Dr. F. Joseph Ferrara took the lessons he learned from surviving cancer a decade ago to help his southern Louisiana practice thrive in the wake of the pandemic.

WHEN FACED WITH uncertainty, Louisiana dentist Dr. F. Joseph Ferrara says, he tends to choose whatever from the situation most constitutes a leap of faith. At defining moments in his career and life, he says, this philosophy has never failed him.

When he was an undergraduate on break from Louisiana State University in the late 1990s, for example, his longtime hygienist, during a routine cleaning, asked him if he’d ever considered dentistry as a potential career. This led to an impromptu job shadow with a dentist named Dr. Dennis Preau—and a switch from pre-veterinary/pre-med to his current line of work.

That same ethos guided him in 2020 as the pandemic tightened its grip, when he decided to keep going on a significant expansion of his practice in Madisonville, Louisiana. (He lives in the town, across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans, with his wife, Laura, and their two children.) As a result, he was able to offer his patients double the square footage once he reopened. “Life goes on, as they say, and we certainly feel blessed to be here and to be successful,” Dr. Ferrara says.

He certainly knows about the continuation of life—and the will to live. He says he approached this recent period of global uncertainty by remembering something that hit close to home: a colon cancer diagnosis in 2008, which spurred aggressive treatment that continued throughout the following year. “I’m a colon cancer survivor,” he says. “It’s not how I define myself, but it’s part of my journey—part of why I am where I am today.”

Prior to his battle with the disease, Dr. Ferrara had been working in corporate dentistry but had to take a step back because of the debilitating treatments. He shifted gears to stay connected, doing a relatively short stint in orthodontic product sales and applying to an ortho residency. Determined to return to general dentistry (and his cherished patients), he persevered through, among other side effects, numbness in his fingertips and feet that lasted roughly two years.

When his dexterity returned at last, though, it came with a new opportunity: the chance to own his current practice in Madisonville, Ferrara Family Dentistry. “I can’t complain about that part of my life,” he says. “It put me where I am, and I’m very happy where I am.” He’s currently president of the Northlake Dental Association, a local component of the Louisiana Dental Association.

I’m a colon cancer survivor. It’s not how I define myself, but it’s part of my journey—part of why I am where I am today.”

Taking those leaps of faith, it turns out, has been beneficial in many areas of his life and practice. “The moments that stand out are those in which I can build relationships with my patients,” he says. “Helping an anxious kid through her first filling, whitening the bride’s teeth just before the wedding. The relationship-building moments and the humor exchanged while caring for another—I live for those moments.”

Be sure to check out TheDailyFloss.com, refreshed with dental-industry news and features every weekday.