. And when I finished radiation, I gave my oncologist, Dr. Chris Zender, a t-shirt saying “Dr. Zender Kicked My A**.”
Then I dedicated myself to being the healthiest cancer survivor I could possibly become. That meant daily workouts at my local Life Time Fitness, where one morning I met another man whose words came at me like a bolt of lightning.
He was getting out of a Bentley. I thought, “Wow, this guy has it made.” I complimented him on his wheels. He invited me to sit inside.
As we talked, he told me, “I am the happiest person I know, but it’s not for the reasons you might think. I’ve been very successful in my life, yes. But I’m happy because of the things I’m able to do for other people. That’s what matters. That’s what lasts.”
I knew he was right. It wasn’t enough for me to stay healthy as an individual. I realized I owed something to the millions of people who are living with cancer right now and the millions more who will have to deal with it in the future.
After my workout, I showered, quickly looked up the address of the closest American Cancer Society office and drove over there. Maggie Kluck, an amazing member of the DuPage area team, took time out to hear my story.
I explained that I needed to do something right away to help. I didn’t want it to be something small. I wanted to have the greatest impact I possibly could.
With support from Maggie and everyone at ACS, we put together a Relay For Life team here at ALitho. Even though we entered the fundraising season a little bit late, 17 of us walked in our local event last June. We raised $3,500 to help fund research, education and cancer patient support here in Illinois and around the country.
The team and I felt great about it. But on the Monday morning after our Relay was over, dozens of other ALitho people came up to us and said, “Man, we wish we’d known! We would have helped you.”
I heard so many personal stories that day – people telling me about family, neighbors, colleagues and lifelong friends who had cancer. Many had lost people they loved to the disease. People that can never, never be replaced in their lives.
It’s a price far too great for anyone to pay. So in 2015, we are doing even more.
For my part, I’ve joined the Regional Leadership Board of ACS and I’m proud to be helping out in hosting the ACS Black & White Ball in Lombard next month. And in a week or so, ALitho will kick off a full year of fundraising and education, including a wellness campaign aimed at helping employees and their families live healthy lives with reduced cancer risks.
I’m planning to attend almost all the cancer prevention meetings we hold this year. (We have more than 300 people working 3 shifts here, so I’m sure I’ll miss some of the team get-togethers, but my goal is to be there for as many as I can.)
I’ll definitely be the first one on the Relay track for the survivor lap and yes, in all likelihood, I’ll shed quite a few tears as I walk alongside others who’ve “been there.”
I guess you can say I’m going at it a little hard. But I’m just following in the footsteps left by Stuart Scott, who former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick described this way:
“He didn’t just push the envelope. He bulldozed the envelope.”
That said, the little things matter too.
Think about the people you know who are dealing with cancer right now, their own or a loved one’s. Maybe you were shocked when you heard the news – and you kind of drew back from the person, afraid you wouldn’t know the right thing to say.
But as one radiation therapist told me, the people who make it are the ones who have great support from everyone around them.
So take a minute to reach out to that person struggling with cancer. You don’t have to do anything major. Just say: “Hey, I’m thinking about you and I want you to know I’m here when you need me.”
My life proves that the right words at the right time can make a real difference. Think of all that Stuart Scott’s words meant to us. He said that even if we don’t win in the end, the way we conduct our lives while we’re fighting cancer is what proves we can never truly be defeated by the disease.
Booyah, buddy. I promise we’ll keep your good work going.
Frank Arostegui is vice president of sales for American Litho. He brings more than 20 years of commercial printing and direct response expertise to his role in serving clients within retail, financial services, insurance, consumer products and non-profit sectors. Frank works closely with Sam Dentino and the entire ALitho team to help clients build their brands through creative, cost-efficient direct marketing programs. Email Frank at Contact Us or call 630-462-1700 ask for Frank Arostegui or Sam Dentino.