Paul Dombroski: Preparing for a Personal Cancer “War”
Caron and Paul Dombroski
Healthy Hairdresser recently caught up with Paul Dombroski, the NFL-athlete-turned-stylist who was featured in an earlier Healthy Hairdresser article about his 2013 struggle with breast cancer. It’s an unusual story, and we wanted to know more.
“When I went into the exam room to see my breast surgeon, a nice pink gown was laid out for me,” recalls Dombroski, co-owner with his wife, Caron, of Style Council in New Tampa, Florida. “I’d spent years in the locker room, so this was very different for me. Then as the doctor began to insert a needle in order to do a biopsy, suddenly a nurse walked in, and then another doctor and a third medical staffer. I began to realize that they probably didn’t see a lot of men there. And when I saw the mammogram machine, I thought, ‘How am I going to get this into that?’ I don’t have a lot of body fat, and it took several tries to get a good picture. Experiencing breast cancer has made me empathize more with women.”
Although he didn’t anticipate breast cancer, Dombroski wasn’t surprised to receive a diagnosis of some type of cancer. His mother had battled breast cancer, and his father had died of pancreatic cancer. Believing that cancer was inevitable, he made sure he would be in “fighting shape” when the disease attacked.
“With a history of cancer in my family, I knew I’d have to prepare for war at some point,” says Dombroski, who played professional football with the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before switching careers. “So I’ve been a big advocate of working out my whole life. I did a triathlon when I was about 50. That’s not something I would do again, but it was great training. I wasn’t working out in order to look good. That’s a byproduct. My goal was always being ready for the battle when I had to. It came, and I was prepared. When I heard the diagnosis, I had just a moment of hesitation, and then warrior mentality kicked in and I asked, ‘Okay, what do I need to do?’”
Being in great shape helped Dombroski return to the salon just two days after surgery to remove his breast tumor. He didn’t stop long, either, when he hit another little bump in the road—surgery for a benign thyroid condition not long after the breast surgery. “I have a lot of muscle and determination!” he says. “It helped me emotionally to be behind the chair. I’m not someone who wants to sit at home and say, ‘Woe is me.’ Working kept me focused on my clients and what was going on in their lives.”
Only two clients of the roughly 200 the Dombroskis serve in their private studio salon even knew about the breast cancer. “The two we told are strong Christians, so we asked them to keep us in their prayers,” Dombroski explains. “Other than that, we kept it quiet because we didn’t want to give cancer power in our studio. The hair business is intense enough; we didn’t want to add another layer. The salon became the one place where cancer didn’t take over our day. If everyone knew, then with each client I’d be repeating the information about the results from my latest tests, how I’m feeling, what’s coming next. Our clients come here to relax. It shouldn’t be about how Paul is doing.”
Two years later, many clients still aren’t aware of Dombroski’s medical crisis. Unless they saw a spot on the local NBC news affiliate, they would have no way to know. But that may change. Dombroski says he wants to get more publicly involved by working with the NFL and ex-athletes.
“I’m going back to sports to be an advocate for getting retired ex-athletes to take better care of themselves,” he says. “It’s when you stop playing professional sports that the hard part starts! You’re not working out in practice anymore, and a lot of the guys who used to be in great shape get very out of shape. I’m passionate about advocating for their health.”
Dombroski encourages ex-athletes and other middle-aged and older people not to use their earlier achievements as benchmarks. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a star athlete.
“Modify what you do as you age,” he advises. “What’s important are lean muscle, a strong heart and a good range of motion. There are a lot of paths to get there. I bike, swim and sometimes lift heavy weights. I don’t punish myself! And I eat as much organic, green, leafy vegetables and lean meats as I can.”
Dombroski also stays focused on his love for hairdressing. “I’m busy doing what I do,” he notes. “It’s a large responsibility to be a hairdresser. Clients trust you and ask your advice on a lot of things in their life. I’m a good listener, and I like people. I take the responsibility very seriously, and for me? I don’t worry about what comes next.”