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Miami Beach Gold’s Gym general manager survives cancer thanks to faith, fitness

After surviving 96 chemotherapy treatments, the general manager of Gold’s Gym South Beach shows his appreciation to the cancer center that helped him survive and encourages others to stay healthy.

Special to The Miami Herald

Five years ago, personal trainer David Octavio Gandell faced the challenge of his life: At age 29, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had little chance of survival.

He credits an indefatigable faith and his oncologist at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center with saving his life.

Earlier this month, Gandell decided to show his appreciation to the medical center.

Gandell, now 34 and general manager of Gold’s Gym South Beach, organized a health fair that raised funds for Sylvester as well as encouraging people to take a more healthy, optimistic approach to life.

“I want people to know that it was through my faith that I was able to achieve this,” said Gandell, a native of Puerto Rico who also works as a motivational speaker and model.

Originally diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2004, Gandell thought he was in the clear after surgeons removed a testicle.

But a few weeks later, doctors discovered he actually suffered from a rare form of malignant tumor called immature teratoma.

Gandell had consulted with several oncologists who told him his chances of survival were slim.

However, Pasquale Benedetto, an oncologist at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was willing to help.

“He was in bad shape when he came,” Benedetto said. “He had a very rare form of cancer.”

Gandell underwent 96 chemotherapy sessions and a 12-hour surgery.

“I never had a feeling of holding back of stopping and planning my life ahead,” Gandell said. “If you don’t plan it, you’re going to fail.”

In February 2007, doctors told him he was cancer free.

At the Change Your Life Health Fair, which took place at Gold’s Gym South Beach, 1400 Alton Rd., sports memorabilia, dinners and spa treatments were auctioned. More than $10,000 was raised for the center, which opened in 1992 and treats more than 4,000 patients a year and performs more than 2,400 surgical procedures.

Vendors like Whole Foods Market and supplement companies such as Dymatize were on board to promote their products and support the cause.

Miami Beach resident Berk Aydalka said the fair was encouraging.

“This is part of your life,” said Aydalka, who looked forward to meeting bodybuilders and fitness models. “You can’t think of living without fitness.”

Gandell credits his healthy lifestyle for helping him overcome cancer.

After his third chemotherapy session, at a time when he only weighed 128 pounds, he still went to the gym. Benedetto said a healthy living could be a positive factor in combating cancer.

“He was very active while he was sick, and I am sure his shape helped out the cause,” Benedetto said.

Despite what doctors said about his survival rate, Gandell didn’t stop believing.

“Everything that I prayed for, I got answers through people or through feelings,” said Gandell, who hosts several fitness contests in South Florida.

Soon after being declared cancer free, he started training to host the 2007 Universe Weekend competition, a fitness show in downtown Miami.

Coral Springs resident Alyssa Hynes, who competed in the event, accompanied him in his workouts for 10 weeks. Hynes said Gandell served as a motivation.

“Even though he was going through all sorts of stress, I would walk in his house and he had endless motivation and an endless life,” said Hynes, a model for Dymatize supplements.

Benedetto said Gandell’s positive outlook played a major role in treating his disease.

“He was an optimist,” Benedetto said. “He was aware that what we did was untested waters.”

“Cancer is a challenge, so challenge yourself,” Gandell said with a smile. “We go through challenges every day.”

Gandell plans to host another health fair early next year.

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