On Friday March 3rd 2017, Trucker Dukes passed away in his mother’s arms, at his home on Maui. Trucker would have been 4 years old on April 10th. Trucker had battled Neuroblastoma for 2 years prior to his death. Trucker’s fight and his family’s battle to beat this beast has touched so many lives it’s unreal. That’s why I’m writing this blog, to give my account of our relationship. However, this is not just about Trucker and me, it’s more about Trucker and the world. Sure, my story is unique, but it’s one of many. Trucker’s feet may have been small, but the footprint he left on the world is huge. My life is forever changed because of Trucker, because of his mother Shauna, his father Joshua, his sister Indi and brothers Mac and Jedi. Somehow I plan on sharing that with the world, and this will be my starting place.
This journey brought them to New Jersey (well mostly to New York), but in my mind this is a Jersey story and a Maui story too. So where do I begin? I suppose the best place to start, is to tell you about me, just in case you stumbled upon this and have no idea who I am (it’s not hard). My name is Rob Piparo, but everyone calls me Pip. My wife’s name is Tracey aka Mrs. Pip and we have two amazing little boys, Finn is 6 and Declan is 4. I am a Lieutenant with the City of New Brunswick Fire Department in New Jersey. I also happen to run a firefighter fitness not for profit called 555 Fitness. Our main goal is to reduce the leading killer of firefighters nationwide, cardiac related illness, through fitness. We were born on this thing called Facebook, you may have heard of it. Nearly 4 years ago our page was created and we have not stopped growing since.
Fitness, Facebook and firefighting have zero to do with pediatric cancer, or so I thought. You’ll have to forgive me on this one because I’m still trying to figure out the tie in. However, this social media thing, is so much bigger than all of us, it’s unreal. But hey, I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about how I ended up connecting with the Dukes family.
After Trucker was diagnosed , his parents, Joshua and Shauna realized rapidly that they weren’t going to be able to get the help Trucker needed in their beloved Hawaii. Their search for treatment lead them to a very, very different island. It’s called Manhattan, it’s definitely not Maui, or anything close to it. But they were on a mission to save their son. Shauna would leave Joshua and their 3 other children, Indi, Jedi and Mac to travel to NYC, so that Trucker could receive treatment at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital.
So wait, let’s just stop here for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. Your youngest has Stage 4 neuroblastoma, you pack some bags and leave the rest of your family. You travel to just about as far in our country from your home as you can with him, and you pray. You pray for a miracle. Meanwhile, a father is at home, with 3 other children, awaiting news and praying. I’m a father of 2, and I’m not so sure I could handle that. However, as parents, we make choices and decisions, they aren’t always easy, but we do what’s best for our kids. That’s what they did, and I know, they have zero regrets.
Okay, back to the story. After his diagnosis, a Facebook page was started by a friend, Mrs. June K Harper. She did this mostly to keep people in their island home abreast of Trucker’s day to day life and status, as well as to raise much needed funds for the Dukes. Great idea, right? Later, I’ll fill you in on something about the social media world you may not like to hear, but after all, this is a New York story. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for sure. But social media is an interesting beast, and if it wasn’t for Mrs. Pip, my part of this story wouldn’t even have happened.
One day, Tracey alerted me to a page she wanted me to follow. It was about a little boy, battling cancer in NYC. The rub was, his dad was “on the job” ( that’s firefighter slang we use to describe each other) in Maui. She went on to tell me how his mother took him to NYC to receive treatment and she wanted me to send them some 555 apparel. She told me how strong they all must be for doing this. One of the main tenants of 555 Fitness is strength, our original T-shirt even said it, “Strength is our Foundation.” Now I don’t always do what my wife says, but this time I listened. I got in contact with Shauna and not only sent her some swag, but sent some to her husband Joshua. I figured it was the least I could do. As a dad, I could only imagine what he was going through back at home. Boom, end of story, I send swag, wife is happy, we move on promoting firefighter fitness. Or so I thought.
Not long after the package went out, both Shauna and Joshua reached out to me. Shauna thanked me for the sweet gear and for thinking of them. Josh messaged me and went on to tell me how he had been a 555 Fitness fan almost since the beginning (which could have even been longer than me, truth be told, since I didn’t start this page). We talked about fitness, we talked about being firefighters and we talked about his situation. And a bond grew. A bond between parents, a bond between firefighters and a bond between friends. That’s what this is really all about, amazing bonds. Bonds that were formed over the internet, grew through happenstance and forged in love.
I have a plan for this blog. But like this story and like life, it keeps changing. I started writing it before I left for Trucker’s Celebration of Life on Maui. I wrote on the way, I wrote while I was there, and I’m still writing now. While in Maui I took notes on my phone. Notes about what I heard people say, what I saw people do and what I experienced. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m not a professional writer, but I’m going to give this a go. I don’t have a schedule or much of a plan, just to keep writing about my journey with Trucker, really our journey with Trucker. And just like his journey, I hope this makes an impact on someone.