Column, The Movie Diary

A blessing in disguise

By Dom Cioffi
A couple weeks ago I chronicled my battle with Salmonella poisoning. It was a horrific week-long event that affected my entire body. As I was in the throes of the infection, I told myself several times that when I got better, I would do everything in my power to appreciate what it meant to be healthy.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance.
When I went in for my follow-up appointment, I mentioned to my doctor that I still had one small issue. My doctor found this curious since I had been on two different antibiotics, which should have cleared up every possible ailment. For safety’s sake, she referred me to another doctor, just to be sure something else wasn’t wrong.
I went into that next appointment fully expecting to be prescribed an additional medicine to clear up this last issue, but within 15 minutes of sitting in his office, my whole world turned upside down.
Before I knew it, I was lying in a CAT scan machine being told to keep perfectly still. A half hour after that, I was having the worst conversation of my life.
No one thinks they are going to get cancer, so when the words roll off the doctor’s tongue, everything becomes a bit surreal, like you’re suddenly watching a movie about someone else’s life. I remember staring at the doctor as he was speaking to me and wondering if he had this same conversation several times a day.
To be fair, after reviewing the CAT scan, my doctor told me that “in all likelihood” he had located a malignant tumor, but to be sure, he would need to do a biopsy. So, 48 hours later, I found myself in an operating room getting prepped for surgery. Another 48 hours passed before I got the official news: my tumor was indeed cancerous.
Now here’s the ironic part: a week after receiving this horrible news, several of my family members and friends were planning on flying into town to surprise me with a 50th birthday party. There were plans for golf, dinner, a cocktail party, more golf, more dinner, more cocktails – basically just three days of fun and revelry.
My wife decided that, given the circumstances, she would reveal the surprise plans in case I wanted to cancel. I decided almost immediately that I was against that idea. However, I also did not want my newly diagnosed sickness to be the theme of the party or the topic of every conversation so I opted to keep it a secret.
This was easier said than done, as the weight of my situation was bleeding out of me in subtle ways. My friends razzed me about the state of my golf game; they questioned why I was avoiding cocktails; several even commented on my thin stature.
I responded to all their queries by blaming the Salmonella poisoning, which squelched most of their concerns. Internally, however, the news was eating me up.
Finally, on the last day, I sat everyone down and revealed the situation. It was the kind of conversation everyone dreads having with people they care about.
Prior to speaking up about my situation, I made the personal decision that I was going to do everything in my power to handle all conversations with a sense of strength. I knew that people would react off me so the more I projected a positive attitude, the better I could help them deal with the news.
So here I am, officially a cancer patient. In the coming weeks I will be reviewing my options, determining a plan of attack and undertaking a major battle to regain my health. I have heard bits and pieces about what’s in store for me and it isn’t pretty, but my prognosis for recovery is good. And as the doctor reminded me, it looks like we caught it early – meaning, getting Salmonella poisoning was actually a blessing in disguise.
Given this revelation in my life, this week I decided to see “Gleason,” the new documentary featuring former NFL football player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS.
This was the perfect film for me to see not only because Steve Gleason represents strength personified, but also because it put my situation into context. Sure, I have cancer, but what Steve Gleason has had to deal with and what he has done in the face of such tragic circumstances, is truly inspiring.
I walked out of the theater ready to face my condition head on. And I honestly believe that anyone who sees this film will also be moved. Check this one out if you are heartened by stories that feature the triumph of the human spirit or if you simply want to put perspective on how good you really have it.
An inspiring “A-” for “Gleason.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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