How poker has helped me cope with cancer

To some, poker is merely a game. To others it's a therapeutic remedy to help cope with a life-threatening illness. My name is Damon Ferrante. I'm a longtime poker player and a man with "CLL" (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). I've been happily married for more than 25 years. I have 2 beautiful children and a super supportive family. I was born in New York City and moved to lake Parsippany, New Jersey at a very young age. I was raised by a single father and my grandmother and have always had a desire to help less fortunate people. My mother passed away when I was 10 years old. I needed to find an outlet to relieve the pain inside. For the first few years, I tried church and religion. That was okay, but they didn't fill the void.

Enter poker

I chose a game, a simple game of poker. While it may sound hard to understand, it was poker that seemed to take my problems away while I was playing. Poker has since been a constant part of my life, but I never imagined it would one day be such an integral part in my dealing with illness. Stress is a well-known cause of spreading illness throughout your body, so relieving it should be a medicine by theory. I put that theory to the test about five years ago when I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

And guess what? It works!

I've found that my focus on my health and other problems take a back seat while playing, and all of my attention shifts to poker once the cards are in the air. Too many people find they have cancer or other ailments and simply give up on life. It can lead to their ultimate demise.

I'm in my comfort zone on the felt. I've been playing poker since the age of 14 (36 years now). I never knew I would one day become reliant on the game I play and love to help heal me, if even in a small way. The friends I've made, the laughter, and the camaraderie make this game more than just a game for me. It's my medicine. I forget all about the problems I'm facing for a while. I want people who are feeling down in life and have an illness or disease that makes them depressed to know life is not over at diagnosis. It's over when you decide to give up. I also run a very positive Facebook theme on a daily basis. I aspire to spread positive news and positive messages. I get hundreds of emails and messages telling me how my message helps to get some folks through a rough day or a rough time in their lives. I have a super strong support group of friends who tell me to never change who I am and what I do.

Damon Ferrante.JPG

Coincidence? I think not

I've decided that now is the time to take my message public and to help as many people as I can along the way. Recently I had just turned 50 years old and decided to enter the PokerStars Festival senior event in Atlantic City. I finished with a respectable fourth place and decided to give back to the poker community by entering the Chad Brown Memorial Tournament run by the T.J. Martel foundation. I was seated next to Chad Brown's and Vanessa Rousso's long-time friend and manager, Beau Eurell. I did not know what charity I was playing for at the time I entered. It turned out to be a charity that helps to find cures for Leukemia, Lymphoma, and other cancers. That didn't seem like a coincidence to me.

With me being me and the mix of friendly players at that event, this was the most fun I had ever had at a poker tournament in my life. That fact was echoed by all in attendance, including Andre Akkari. Table chat led me to telling my story. Afterward, Beau reached out to PokerStars which then contacted me and offered to give me a chance to help others.

If you happen to be on a table with me either online at Pokerstars NJ or live at any event I may be in, I hope to show you by example that this game we all know and love can help you to put your worries behind you. I'm blessed to be able to compete at the highest pro level, and thanks to PokerStars, PokerStars NJ, and their entire team, I'm helping others to find therapy through poker. I'm raising money for charity and awareness for cancer at the same time. I recently just cashed in the Borgata Winter Poker Open with my first sponsored opportunity and will be playing again in the Almighty stack as a PokerStars sponsored player. I'm hoping when all is said and done I have helped even one person stop feeling sorry for themselves and give them hope after diagnosis. So don't just sit home. Get up. Get out there. Maybe you'll find that this game has so much more to offer than money or fame. If you see me in your game, please come and say hi and help me to spread the word.

Damon Ferrante
@PokerStars in PokerStars news