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'I've Got To Give Back': Cancer Survivor On Riding In Dolphins Cancer Challenge

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Chief Meteorologist Craig Setzer will once again be participating in the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, riding 100 miles and raising funds to help find a cure for cancer.

Recently Craig interviewed Joe De Santino and his nurse Marlene Campbell.

In 2011, Joe found a lump under his right jaw. He went to the doctor thinking it was an inflamed gland. When the inflammation did not go down, the doctor ordered an x-ray. When the results came back, the doctor ordered a CT scan. When the results came back, the doctor ordered a PET scan on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The doctor asked him to come back the day before Thanksgiving and delivered the news that Joe had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"Well the initial shock was very devastating, I can't imagine anything before I was told I had cancer," recalled Joe. "To me the word cancer was taboo.  Somebody says you have cancer, start digging the grave mentally."

But Joe is a fighter.

"First thing after putting it in God's hands is finding a good doctor.  So we started that process and we found Dr. Isieroro Losos out of Sylvester Center which not only is he a great doctor, but at that moment a doctor of I don't know how many with a grant to find a cure for cancer."

Joe underwent his treatment at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center under Dr. Losos. He went through six months of chemo and with 50/50 odds of survival, beat the disease. He was in remission just a few months when he got the news that the cancer had come back.

So I'm sitting waiting for good news and he says it's back with a vengeance and your chances now are 18%, of living; of survival."

This time around, a bone marrow transplant was needed and luckily – Joe was his own donor. He went through three months of chemo, and was in the hospital for 3-4 weeks for the bone marrow transplant. During that time, he developed a strong connection with his nurse, Marlene Campbell-Smith.

"I remember being told I was getting a patient that needs to come to ICU because of his condition. Upon entering the room, there was a tray of computers, and he insists that he has to take the computers with him," recalled Marlene.

"They start carrying everything out, nobody carries my laptop, I only carry my laptop.  So I went to get the laptop. This lady Marlene steps up to me and says, 'No sir we got that, you're going to ICU with us.  We'll carry everything'."

Marlene and Joe remain fast friends.

"I would say I've known Joe for almost five years. We've always been in touch, our faith has been very strong, and I can reach out to him when I need someone or if he needs any support," said Marlene.

At long last, Joe was pronounced cancer free in 2013.

"I'm doing great!  We keep doing the tests obviously coming up to five years being free of cancer, my check-ups are now yearly, they keep coming up that everything is good, come see me back in a year," beamed Joe.

A longtime Miami Dolphins fan and Season Ticket Member, Joe heard about the DCC. He has participated the last two years, riding 16 miles and 35 miles. This February 2018, he plans to ride again and will do so with his nurse Marlene.

"If I had that opportunity to survive this, if I had that blessing from God and the doctors and my nurses and everybody and my family, I've got to give back," said Joe. "And that's what I try to do now, and that's what I've been trying to do now with DCC now this being my third year on the ride and trying to give back.  And who better than Sylvester Center who's the one that I chose and went to by coincidence, it wasn't set up that way."

The Miami Dolphins' largest signature charity event is the Dolphins Cancer Challenge (DCC).

You can support CBS4's Craig Setzer and the fight against cancer by clicking this link.

One hundred percent of the money raised goes to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and stays right here in South Florida.

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