The Story of My Brother—Army Ranger and Cancer Survivor
The Beginning of the Beginning
Let me start this off by saying my brother Mike has always been my role model. Every step of my life, he has been there to pick me up, fight off bullies, and kick my own ass when I deserved it. Everything he did was 100%, he never left anything on the table, no doubt about it. He was never satisfied, and he never saw failure as an option. It amazed me how upset he would be after losing a soccer game, and it amazed me even more to see how upset he was even after a win. There was always room for improvement, and he never took a minute to pride himself on his various successes.
As far as I can remember, Mike was extremely proud of this country; it was not a surprise when he first mentioned enlisting in the Marine Corps. Of course that didn't sit well with my parents—so what did Mike do, he enlisted anyway. That's my brother, so selfless. He was ready to serve his country and give up the amazing college opportunities he had earned for himself.
Somewhere down the line, my brother was switched back "on course" and went to Marion Military Institute, which led to his entry at West Point. And even then, he was ready to fight. He was willing to leave one of the greatest academies in the world just to get a head start.
Fast forward some years to the most amazing and proud day for everyone in my family, myself included. My brother's graduation day.
Soon after graduation, my brother reported to Fort Benning, Georgia, to start Ranger School in July of 2014. He prepared tirelessly so he would be ready—like I mentioned before, Mike has never done anything less than 100%. I can't remember even one occasion when I have ever heard him say anything cocky; it's like he always respected the struggle he was about to take on, but he was still confident and prepared to face whatever laid ahead.
I remember the day he started Ranger School like it was yesterday, and I'm sure I will always remember that way. I came home after a long shift at Jimmy Johns and began saying something funny that happened at work to my father as he lay in bed. I quickly caught the vibe in the air that something was not right—it's almost funny how one can sense an issue before it's been brought up. My father struggled to fathom the words to tell me that Mike was undergoing emergency surgery the next morning, and that it was most likely cancer. As expected, it was incredibly hard, more shock then anything. Cancer is one of those things you constantly hear about, but never really think about until it's you or your family. It finally hit home this time (at least I had thought so).
Mike underwent the surgery, walked out of the hospital that day, and immediately began trying to get back into Ranger School. I find myself constantly saying "yeah, I know it's crazy, but that's my brother," because I can't find the words to express how amazed I am by who I am blessed to share blood with. It's not even fair for me to be his brother, honestly. I hope I can achieve in a lifetime the things he's achieved in just 25 years.
He fought his way back into Ranger School after who knows how much convincing. Like I've mentioned a few times now, he has never seen failure as an option. This time he made it all the way through the Darby Phase of Ranger School (3 weeks). This time his blood was dirty, embryonal carcinoma, the same cancer Lance Armstrong fought. It was full-blown stage IV testicular cancer—in a few short weeks it had spread to his abdominal lymph nodes and right lung. He came home to start his 3-month chemo treatment, which consisted of cycles that changed every week, some weeks consisting of 5 sittings, each one lasting 3-4 hours.
I can't say I've ever seen my brother as broken as he was when he was sick, but he did an incredible job hiding how terribly he truly felt. I was constantly looking at him, trying to seek out how he was truly feeling, but no matter what he tried his best to hide how hard he was hurting. By week 3 he was losing his hair. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen, seeing hair fall out like that, without any resistance.
I sat with him at the cancer center as much as I could and watched bag after bag of toxic fluid drain directly into his chest, down to his heart, and quickly spread throughout his body. It was a terrible feeling, and I can't even imagine how hard it must have been to be on the receiving end of it. But being my brother, he hung in there. He always drove me to his treatment, and he always drove home, which still amazes me. I sat helplessly as his condition grew worse and worse, as the chemo began to accumulate in his body.
By the end of Mike's last week of treatment his condition was so bad, we tried to call off his last few sittings. The doctor refused and insisted he finish his treatment, and although Mike was so badly beaten both physically and mentally, he finished his treatment and had to be hospitalized afterward. I remember one night in particular I visited him at the hospital. He was knocked out on medicine, and although he was at the peak of his physical deterioration (some 30 lbs lighter), it was the first time in months I had seen my brother sleep quietly and peacefully. Despite how bad he looked, he was the strongest he had ever been in his life at this point, he just didn't know it yet (and I'm not talking physically).
On December 15, 2014, Mike was cancer-free. As terrible as the consequences of his extended leave were, I enjoyed his time at home. After all, I had only seen him a few months over the previous 5 years. We got into open hockey and stick and puck so he could rebuild his physical strength. He was already whooping my ass at CrossFit, both during his early chemo treatments and immediately after it was all over, but I'm not embarrassed. That's my brother, and he deserves to be in a class of his own.
Sometime in late January, Mike got the call—and he was back at Fort Benning with chemo drugs still half-life-ing in his system. He completed IBOLC, and fought his way back to Ranger School for the third time.
This brings us to the present day, as my brother has graduated Ranger School, an amazing tab to have earned. But this Ranger tab does not simply justify the battle, the hard work, the pain it took to earn it. This was a battle that started over a year ago, and it really put everything in perspective. What I would have considered a problem a year ago, now I don't even worry about. Life is too precious; you never know when it's going to change on a dime. Words cannot express how blessed I am to have a brother like Mike (and Jeff—but this isn't about you, Jeff, sorry!). I get choked up just thinking about what I've witnessed Mike overcome. That's my brother!
Mike, thank you for everything. Thank you for keeping me safe every time I picked a fight I couldn't win (I know I was a little shit, and I started a lot of fights with other kids where you had to come save me). Thank you for making me strive to be a better person. Thank you for showing me what strength really is. I have been thoroughly enriched by witnessing the mountains you've conquered, the problems you've overcame, and the straightforward drive you've always had. I am blessed to be able to call you my brother. You have forever changed my life, and for that I thank you.
Congratulations Mike, you earned it—a long time ago. Can't say I'm surprised. The world is yours.
Update: January 2016
As of January 21, 2016, Mike has been diagnosed with a Teratoma tumor surrounding his left kidney. A major surgery has been scheduled for February 24 to hopefully remove this tumor while saving the kidney. Unfortunately, Mike's war with cancer isn't quite over, but if anyone is ready to take it on a for a third time, it's Mike.
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.
Update: February 2016
Mike's surgery on February 24 was considered a success. While the tumor was larger than expected, the doctor is confident he removed all of it while saving his kidney and not compromising any other organs. Thank you all for the continued prayers and support.
Update: October 2016
It is October 12, 2016, and Mike is cancer-free. We thank you all for the continuos support and prayers.