Once cancer comes into your family and you have to face it alongside a loved one, your perspective in life tends to change—at least I know it did for me when my brother, Michael, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At the time of Michael’s diagnosis, we were both still in college at Regis University; he was a senior and I was a junior. I found myself at school just going through the motions; the faculty and my classmates were very supportive, but as time went on, I found my priorities changing. I was no longer worrying about what grade I got on that advertising project. Instead I was wondering, is Michael going to want to get outside today?
Michael and I have been best friends since I was born, but after his diagnosis and procedures were behind him, he started falling into an emotional hole and it became harder and harder to pull him out of it. All I kept thinking was, how can I help? Can I help at all? I couldn’t pay for appointments, surgeries, treatments, and medications; my parents were taking care of that financial burden. But I could help by trying to make Michael smile, if only for a moment a day, so that’s what I did. I started working more bartending and serving shifts at Red Robin so I could pay for Michael and me to go to a movie or sporting event, or sometimes just buy a six-pack of beer to enjoy at home while I did ridiculous things to get that brief smile.
Michael is doing well today, with a successful job and a positive outlook on where he is in life. Why do I share this story? Without having gone through these experiences with Michael, I would not be where I am today.
Back in July of 2013 I went to my mom and asked her if I could have a job interview. She stopped, waited for 15 seconds, and said, “You know you would be working with your mom, right?” A smartass grin spread across my face as I said, “Yes, that did cross my mind.” What was this interview for? It was to work for Epic Experience, the cancer nonprofit that my mom founded only a year earlier. Prior to this interview I was working for Red Robin at the corporate headquarters in the Denver Tech Center. Red Robin was a great company to work for, and I had worked hard to move up from serving, bartending, and managing to working a desk job at the corporate office, but I knew I wanted more out of my career; I knew this job was not going to fulfill my life passion of helping people.
Back in high school and college, I went on and led Christian-based Kairos retreats, which are common in many Jesuit high schools and colleges. Kairos means to live in the present, seizing that moment. Kairos helped shape me into the man I wanted to become; it taught me to be true to myself, understand the need for strong relationships, and see the importance of living and being a man for others. Kairos made such an impact in my life and in Michael’s that the original vision of Epic Experience included aspects of Kairos. Therefore, with my connection to Kairos and Michael’s cancer diagnosis, I knew Epic Experience was the right fit for me.
I have now been working alongside my mom, Nancy, for four years. Epic Experience has given me something that Red Robin never could: being part of transformational life experiences and seeing growth in amazing people. I have seen Epic Experience expand, and I have built great relationships with cancer thrivers, cancer centers, big businesses and small start-ups, and a bunch of incredible volunteers. I realize how blessed I am to be doing a job at the age of 30 that I am so passionate about. At camp I am honored to be the director for the week. This gives me a chance to do what I did when I led Kairos retreats—to provide a platform that is a safe place to share whatever worries, fears, sorrows, and joys someone wants to share—only now it is with one of the best communities I have had the honor to be a part of, the cancer community. I love the cancer community because any bullshit is out the window. People want to be genuine and to be treated genuinely and not like a piece of glass or some damaged goods. Epic Experience teaches people to live beyond their cancer diagnosis and prove to themselves that they can do it. At camp, when our cancer thrivers feel they have reached their limit, we have amazing staff and volunteers who support them to finish whatever activity we are doing. In life, we all want to be the best, the fastest, the winner (trust me—anyone who knows me knows that’s the case for me), but I have come to realize life is not about being the best or the fastest; it is about enjoying the journey and being able to say, “I did that!”
So, what’s next for me? I am excited to say that in October I am getting married to my incredibly beautiful, smart fiancé, Tricia. Tricia is a big part of what gives me the strength to enjoy my career with Epic Experience. She supports me emotionally and in volunteering her time with the organization. Running a nonprofit with two people takes a lot of time, and my schedule is in no way easy when it comes to building a family. With such an amazing partner standing beside me, my crazy life seems like it should be no other way. I love you, Tricia Rabideau (soon to be Ferro!).
Epic Experience continues to grow far beyond the Ferro family and the few amazing volunteers that it started with. I am excited for that growth, but I also celebrate where we started. Dad, Michael, and Kerry—you have all played such a big role in making Epic Experience what it has become, and I want to thank you all for supporting Mom and me with your time and energy. I love you and look forward to hopefully getting another family vacation in soon with all of us; we all deserve it! And Mom—I would not be where I am today without your vision and passion to start Epic Experience. Together we will take this organization as far as it can go and continue to make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors. I have said it to you many, many times—you are the heartbeat of Epic Experience, and I am honored to work alongside you. I love you, and I look forward to the future. You have made such a difference in my life and in the lives of hundreds of cancer thrivers. Here is to the future and collecting each moment along the way.