Thanksgiving is my new ‘birthday’. Well, it is not my actual birthday but it does warrant a celebration. Today, I celebrate being four years cancer free. The reason why my family calls today my birthday is because on this day, four years ago, I was the recipient of a T-cell depleted stem cell transplant, which essentially restarted my immune system and gave me a fresh start. Cancer free, with a new born’s immune system at the age of 27. It was a second chance, something people rarely ever get.
There is a lot for me to be thankful for as I look back on my life, but more specifically the last 4 years. I am thankful for that second chance, my only brother, Jason, being a perfect match for my transplant and my friends and family who stood by my side throughout my recovery. I am most thankful for getting married this year to my incredible WIFE, Dana, and that tomorrow we will embark on an adventure for our honeymoon to the other side of the world in Thailand. Sitting in a hospital bed while I was going through my treatment, I just wanted to be home in my own bed and here I am packing to get on a plane to travel almost nine thousand miles to a foreign country. Thankful? That’s an understatement.
When I was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I had a choice. That choice hindered on my attitude and how I wanted to take on this dreaded disease. Would I wallow in my own misery and ask “Why me?” or would I do everything I could to fight and take things day by day. Take the good with the bad. The ups with the downs. Some days were more bad than good, more down than up; but at its worst, I knew that things would eventually get better and thankfully, it did. It was not easy. There were sleepless nights, days where my energy was so low, I would just sleep through the day. I had three tubes coming out of my chest and had to drag around a beeping machine that almost felt like an additional appendage. There were days where all I wanted to do was to go outside, smell fresh air, go for a walk or find a gym to shoot a few hundred jump shots. Anything to get my mind off my reality. However, with the combination of hope, faith, optimism and fight, my attitude led all of those desires to become achievable. Cancer would not define me or bring me down. Was it a challenge? Absolutely. Was it the final chapter in my story? Not a chance.
I wrote down my idea and concept for Layups 4 Life on a piece of paper, in a hospital bed while I was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While we enter our 4th year of operation I am thankful that our annual charity 3v3 basketball tournament continues to grow and all of you believe in my vision and have shown support with our efforts in the fight against cancer. We have come a long way, raising over $50,000 and with those funds we have made impactful contributions to various departments, doctor’s research and clinical trials at MSKCC. We are proud of what we have achieved and accomplished but in our hearts we know that we have only scratched the surface. Dana and I will continue to raise funds and support a cause that needs us now more than ever. There have been great strides made in the fight against cancer but there is still work to be done and together we will beat cancer, ‘One Layup at a Time’.
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. This year, what are YOU thankful 4?
Much Love, Health & Happiness
Dan & Dana Exter