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Thumbs Down Guy has cancer and needs your help

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I'm Gary Dunaier, better known as "Thumbs Down Guy" of baseball and meme fame.

I'm the Mets fan who, when a Yankee player hit a home run in my team's ballpark, expressed my disapproval with a stone face expression and a thumbs down gesture.

(In September 2017, the Yankees were supposed to play a series against the Rays in Florida, but due to Hurricane Irma the games were relocated to Citi Field, home of the Mets. Needless to say, most of the fans who went to the games were Yankee fans.)

My gesture immediately became a meme, which is still used all over the world to this day. The Yankees saw it, fell in love with it and adopted my thumbs-down as a rally cry. They ran with it all the way to within one game of the World Series - and if the Houston Astros hadn't cheated their way into the Fall Classic, perhaps even further.

(Photo: Thumbs-down became such a big part of the Yankees' pennant run that the team even went so far as to create a tri-color scoreboard graphic of me making the gesture.)

Fans still come up to me at ballgames and ask for selfies. They tell me I'm a legend; they thank me for what I did, they're thrilled to see me, and so on. I’ve seen all sorts of comments on Twitter and elsewhere about how someone met the famous Thumbs Down Guy as if they had met a genuine Hollywood star. One tweet that stands out is from a lady who thanked me for making her daughter's night by posing for a selfie with her. And as recently as January 2023, someone tweeted "Tell me who should be House Speaker. Let's start a thread," and somebody responded "Thumbs down guy from the Yankees game."

You might be surprised to learn that to this day, I've never been able to grasp how big Thumbs Down is and what it means to people. Maybe it's because I'm in the center of the whirlwind; I don't know. And, perhaps, it's better that I don't worry about "why;" that I should just keep riding the wave, enjoy it, and leave it at that, because maybe finding out would be like cutting open the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Thumbs Down is unique in another way. Unlike other times when individual fans had a direct impact on the game - for example, Jeffrey Maier’s reaching into the field of play to catch a ball that should have been out, but was ruled a home run for the Yankees in the 1996 ALCS, and poor Steve Bartman being blamed for the Chicago Cubs’ meltdown in the 2003 NLCS - my thumbs-down gesture had no effect on any action on the field that night.

What's important is that, no matter who you root for, going to a ballgame is supposed to be fun. And if someone feels that getting a photo with me adds to their enjoyment of the game, I'm glad to be of service.

Unfortunately, for me, the past few months have been anything but fun.

During a dental visit for tooth extraction last summer, suspicious tissue was noticed. The oral surgeon had the specimen sent for biopsy. It was returned as Squamos Cell Carcinoma of the oral cavity. An ENT Oncologist determined it to be Stage 4 cancer which was eroding my jawbone.

I had cancer surgery in late September. They removed the jawbone and replaced it with bone and tissue from my leg.

(Photo: me, just a couple of hours or so after cancer surgery.)

During my post-surgery hospitalization, I had a feeding tube in my nose and a tracheotomy tube in my throat, making it very difficult to talk. I could only say one syllable at a time, gasping for breath after each one. When the doctors removed the feeding tube from my nose and said I could eat solid food, I was so thrilled that I took a photo of myself with that first meal. (Actually, they put me on an all-liquid diet, but at least I was eating through my mouth again. If you've ever had a feeding tube up your nose, you'll understand.)

After my discharge from the hospital, I had to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Because the cancer was in the jawbone, they created what’s called a thermoplastic mask, which was custom-made for me and is designed to immobilize my head and neck so the radiation can go exactly where it’s supposed to.

(Photo: me in my thermoplastic mask. I have to wear it every time I go for radiation treatment.)

Unfortunately, the treatments aren't without side effects. Where do I begin? In no particular order, I’ve experienced
• Fatigue
• Hair loss
• Numbness in the mouth
• Low appetite, caused at least in part by nausea. It’s been so bad that at one point I lost 20 pounds in two weeks. (I know what you’re thinking, but when it’s a side effect of cancer, the weight loss is NOT good.)

While most of these will eventually go away, one change is permanent. I’m no longer able to open my mouth all the way. This affects my ability to eat and drink. I can’t eat burgers, hot dogs or pizza without a knife and fork. This may change in time, but no matter what, my ability to fully open my mouth 100% is gone forever. The doctor who performed the surgery explained that my mouth is going to be like this because he had to cut through muscle to get to the cancer.

(Photo: a rare Thumbs Down Guy appearance at Yankee Stadium, September 2022. As a result of my cancer surgery, I'll never be able to open my mouth like that again.)

The experience has been rough, but I’ve been managing the best I can with the limited resources I have. And then I got the letter from my landlord.

I live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) project. A couple of days after Christmas I received my annual Lease Addendum and Rent Notice. The leases always take effect August 1, but this year for some reason they didn’t send me the new lease until the end of December.

Rent is based on a percentage of income, and as part of the recertification process I was asked to submit two pay stubs. During this time, I've only been receiving half my regular salary. I've been using my union's Sick Leave Bank to cover my absence from work, and the reason I'm only getting half pay is because they draw out the Sick Leave Bank period so that I can stay on the payroll and keep my insurance. The pay stubs I submitted reflected my reduced income, but NYCHA ignored that and only looked at the part of the stub that shows my annual salary.

So, they increased my rent. Not only that, but they’re going to retroactively charge me the difference between what I paid and what they say I should have paid since August.

I have a civil service job doing clerical support work. Even at full pay, the salary isn't much. But at half pay... there’s no way I’ll be able to cover my increased rent.

It's bad enough that I have cancer and have to go through everything I'm going through, and the extra stress and tension caused by worrying about how I'll be able to deal with this latest rent increase is the last thing I need right now.

I’m hoping that while I continue to receive half pay, you can help me to cover my rent during the rest of my medical leave as I continue to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. As mentioned, I received the NYCHA notice just a few days after Christmas... only a few days before the first of the month, when rent is due. Fortunately, a relative covered me for January with an emergency loan, so my first priority has to be to pay him back. After that, I’m looking to be able to cover rent for February and March.

So, that’s three months’ rent I’m asking for help with. I’m hoping to be back to work (and full pay) in time to cover the rent for April, but due to some complications at this point, there’s no way of knowing for sure if that's going to happen.

It's been said that I’m one of the few things fans of both New York baseball teams can agree on. Met fans like Thumbs Down Guy because I stood alone in a sea of Yankee fans and showed my loyalty to the orange and blue; Yankee fans like Thumbs Down Guy because I inadvertently gave their team the rally cry that very well may have given them their much sought-after 28th championship, and because I've been a good sport about being made their unofficial mascot.

Now, I'm hoping Met fans, Yankee fans, and those who’ve used my thumbs-down image online over the years (the GIF has had over 320 million views) will unite and help me in my hour of need.

I thank you so very much for your support.

Gary Dunaier (Thumbs Down Guy)


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Gary Dunaier
Fresh Meadows, NY

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