Scott Fairlamb & his AMA Fight Club teammates at one of Scott's recent fundraiser.
On Sept. 24, 2010, Scott Fairlamb was disappointed when he was submitted in his professional MMA debut at Ring of Combat 31 in Atlantic City, N.J.
What he found out next made that loss insignificant. Fairlamb learned he had been battling Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.
In so many ways, man vs. cancer is an unfair fight. CML vs. Fairlamb was a one-sided affair because Fairlamb had been walking around — and training — with the disease for months. And then he had the nerve to punish his body while it was happening.
Thanks to a pill called Gleevec, which he’ll have to take for the rest of his life, Fairlamb can hold his own against CML. In the meantime, Mo Fowzi better look out.
Fairlamb is set to face Fowzi on Friday at UCC 4: Supremacy, in Morristown, N.J.
While he trains with a bunch better-known fighters, like brothers Jim and Dan Miller, at AMA Fight Club in Whippany, N.J., Fairlamb is part of a brotherhood.
Nobody proved it more than teammate Billy Dee Williams.
Williams fought this Saturday and, despite his own struggles and impending wedding, donated the entire purse from his MMA debut to Fairlamb. AMA Fight Club owner and trainer Mike Constantino matched Williams’ generosity dollar-for-dollar.
Selflessness like that has a way of becoming contagious. When Williams lost to James Funaro at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 7 in Atlantic City, the promotion doubled his purse, anyway.
Fairlamb, who recently joined Hector Castro and I on Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network, willingly took on all the questions associated with his unique situation, including the harrowing description of how he came to learn of his life-altering condition.
“Roughly two weeks after my fight I was just sitting around at the house and wasn’t feeling well,” he said on the show. “I looked at my roommate and said, ‘I just don’t feel right.’ Something doesn’t feel right. My arms went numb, and there was the whole I-thought-I-was-having-a-heart-attack thing. My chest was real tight, I was sweating profusely.
“I took a cold shower, went through all the motions and ended up getting a phone call. Apparently, I wasn’t making much sense on the phone. My sister called and said, ‘Scotty, you’re not making any sense.’”
What followed was another phone call, this time to his mother, who told her son to call 911. He did, and Fairlamb ended up in the hospital after getting immediate relief from the oxygen the paramedics administered to him upon arrival.
The relief, both physical and mental, was only temporary.
“After a series of tests and everything down the line, they determined that I have leukemia, and I have had it for quite some time,” Fairlamb said, with a tone of voice more suited to deliver a grocery list than the awful news. “Three weeks after my fight in September, I had thought I had a chest infection. I took a week off of training for that that fight. I had a chest X-ray, CAT scan, EKG, MRI. You name it. I had everything. They came back and said I was in astronaut shape and that was nothing to worry about.
“Then once they took my blood, things went in a different direction.”
The direction was constant doctor visits and frequent trips to become a phlebotomist’s pin cushion. Trading the pounding of nails from his experience as a union carpenter to pounding text books and the Internet to learn about his new opponent — one that was eating away the marrow inside his bones.
It the kind of battle fought day-by-day, pill-by-pill, a war of attrition taking place where no one can see.
For Fairlamb, it means pushing himself to the physical limits in order to earn his keep in the world’s fastest-growing sport, albeit one in which the athletes score little money at the fringes. It means rolling around on the padded confines of AMA in Whippany, and at the new location in Pompton Lakes, N.J., albeit with a bunch of sweaty, smelly Spartans.
“I’m not the kind of guy who took a backseat to anything I’ve been dealt,” Fairlamb said. “It’s life. It’s the facts of life. You get dealt the hand you’re dealt, and you make the best of it, you make the most of it. I don’t sit back and feel pity or sorrow — I don’t want that from anybody. It’s more of a personal grudge match that I have cancer after losing some people in my life that were dear to me. It’s just a matter of sucking it up and putting in more of an effort. I might have to put in more work than the guys who are healthy now. It will pay off.”
A regimented lifestyle will be his biggest asset. After personal experimentation taking his Gleevec pill — he’s settled on right before bed in order to sleep through most of the joint pain and other side effects — it’s a matter of finding what works best, and then just repeating it day after day.
As simple as sticking to the straight-and-narrow path might appear, there are pitfalls. The biggest one at the moment is the cost of the whole thing, and we’re talking about dollars. Fairlamb is an uninsured American.
“I’ll be at the doctor for the rest of my life,” he says. “I’m on (Gleevec) for life. It’s quite expensive; 30 pills run me about $2,000 a month, and with no insurance that can be quite expensive over the years.”
A clean bill of health, even for a day, is truly a blessing.
“My levels are normal,” he reported. “I’m just happy to be a part of it and happy to have caught it where it’s at the stage where it’s something we can work with. I continue to be strong, I continue to be strong for others and hopefully I’m an inspiration for others that will come across this disease and be an example of what you can do, and not limit yourself to the things people expect you to do. Go outside the shell, go outside your comfort zone and battle it the way you see fit. There is no norm. Don’t consider yourself a norm, just go out there and do what you gotta do. Don’t let it run your life, don’t let it take over your life. That’s something I stress to everybody.”
Williams and Constantino are two of the many who have stepped up to help their comrade. When he gets to talking about what they, in particular, have done to help him, that is when Fairlamb’s hardened shell admittedly begins to crack.
Clearly, it’s not just about the direct financial help he stands to receive from both. It’s something significantly deeper, a man with an apparently strong physical frame finding out he is so very, very human, and being lifted by peers who are riding somewhat better fortune. Humbled by a disease, humbled by his friends’ generosity.
“That’s the only thing that really gets you. It gets me at times,” Fairlamb said, holding his composure. “You step back and you get that out-0f-body experience and see what people are doing around you, such as Billy and Coach Mike. Training at AMA, I just can’t say enough about Billy Dee and what he’s doing. Now he’s helping me out with the fact that I don’t have medical insurance, what he’s willing to sacrifice.
“Billy’s getting married in the upcoming weeks, he just bought a brand-new house. It’s not like he’s a millionaire. He’s doing this because he feels like he can do it and he wants to do it. I just can’t say enough about the guy. I’m forever grateful, forever in debt for all his actions. I just happy I can call him a friend.”
AMA Fight Club owner Mike Constantino and Scott Fairlamb were good friends before business man
Constantino recently added to his busy duties as at AMA when he became an administrator for the UCC promotion, which ran three events in Jersey City and will move to Morristown for Friday’s matches. He might have used some of his influence to put together the Fairlamb-Fowzi match, but that seems like no consequence in the grand scheme of things.
While some fighters have trouble getting cleared medically for an assortment of conditions, Fairlamb’s CML is not keeping him out of the cage.
“I owe a lot of it to Mike Constantino and his hard work and push to get me on the card,” Fairlamb said of UCC 4. “Cancer isn’t contagious. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find hardly anyone who won’t fight with it. I guess you could call me a knucklehead, I guess you could call me determined. I’m out there to prove that you can fight through it. It might be more of an impact on training, the stress level, but when push comes to shove, I know my body better than anybody. I know I’m OK, and I know I can go out there and handle what I need to take care of.
“I’ve always been quite a handful. You can ask my mom. Nothing’s ever been normal about me.”
The amount of people taking up the torch to help out suggests as much. Fairlamb is not normal, because he had an obvious effect on all those pitching in to help now, when he truly needs them.
“A lot of people have been helping out, and spreading the word is most important to me,” he says of those outside of MMA who have put on benefits or raised money. “Being a little bit of an inspiration, that’s the least I can do. Just spread the word, keep it going, just keep up the good fight. It could be a lot worse. A lot of people are going through the same thing as me. Just being able to fall on another shoulder and have somebody fall on mine, that’s the least I can do, is share my story with other people who are sick and give them a little bit of inspiration and help get them through it.”
Then there is the matter of the fight.
After all, Fairlamb has chosen this as his profession. He might have to work harder and deal with CML, something his opponents would not wish on their worst enemies. But those things have a way of fading to the background once the cage door locks and the referee gives the order to fight.
“I’m looking to go out there and put it all on the line and come out victorious,” Fairlamb said. “It’s a win-win situation for me. Just getting back out, it’s a win for me, already. But that isn’t good enough for me. I want to go out there, I want to win.”
(If you would like to donate, send contributions to Fairlamb’s Fight, P.O. Box 347, Butler, N.J. 07405)