Vote “Best One Man Show” for Dan Stolfi: my friend who beat cancer with his talent and love

If you haven’t seen Dan Stolfi’s one man show “Cancer Can’t Dance like This” you should go now. If you don’t know the back story behind his incredible journey, then read this and his blog now. If you have the ability to vote him for a Canadian Comedy Award, you can do that now right

I met Daniel in our sketch comedy troupe Fade to Brown. He was our “Token White Guy”. We had an incredible ride, from a sold-out one night show at the Panasonic theatre, to national CBC radio coverage, and finally to our TV pilot that had aired on OMNI several times the past few years. Through it all, I discovered that Dan was so much more than our TWG, but our go to guy for playing any character, giving awesome ideas, and finally demonstrating inspiration. He could do just about anything, except maybe a Scottish accent, and I admired his talent greatly.

The reason to vote for him, watch his show, or get to know him is simple. He shares and connects with you in a profound way. He makes you laugh, cry, and takes you on a rollercoaster journey. He opens up his life to you via his cancer experience, his head, and his heart.

Dan was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks after we finished filming our Fade to Brown TV pilot. It came so suddenly and honestly it felt a bit surreal to our group. I can only imagine was Dan was going through.  I actually knew quite a bit about cancer because I had another close friend, Vince Fazari, lose his life at just 21 years of age and he had shared a ton of his own research with me. Part of me was glad that it was Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma versus Leukemia because I knew Dan had a much better chance of surviving. In the initial stages Dan was as stoic and positive as his family seemed to be when we visited him in the hospital.

The chemotherapy got more aggressive and we began to see the toll it was taking on him. He lost his voice, his hair, and he was very weak all the time. And this from a man who was in his prime, both physically and creatively. We had even put together a FTB sketch about “Peck Training” where Dan and Amish got to show off their impressive physiques.  But it was the chemo that was doing the damage, not the cancer.

Death is such a hard topic for anyone to talk about. We visited Dan all the time and tried to be supportive and positive. We feel embarassed for maybe being selfish about how we are dealing with it because we know that Dan was going through way more than us. But we also rarely talked about how we were all feeling about the cancer and what it was doing to him. Facing his mortality changed Dan deeply. His appreciation of his support network was genuine and heartfelt. His expressions of love and affection grew, as he valued life and the chance at life. He showed remarkable hope in his situation and told everyone about his big project. He was writing a one-man show about kicking cancer’s ass!

I got a voice-mail from him one day and I was startled by it. His voice was so weak I could barely recognize him. He kept saying how much he appreciated me several times and then ended with “I love you man”. Dan was not afraid to say things that we find so small and awkward, yet he could. I was so moved and inspired that I kept the message as long as I could. My plan was to keep it until he beat the cancer.  But things kept getting worse.

At his birthday party, it was probably the worse I had seen him. There was a lot of love in that room with friends and family. Dan could hardly move, speak or smile. He kept saying how grateful he was and a part of him seemed embarrassed to get so much attention. Of course we didn’t care about the embarrassment; we wanted to be there for him. Saving up his energy he finally spoke after we sang happy birthday and blew out the candles for him. I don’t remember the exact words he spoke, but I know that couldn’t help crying, along with many others in the room. For me, it was the first time I felt that Dan was truly losing hope. And because he had been the one sharing his journey with us and remaining so stoic, I felt my first twinge of losing hope too. I felt helpless because I wanted so much to do something. I felt a bit alone too because we still had trouble talking about it. On the way home, I started to talk about it in the car with my FTB friends, but again we were all feeling the toll. Life sucked that day and I was pissed off at cancer.

A long time passed before we noticed that Dan was getting better. Then came the amazing day that he shared with us that he beat the cancer! I was ecstatic and my wife Ananda and I shared tears of joy for our friend.  I kept his voice message for the rest of my cell phone’s life.

All Dan wanted to talk about was his show. He and I met for lunch and talked about how to market his show. I gladly helped with everything I could suggest and do. I was determined to see the show, even though I just happened to be going through a very personal struggle myself at the time. In fact this personal challenge was one that affected me deeply and had taken another toll on my hope. But then I saw the show.

“Cancer Can’t Dance Like This” was an incredible show! Dan shared his journey in all honesty, genuineness and authenticity. He shared what he was thinking, how he struggled, and what cancer, death and life meant to him. Yet he put together an amazing construct that was so hilarious! I was literally laughing so hard that I started crying. And then during the emotional scenes, I was crying so hard, I started laughing. I didn’t which I was doing and for why. But I knew that I was motivated to change my life for the better and value people even more. He inspired me to value my relationships. I am thankful that Dan chose to share the real journey with me and the one on stage too.  Along with the birth of my two children, his connection with me has made me value life in all its preciousness and infinite worth.

So if you are an industry or CCA person and are able to vote him for “Best One-Man show”, do it now!

If you haven’t seen his show, go check it out at the Fringe July 6-17 ( Be sure to say hi after and give him a hug.

If you feel connected to him after my story above, please share this note and promote the vote and the show. The more you like and comment, the better chances Dan has to get the votes to win the Canadian Comedy Award.

Dan, you totally deserve the CCA award and I hope you get it. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for being a brother. I love you man too.


Cancer Can’t Dance Like This
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Bobby Umar
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Father’s Day appreciation and de-brief

Today is my 900th Father’s day. The ‘event’ itself has a whole new meaning for me now that I have children. I keep getting asked “What do I want for Father’s Day?” I thought about it. What I really wanted was already here — Nyal and Ryah, my two beautiful children. Essentially I wanted to be a father and so being able to celebrate Father’s Day was the gift! I spent the day doing the normal things we would do including having breakfast, going out to a lunch, then ice cream, and then to my own dad’s place. The ONLY difference for me vs. any other day was that I spent a big part of the day reflecting on fatherhood and truly appreciating my four gifts: Nyal, Ryah, my wife Ananda, and being a Dad.

I went through a ton of old pictures trying to find one of just me and my dad. I couldn’t find a single one. Dad said “But I was always the one taking pictures”. Yes dad, you took all the pictures, and it was a ton of pictures. One with me and mom, mom and the sons, mom and daughter, mom and dad, the whole family, now another with the cousins, first male, then female, then mixed. Sheesh!  I get it!  We were at Niagara Falls!  Do we really need so many pictures? But that was my dad’s thing, capturing the moments ever since he arrived in Canada. Now I look at the 5,000 slides, 10,000 pictures, and now another 10,000 digital shots and I am glad he did this. I can see how he was as a father and now I can salute him here.

What did my dad do for me? My favourite memories were dad teaching me things. Math was always a good topic, as he taught me addition and subtraction even before I hit kindergarten. He was the reason I did so well in school. He also encouraged and challenged me and I loved learning and excelling. The sad part was that throughout school he always asked if I needed any help with my math homework and I never did. I also found out later that every interest I showed in childhood, he would investigate and contact people, including NASA, businesses, even acting! Now that is support.

Dad was always the ‘uncle’ who was central part in parties. He spent a solid amount of time with the kids too and soon was the favourite uncle of everyone. I have since tried to emulate that behaviour. Dad was also an intimidating discplinarian, which was a good counter to his loving side. You got both, take it or leave it.

Dad taught me to love the outdoors, from taking us camping and showing me how his garden was doing. I never learned to enjoy raking though.  🙂

Most importantly, dad taught me to have a strong work ethic. One of his favourite sayings was “Tomorrow never comes”. The best time to do things was right away. He also emphasized the importance to excel and stand out amongst my peers so that I could get the opportunities. I know some people don’t like it when kids do things to please their parents, but I loved making my dad proud. Dad was the hardest working person I have every known. Now as he approaches 70, it is also the toughest thing in the world for me to see. It’s just small things now, but I know they will eventually become bigger.

I know it’s cliche how dad’s are heroes. They are. I have many heroes or people I admire. My dad is my hero for all the reasons above. And because of our connection, history, and my incredible childhood experience, his love means more to me than he may ever know. Even during all my rebellious times, I never meant any disrespect, but rather I was a thinker and determined to achieve my dreams. Ironically, he taught me to be this way. I am grateful he stuck with me.

Now that I am a dad, I finally get it. Darn it he was right! I can’t believe how much I think about and worry about my kids — I’ve become so anal compared to my normally relaxed nature. I want my kids to worry for nothing and to have the opportunities to have the most amazing and fulfilling life. I would do anything for their happiness. I would give my life for them. This profound feeling hit me a few months in and forever has defined how I approach fatherhood.

My wife Ananda nailed my philosophy when she posted:

“Today, I’m thanking Bobby not only for being the father of my children, but also for being the dad he is–a tickle fights and zerbits dad, a role model dad, a teachable moments dad, a gush-with-pride dad, a bust-a-gut-giggling dad, a provider dad, a lazy-morning-snuggles dad, a roll-up-his-sleeves-and-get-it-done dad. The best gift I could ever have given my children was marrying their daddy.”

Holy moly, thanks honey! You got me emotional…again. But partly we should thank my dad too. He lives through me, he inspired me, and played a big part in the man and father I have become.

Thank you Dad.  Thanks to my daddy friends. May you enjoy the next several thousand father’s days.

Happy Father’s Day!!

Love, Bobby

Dealing with Priorities: Do the Big Rocks first!

One morning, a professor of a certain university class brought a big box of supplies and put them behind his desk. When class started, he pulled out a large jar and a large bowl with some big rocks, about the size of baseballs.  He poured as many balls as he could into the jar, right up to the top.

“Is this jar full?” he asked the class.

“Yes” the class agreed.

The professor pulled out another bowl full of small gravelly rocks. He poured the smaller rocks into the jar and they poured through the gaps among the big rocks.

“Is the jar full now?” he asked the class

“No” said most of the class, as they were catching on.

The professor pulled out another bowl full sand. He poured the sand into the jar and the grains poured through the gaps among the big rocks and small rocks, filling all the available space.

“Is the jar full now?” he asked the class

“Yes” said most of the class, as it seemed that full to them.

The professor pulled out another bowl full of water. He poured the water into the jar and it poured through the gaps among the big rocks, the small rocks, and the sand.

“The jar is now full” he told the class. “This jar represents your life and time and energy you have space for. The items I put in the jar represent the priorities in your life. The big rocks represent the big priorities and the smaller items represent the smaller to insignificant priorities. If you work on all the smaller priorities first, it will be very difficult or impossible to fit the bigger priorities in your life. If you work on the big priorities first, you will have a better chance to fit in and manage all the smaller priorities with your time and energy.”

The professor stated the moral of his story, which was “Work on the Big Rocks first!”

Priorities: Do the Big Rocks first!

“Change: Own it first!”

Why do people fear change? Change forces us to think differently, learn new things, and adapt. Humans by nature get too comfortable in their lives. Whether it’s your routine, your job, your network, even what meal you are planning.

For me personally, the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been the advent of social media. As a trainer and speaker, my presentations had to adapt to new and different audiences. I had a hard time with people critiquing my presentations on Twitter as I spoke! Although I was an early adopter of LinkedIn and Facebook, it took me longer to embrace Twitter and other new forms of social engagement and now I am catching up.

If are late to change, you spent too much energy catching up.

If you can accept change easily, then you can be ahead of the game.

If you anticipate change, then you can plan for it strategically and optimally.

But finally, if you create change, you can brand your own trail and let others follow you.

Have a fantastic week!!

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