By Dom Cioffi
Does the name Andy Whitfield ring a bell? Unless you’re 35 or younger and a frequent attendee at Comic-Con, probably not.
Born in Wales in 1971, Whitfield initially studied to become an engineer, and at the age of 28, moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue this career.
One day after work, while enjoying a pint of beer at a local pub, a woman walked up to Whitfield and asked who his agent was. Startled by the question, he inquired why she thought he had an agent. She replied that he was too good-looking not to.
As it turns out, this woman was a photographer and in their ensuing conversation, she convinced Whitfield that he needed to pose for her. The photos she took led to a modeling job. That first modeling job led to more work and before long, Andy Whitfield was a top Australian male model.
Soon, Whitfield was getting small acting gigs on Australian television shows. Those gigs led to small movie roles. It was at this point that Whitfield started to think about dumping his engineering job to go into acting full time, although the thought frightened him, since he was now married with a child.
His dream finally came true when he was offered a starring role in low budget film. However, because of the monetary restraints involved with production, he was told that there would be no salary involved. Hesitant at committing to such an endeavor, Whitfield’s wife finally convinced him that he needed to do it.
That film made some headway, but more importantly, it was seen by the producers of an upcoming television series that was in development. They believed Andy Whitfield was the perfect actor to star in their new show centered around the historical gladiator Spartacus.
Whitfield was ushered to New Zealand where he went to gladiator training camp. After months of training, he emerged as the archetype of a Roman-period male with ridiculously good looks and the kind of chiseled physique that any man would be envious of.
On Jan. 22, 2010, the first episode of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” was aired on the Starz television network. The positive reviews rolled in and a fan base started to grow. “Spartacus” became the network’s most popular show and Andy Whitfield was its breakout star.
Things looked very, very good for this young man. But then the unthinkable happened.
At 39 years old, in the picture of health, enjoying the greatest success of his life, Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system.
Whitfield was told by his doctor’s that his cancer was very treatable, with an 85 percent success rate. With that in mind, he began treatment and after many months, looked to be in the clear. But then the unthinkable happened again: the cancer returned, this time in a more aggressive form.
I won’t tell you what happened next. But I will suggest that you rent “Be Here Now,” a documentary that chronicles Andy Whitfield’s career and struggles with cancer.
I watched this film for obvious reasons. Having just fought my own battle against cancer, I was curious to see someone else “fought the good fight.” I was also interested in seeing how Whitfield would regain his physical stature. I’m at the stage where I need to gain back the weight and muscle mass that I lost during treatment, but I want to do it in a healthy way. I was in the best shape of my life prior to being diagnosed, and I’m committed to getting back there as fast as possible.
Given how physically fit Whitfield was prior to his cancer, I was quite sure he would want to return to that level once cured. In my mind, I would use Whitfield’s struggle as motivation for my own transformation.
However, this documentary, while based on one man’s fight against a horrible disease, was really about something entirely different and something I could identify with after my own battle.
Throughout the film, Whitfield’s wife encouraged him to stay present, that any thoughts about what might happen in the future would waste the precious moments he could enjoy now.
I know that this was an incredibly important part of my own experience. Staying present forces you to ignore ruminating thoughts about what may or may not happen in the future.
I would recommend this film to anyone, whether or not cancer has affected your life. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it provides a valuable life lesson that even the healthiest person should learn.
A heroic “A-” for “Be Here Now.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]