Under the stage name Doug Danger, Senecal has entertained thousands of fans around the world, and fearlessly broken records and bones – lots of bones – during a lengthy career as a professional daredevil.
But when his doctor invited him into his office a while back and asked him to have a seat, Senecal admits to feeling a little scared.
His doctor, an oncologist, broke the news that the tumor which had been removed earlier from his neck turned out to be cancerous, and the cancer had spread throughout his body.
The doctor explained that Senecal’s cancer was in stage 4, that it was serious, very serious, and recovery was by no means guaranteed.
The doctor said his chances of survival would be 60 to 70 percent, but he would need massive amounts of radiation and chemotherapy which would leave him feeling physically awful.
“I asked him if the chemo would be anything like hitting a concrete wall at 60 mph, because I’ve done that,” Senecal said. “He said it would be similar.”
Weary, sore and run down from his first round of chemotherapy this week, Senecal said he almost feels like he did in 1992 after hitting the concrete wall at the Hudson, N.H., Speedway. That crash fractured his skull, basically wiped out his memory and motor skills and left him in a coma for a month.
It turns out the doctor, he said, “wasn’t too far off” in the toll which chemotherapy would take on his body.
Senecal, 49, a Palmer native and 1980 graduate of Palmer High School, has made a career following the path of his boyhood idol, Evel Knievel, and putting his life on the line. Since the cancer diagnosis, he said, the challenge before him is a little less dramatic, but the stakes are just as high.
But, Doug Danger never quits nor backs down from a challenge, he said.
Before he jumped 42 cars in Loudon, N.H., in 1991, a 251-foot jump that stood as a world record for nine years, Senecal said, he remembers revving his motorcycle on top of the ramp, staring down at all the cars and all the people in the stands and thinking, “This is one of those times when I can’t only ‘think’ I can make this.”
He feels the same way now.
He said he doesn’t only think he will beat cancer; he knows he will.
“Sixty to 70 percent? I had less of a chance when I jumped all those cars. That was probably 50-50,” he said.
His doctor, at the beginning, instructed him that in fighting cancer, the proper attitude is in many ways a powerful weapon. “He said you can’t get down, you have to stay upbeat, you have to stay happy,” Senecal said.
When you make a living by jumping, and sometimes crashing, motorcycles, staying upbeat is standard safety equipment, right up there with a helmet and a leather crash suit.
“It takes a different attitude to grab life by the balls and say, ‘Here I go,’” he said. “I can almost hear the cancer running away.”
His family and friends have arranged a benefit on Sunday at his bar, the Danger Zone Saloon in Warren, to raise money on his behalf. There will be food, bands and Karaoke. The party starts at 4 p.m. and will continue into the night.
Senecal said he is hearing there is great interest in the benefit. He knows he has a lot of fans in the area who remember him performing at the Eastern States Exposition and at Riverside Park (now Six Flags New England), and he is looking forward to meeting with them on Sunday.
The cancer treatment is expected to cost between $150,000 and $200,000. While he has basic health insurance, the premiums are costly, around $2,000 per month, he said.
“The insurance situation is terrible,” Senecal said.
And, it goes without saying that while Doug Senecal the independent businessman is laid up from chemo, Doug Danger the daredevil won’t be out making money. Senecal has already had to pass on an upcoming tour in Australia.
“The most important thing right now is to keep up the insurance payments” he said.
In the meantime, Senecal said he can only do what he’s always done, and that’s look forward to his next jump: an attempt to set a world record by jumping 23 cars on a heavy Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“I’m going to come back 100 percent. I’m going to come back even better,” he said.
The biggest thing he has learned in 20-plus years of tempting fate and cheating death, Senecal said, is to have a profound respect for life and being alive.
“I’ve lived a fantastic life,” he said. “I’m not ready to check out right now.”