Max Feldman of Morristown, N.J, was a normal 17-year-old boy, who enjoyed fishing and horseback riding. In the span of one day, his life was dramatically altered with a diagnosis of testicular cancer. Max, now 18, went to war against his cancer, undergoing chemotherapy that made him weak and ill. Horseback riding was out of the question, so he turned to fishing, a hobby he could enjoy despite his diminished strength. Time on the lake was therapeutic, and time indoors on the sofa gave him an opportunity to follow the achievements of top pro angler Kevin VanDam.
Max had an opportunity to meet his hero when Make-A-Wish learned his dream of meeting VanDam. That wish became reality in Okeechobee, Fla., site of the Bassmaster Elite Series Power-Pole Slam tournament.
“When I first heard about Max wanting to meet me, it was extremely humbling,” VanDam said. “With all of the things he’s been through and to think that he wanted to come to see me is incredibly flattering. He could have asked to see Peyton Manning or Dale Jr. or Tiger Woods. When I experience something like this, it teaches me what’s important in life.”
Not only did VanDam spend time with Max, he gave the young man everything from a tackle box to a rod and reel.
“KVD has been so amazing,” said Max’s mother, Barbara. “He and his wife have done so much to make this possible. You take a kid who has been through hell and give him an opportunity like this, and it’s incredible. Kevin has also been so nice to our younger son, Adam (16), including him in things. It’s been great for the whole family.”
Max was diagnosed in March 2011 and went through chemotherapy in June, missing half of his high school senior year. Now, his prognosis is “very good,” and he’s preparing to go to Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, in the fall. Max will study to be a farrier, bringing him back to his love of horses as blacksmith.
His father, Chuck, said there are two things his son wants his illness to teach others. Max wants boys to feel comfortable discussing the issue, and he wants them to learn the importance of self-exam, the key to early detection of this form of cancer, which is more common in young men than most realize.
“I didn’t know anything was wrong with me until my diagnosis,” Max said. “I was in high school one day, and the next, my life was upside down. Fishing was one of the only things I could do, because I didn’t have a lot of strength left after the treatments. Fishing always helped me through things when I was sick. I admire KVD’s skill, and I wanted to spend time with him, because he’s the best.”
Max said after his treatment, he went back to his school to speak to other young people about the importance of being aware of their health. He encouraged young men not to be afraid to speak about the illness. He also emphasized that there is life after cancer.
“Fighting cancer made me stronger and made me appreciate life,” Max said. “It taught me that the little things that go wrong in life don’t matter.”
Okeechobee County Tourist Development Council contributed a gift basket, which grew to a gift tub when donations flooded in after Director of Tourism Kathy Scott spread the word. Included in the gifts was a century-old tackle box, which VanDam signed.
“It’s so great — what everyone has done to make this possible for Max,” Chuck said. “And to have someone like Kevin, who is at the highest point he can be in this sport, to take the time to make Max feel special makes a big impact. To see the smile on Max’s face and to see how he enjoys it. It is a thrill for us. We’re grateful for Max’s health and the care that so many who don’t know him have shown him. This story is as much about Kevin as it is about Max. It shows what a great man he is to show this care for Max.”
“Make-A-Wish and the people at B.A.S.S. have done an amazing job making this happen. It’s wonderful that they can make something good come from the experience Max has gone through. It’s not just about fishing. It’s about much more than that.”