INDIANAPOLIS — When you hang out with businessman, entrepreneur and cancer survivor Rob Gough, you ask yourself two questions: Did having cancer as a teen inspire this Indiana native to accomplish his dreams? Or has Gough always been so focused on success that he was never going to let cancer stand in his way?
The answers may be both.
For Gough’s mother, Nancy Puorro, her son’s entire life has been a blessing and an inspiration.
“I think the hardest question anybody's ever asked me in my life was, ‘Mom, am I gonna die?’” Purro said.
Yes, Gough asked his mom that very question 20 years ago when he found out he had cancer as a teenager.
“I grew up on the south side of Indianapolis, and I went to Perry Meridian High School,” said Gough. “My senior year in high school, my big toe swelled up. So the doctors misdiagnosed it, thought it was maybe a sports-related injury, just from being young and a kid. A year later, I go to college, go to Ball State University, same symptoms happen again. Ewing sarcoma cancer, it’s a bone cancer. That's what it turned out to be. Then, you get jumped into chemotherapy.”
Not being able to laugh and play with his friends may have been the toughest part for Gough, who is extremely outgoing.
“It definitely wasn't fun to not eat for five days and to feel sick and not be able to see your friends and be a [normal] 18-year-old kid,” Gough recalled. “Chemo teaches you that you're going to be thrown curveballs. You either get down and mentally lose, or you say, ‘Hey, this is just another thing thrown at me, let's figure out how to get through it!’"
“Life is not easy, you know, you're thrown obstacles on a daily basis, but it's really how you react to it,” he said.
Gough's cancer was serious enough that Indiana Wish contacted him asking him if he wanted to be granted a wish. His response was … unique.
“My initial ‘wish’ was guaranteed acceptance to Harvard grad school,” Gough said. “That's a very tough wish to grant. Harvard said, ‘He only has one year of undergrad, how can we guarantee this?!’ Growing up, that's kind of what you think the route to success is. Then, you realize that there's a lot of different ways to get where you want to go.”
Gough was determined to go all the way to the top. He developed two lucrative dot-coms, an auction website and a coupon website. And then, he bought a successful clothing line called “Dope.”
He said he was a millionaire by his mid-20s. Not bad.
“I mean, it doesn't buy much in L.A.,” Gough said, who certainly knows L.A. His business dealings have allowed him to not only develop relationships with the biggest celebrities and sports stars on the planet, but have also led to acting gigs.
“I have a movie coming out next year with Bruce Willis,” Gough said on the movie titled "American Siege."
How will Gough’s mom feel at the movie’s premiere?
“I can't put that into words,” Puorro said.
Gough made national headlines earlier this year when he purchased a Mickey Mantle baseball rookie card for more than $5 million.
“It was undervalued,” said Gough. “I mean, it's the most iconic card in the hobby. So I jumped into the hobby [of collecting baseball cards]. Well, I did it as a kid. I collected baseball cards as a young kid. You know, south side of Indianapolis, you're buying cards at Walmart, nothing big. I was just in Chicago and someone offered me $10 million for the [Mickey Mantle] card.”
Earlier this month, Gough returned to his hometown of Indy with his fiancé, Cassie, to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Indiana Wish at their annual gala.
“The wish, I think is important for these kids,” Gough said. “It just helps them forget about what they're going through and maybe brings a little bit of light to their situation.”
So, it looks like the teenager who asked for the impossible wish decided to make his entire life one big, impossible dream.
“I can't imagine going through what he went through,” Puorro said. “But if that doesn't catapult you into a different realm of life, I don't know what would.”
“Everybody always asks, 'What do you do for a living?'" Gough said. “As time goes on, you can do a lot of things, and you don't have to just be stuck in a box. And I think, for me, I'm not in a box.”
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