Glenn Stearns is a businessman who took on the challenge of starting a business from scratch without using his money or his contacts for the first season of Undercover Billionaire, which aired in the summer of 2019 on the Discovery Channel.
Now on Tuesday, August 18, he is back with a follow-up special called Undercover Billionaire: Return to Erie, in which he goes back to Erie, Pennsylvania to check in on his restaurant, Underdog BBQ. According to the Discovery Channel press release, Stearns is “headed back to Erie to check in on the restaurant and visit with those who helped him build it. Through candid never-before-seen footage and new business values, Glenn reveals fresh insight about his 90 days and what it takes to start from nothing, culminating with an unexpected announcement about his future plans in the city.”
One thing that really shaped his journey into and during this project was his recurring battle with cancer. Here’s what you need to know about Stearns’ throat cancer and how it almost derailed Undercover Billionaire entirely.
Stearns Was First Diagnosed With Cancer in 2014
In an interview with Business Insider, Stearns said he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2014, which is what made him want to pursue the idea behind Undercover Billionaire.
He told Business Insider he had “never felt more alive” than early in his career when he was building his business from the ground up. So he had an idea to try to do it all over again, with no help from his wealthy friends or using his own start-up capital.
“I wanted to challenge myself and see if it’s possible to really make it again, or was it luck,” he said, adding that he wanted to show his children, who had seen him very sick when he was fighting cancer, that it’s never too late to take a chance.
In a later interview with BI, Stearns revealed that they actually had to postpone shooting because of a recurrence of his cancer. Then when they finally got off the ground, he was glad the show downplayed his health issues.
“The show really hasn’t talked about how I’ve been through a lot of health things. They have downplayed that and I like that,” said Stearns, adding that he didn’t want the show to be all “poor me” in regards to his health.
According to an interview with R.J. Messenger, part of the Underdog BBQ team, Stearns even had surgery for cancer during the filming and it didn’t make it to air.
Stearns Had Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Stearns’ doctor noticed he had swollen lymph nodes and was eventually diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. His doctor was optimistic that that kind of cancer is 55 percent curable, which Stearns heard as more of a “coin toss” than something to be optimistic about.
“The only thing that came to my mind were my two little girls. It’s really interesting when someone says you’re gonna die, what do you think about? And it just came, bam — my two little girls were right in my face. I went through an experience that humbled me beyond anything you could imagine,” said Stearns.
In an article posted on the Virgin website, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson revealed that Stearns kept his sense of humor throughout his ordeal by sharing a note that Stearns and his wife Mindy sent to Branson during that time.
“Not much can get him down. I think the biggest challenge will be giving up chicken wings and getting REST. The doctor says he will need that the most. Up until this point, rest has not been a recurring word in Glenn’s vocabulary,” wrote Mindy.
“Right now he’s gambling his odds of success with a backgammon app on his iPad. He has been doing this since we met with the game of the moment Texas Hold ’em, Blackjack, Angry Birds, Temple Run and now Backgammon. ‘If I win this game, we’re going to get married, if I win this game we’re going to get that house, if I win this game we’ll get through this financial crisis, if I win this game I’m going to get through this cancer.’ Good news: he wins every time.”
Undercover Billionaire: Return to Erie airs Tuesday, August 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Discovery Channel.
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