How an Old Photo Helped a Cancer Survivor Focus on His Dream -- of Making Ice Cream

Now in 5,000 grocery stores, the founder of Vice Cream shares how he found inspiration after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma.

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How an Old Photo Helped a Cancer Survivor Focus on His Dream -- of Making Ice Cream
Image credit: Courtesy of Dan Schorr
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

What do you do when you get married, buy your first house and then doctors tell you that you have six months to live? 

You start an ice cream company, of course.

Related: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Motivate You

Prior to my diagnosis, I had a successful career in the food-and-beverage and consumer-goods industries, including long stints at PowerBar, Pepsi and Saucony. But around 2013 I started feeling restless. I wanted something new -- something to call my own. But what?

I thought back to my college days. I used to drive a Good Humor truck. I loved it. Not only did it help pay for school, but I remembered the pure joy in people’s faces when I gave them their ice cream. There’s a photo of me in the truck from those days that I’ve carried with me since. It was the greatest job I ever had.

Thinking about that experience inspired me to move into the ice cream category, thinking there was an opening in the market for something a little younger and edgier. I got to work on branding, flavors and messaging. I wanted my company to be bold, provocative, with no apologies for decadent flavors -- like coffee ice cream with mocha fudge, chocolate cookies and sweet espresso. I needed a name. I thought to myself, Vice Cream. Much to my surprise, no one had trademarked it. I was on a roll.

Related: Need Inspiration? Here Are 9 Ways to Find It.

I was also living an active lifestyle, my other great passion. I had finished 37 half marathons, seven marathons and a half Ironman, and biked from Florence to Rome. Between that and my startup, I was loving all aspects of my life. 

Then, on April 1, 2014, my doctor called and said the three words you hope to never hear: “We found something.” I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell, and told that without treatment I had six months to live. 

My world was shaking. But staring down a grim diagnosis and six rounds of chemotherapy, I knew exactly what I was going to do: I would pour myself into the things that brought me joy. I took two months off to undergo three rounds of chemo, went for a run -- and threw up afterward -- and got back to work, wearing a surgical mask and gloves.

Related: 10 Ways to Stay Inspired for Life

It all came together. Today I am cancer-free, and Vice Cream, nearly two years old, is in more than 5,000 grocery stores in 38 states. We work closely with cancer-related organizations like Dana-Farber and the Pan-Mass Challenge to bring smiles to the faces of those who’ve faced the same battle I did, and I started doing speaking engagements to share my story. And at every one, the first thing I show everybody is that photo from the Good Humor truck: where my journey began.

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