At the end of January, Verona High School freshman Daria Gebbia was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her right leg. This week, a stranger stepped up to lift her spirits and unexpectedly revived a very happy memory from her parents’ past.
Cedar Grove resident Dominic Tafuri has been through two rounds of chemotherapy for lymphoma, a treatment that Gebbia will undergo soon for her bone cancer. He’s lost his hair, but he still has a sense of humor. “The only thing I have left are my Italian eyebrows,” Tafuri says.
Well, not the only thing. Tafuri has the fighting spirit of the professional MMA fighter he once was, and he’s using it to take on his cancer—and that of others. When he learned that Gebbia and a young Verona boy recently received cancer diagnoses, he wanted to do something that would help them through what lies ahead. “I wish I could take their treatment for them,” says Tafuri, who has three children of his own. “It was heavy on my heart because I’m not a kid. I’m not 15. I’m not six.”
When Joey Gebbia, Daria’s father, got word through a friend that a Cedar Grove cancer patient wanted to have a pep talk with his daughter, he was initially skeptical. The Gebbia family has received hundreds of messages of support over Facebook, text messages and cards, but this was different. “I didn’t want him to scare her,” Joey Gebbia recalls. “I almost said No.” But something, a feeling he couldn’t place, prompted him to invite the stranger over to meet with his wife and Daria while he was at work.
And that was where he was when Daria texted him a photo she had taken with Tafuri and he did a double-take. Tafuri was a guy he had met in Aruba 20 years ago, when Gebbia and his then new bride Dina and Tafuri and his bride were on their honeymoons. “We spent the entire week together,” Gebbia recalls, “and then never saw them again.” He quickly dug out a honeymoon photo on his phone and sent it to Tafuri with the message, “Is this you?”
It was, and the unexpected reunion has given a lift to both families. Daria Gebbia has a new perspective from Tafuri, as well as a T-shirt that reads “Fighting Solves Everything.” Tafuri has the happiness that comes from giving selflessly to another person, and a reinforcement of his positive attitude.
Both men believe a higher power brought their families together again. “If this isn’t God working in our lives, I don’t know what is,” says Joey Gebbia. Says Tafuri: “The big man upstairs works in mysterious ways.”