Miami Dolphins

A tennis-ball sized brain tumor saved the life of a Dolphins employee

While preparing for surgery for a brain tumor, Joel Adams and his doctor’s discovered he had Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one of the most common cancers for a man of his age.
While preparing for surgery for a brain tumor, Joel Adams and his doctor’s discovered he had Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one of the most common cancers for a man of his age. Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Joel Adams’ brain tumor saved his life.

(With a big assist from the people at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, of course.)

Counterintuitive? Yes.

But here’s the story:

Adams, the Dolphins’ 29-year-old director of business development, was having trouble with hearing out of his right ear last summer. So he went to the doctor, who ordered an MRI.

Turns out, Adams had a tennis-ball sized tumor affixed to his brain. While benign, the growth had to be removed. During surgery prep, he had his heart checked to make sure he could handle anesthesia. That’s when the real bad news came.

“The doctor called and said ‘You need to go straight to the ER. We found another tumor in your chest,’” Adams recalled.

This time, it was malignant: Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one of the most common cancers for a man of his age.

“It was probably there for six months,” said Adams, who admittedly didn’t make regular doctor visits before his illness. “It’s a miracle that I happened to go in for that brain tumor.”

Less than a year later, Adams feels much better.

He has been cancer-free since late September, thanks to six rounds of chemotherapy at Sylvester plus radiation treatment. And while he’s deaf in his right ear, the brain tumor is gone after a marathon, 20-hour surgery performed by UHealth’s Dr. Michael Ivan. (”He likened to taking hair out of gum,” Adams said.)

On Saturday, Adams is saddling up and giving back to the people who gave him back his life.

He’s the captain of Team Joel in the seventh annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge, a bike ride/fun run/concert extravaganza that raises money for Sylvester.

In all, the DCC has raised more than $16.5 million for cancer research, donating 100 percent of participant-raised funds to the center. That makes it the NFL’s single-largest fundraiser.

And the same colleagues who sat bedside while Adams was hospitalized will be by his side again as he makes the 25-mile bike trek from Fort Lauderdale to Hard Rock Stadium.

Some 50 people have joined his crusade, raising nearly $60,000 for Sylvester. A small army of Dolphins employees will don Team Joel jerseys and walk, run, cycle, volunteer and raise funds throughout South Florida.

“Joel’s resilient spirit through it all is why this year’s Team Dolphins is dedicated to Joel for his valiant effort in tackling cancer,” the Dolphins said in a statement.

Added Adams: “My parents are flying out for it from California. It’ll be an emotional day. I wasn’t a big crier. Now I break down every week it seems.”

For Adams, participating was a no-brainer.

While he was relatively lucky, a cancer diagnosis is always jarring and life-altering.

“It was amazing,” he said of Sylvester’s treatment. “With that situation, you just want trust and transparency. They were great at both. I think I called a few times in the middle of the night during chemo and they answered.”

It didn’t hurt that he had a bit of inside access.

His boss at the Dolphins is Dave Baldwin. Dave’s wife, Mary, was Adams’ nurse at Sylvester’s Plantation location.

On Saturday, Dave Baldwin will ride alongside Adams, who’s not only a colleague but also a close friend.

Want to contribute? You can give to Team Joel at DolphinsCancerChallenge.com.

Also, a limited number of tickets remain available for the Counting Crows, this year’s featured performers who take the Hard Rock Stadium stage at 2 p.m. Saturday.

More than $3.6 million has been raised to date for DCC VII.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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