Duper formed half of the infamous Marks Brothers duo with Mark Clayton for the pass happy Miami teams of the mid-1980s and early 1990s and figured he was just doing his part for the organization he loved. He was riding to raise money for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in memory of the late Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, totally unaware that a cancerous tumor was attached to one of his own kidneys.
“Maybe that was why I was breathing so hard,” Duper joked on the phone Monday from his hospital bed at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was recovering from last Thursday’s surgery that removed his diseased kidney. He was discharged from the hospital today.
Much like when Mandich was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in December of 2009, Duper suddenly had a newfound appreciation for places like Sylvester that are committed to finding better treatments and a cure for cancer. He reached out to his former teammate and fellow wide receiver Nat Moore immediately for guidance and with the help of Moore and Dolphins CEO Mike Dee was admitted to Sylvester. His insurance covered the surgery.
Fortunately for Duper, the cancer was caught early enough and determined to have been isolated to that one kidney. The surgery was a success and doctors were able to confirm that the cancer had not spread.
“They took care of it and they got it before it could do anything, which is a blessing in disguise,” Duper said. “I don’t even have to do chemo or radiation or any of that. I want to thank Dr. Mark Soloway and his staff for giving me the hope, faith and the willpower to deal with this. It’s amazing how we do these things for charity but we never face these things that people face that have cancer. You don’t know what they go through until you have it, so anything that you can do for charity and get an opportunity to save a life is a blessing. I totally not only feel it now but I am living it and I look at life differently now.”
The bond that Duper and Moore formed as teammates was a strong one and has remained strong throughout the years. That has been evident as long as Moore has been in charge of the Dolphins’ alumni association and now as a Vice President/Senior Advisor.
Moore is tight with all of the ex-Dolphins and of course was very tight with Mandich, so the Dolphins Cycling Challenge is something that he has approached with a passion, completing the full 170-mile ride with Dee both years. This year the ride more than doubled the amount raised in Year One by bringing in $1,070,000.
“Once again it shows just how important it is to have a top-notch cancer research treatment center like the UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer center,” Moore said. “Here is another one of our alumni needing the service and using the services of Sylvester and even though Jim was not able to win his fight with cancer, here we have someone in Mark Duper who has a tremendous chance at survival with them being able to get all of the cancer in the surgery.
“To be able to help a teammate of mine feels good but it’s not only about helping our alumni. The Sylvester Cancer Center is there to help everyone in addition to our alumni, the citizens of South Florida. That’s what makes the DCC so important in raising money for a center like that.”
Duper was able to reflect a little more while he sat in that hospital bed not only about how fortunate he was to have the doctors catch the cancer early but how ironic it was that he was riding in the DCC to fight cancer a little more than two months ago. He looks back on it now realizing that a cancerous tumor was growing inside him during the fight.
Another realization for Duper has to do with how far society overall has come over the years. With Monday being Martin Luther King Day, Duper wondered what would have become of him four decades ago.
“We were just talking about that and one thing that I can say about Martin Luther King is that back in the day a black man wouldn’t be in the hospital, he’d be in the hallway,” Duper said. “If this happened to me 40 years ago I’d probably be dead. The fact that I had the proper insurance to cover this was a godsend and I support what President Obama is trying to do in making sure everybody has health insurance. You never know when you’re going to need it.
“People don’t realize now how important it is to do these charitable functions and to raise money for research because 40 years ago they would have probably done nothing. Now they were able to go in there and snatch that bad boy out and made sure it didn’t spread. I’m thanking God every day right now and if they keep these charities up and they keep donating their time and research they’re definitely going to find a cure for this.”
Duper is going to help make sure that Sylvester continues to get the necessary support by spreading the word. And come this fall when the next DCC ride is set to begin, he’ll have a whole new perspective at the starting line.