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Daniel's story

Lymphoma
Patient Voice spoke with entertainer and writer Daniel Stolfi to find out how important of a role comedy has played in his cancer recovery journey.

Toronto, ON

I was 25 years old, living the actor’s dream, when cancer came calling. At that point in my life, everything was going great for me. I was getting bigger jobs. I was doing comedy. The work was starting to come to me. Stage 3 acute non-Hodgkin's lymphoblastic lymphoma brought all that to a screeching halt.

A tumour the size of a grapefruit was sitting on my heart, and I had smaller tumours throughout my lymphatic system. Treatment had to be hard and fast or it’d soon be too late. I had been right on the edge of death’s doorstep without even knowing it. It was like a sign from the universe that I should give up on my dreams.

“Cancer makes you unstoppable. That was the bit. And, like all good comedy, there’s truth in it.”

For two years, cancer knocked me on my ass. I stopped working entirely, moved back in with my parents. But I was still a comedian. So as I lost my hair, as my body suffered, as I visited the fertility clinic to freeze my sperm in case the chemo made me sterile, I couldn’t help but see that it was all kinda funny.

While I was still in treatment, I got back on stage — gaunt and bald from chemo — for a one-man show I called ‘Cancer Can’t Dance Like This.’ People loved it. I started taking the show on the road to different theatres, festivals, and charity events. Being able to share the hardest part of my story through a live platform — and being able to laugh at it — saved my life in a way. It certainly reignited my career and the belief in myself that this wasn’t the end of a dream, but just the beginning.

I had this bit I would do called ‘Cancer Makes You Gangster,’ where I would talk about how I’d cross the street now without even looking for cars. How I’d go to the grocery store and just snack on grapes right off the vine. And if someone gave me a hard time, I could just be like: ‘Yeah? What? I have cancer!’

Cancer makes you unstoppable. That was the bit. And, like all good comedy, there’s truth in it. My life has been full-speed ahead ever since. I got married, became a father (without relying on the frozen sperm), wrote a book, got a new agent, and found some new material. I still find humour in cancer and share my story on stage, but it’s like stepping into a role now. I’m something new.”