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The Story of My Brother—Army Ranger and Cancer Survivor

My brother Mike has always been my role model. This is the story of his battle with a life-changing diagnosis.

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.

Mike on graduation day, May 2014

Mike on graduation day, May 2014

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.

Mike on the day of his surgery, July 2014

Mike on the day of his surgery, July 2014

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.

Mike with our other brother Jeff. This photo shows Mike's chemo port installed, fall 2014.

Mike with our other brother Jeff. This photo shows Mike's chemo port installed, fall 2014.

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.

Chemo is hell in a bag

Chemo is hell in a bag

First cycle of chemo

First cycle of chemo

56-weeks-in-the-making
56-weeks-in-the-making
56-weeks-in-the-making
56-weeks-in-the-making
56-weeks-in-the-making

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).

56-weeks-in-the-making
Mike shaking President Obama's hand

Mike shaking President Obama's hand

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.

The day Mike was cancer-free: December 15, 2014

The day Mike was cancer-free: December 15, 2014

Three brothers: Jeff, Mike, and me

Three brothers: Jeff, Mike, and me

56-weeks-in-the-making

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.

Mike carrying Captain Griest

Mike carrying Captain Griest

Mike Janowski and Shaye Haver at their press conference, August 20, 2015

Mike Janowski and Shaye Haver at their press conference, August 20, 2015

56-weeks-in-the-making
56-weeks-in-the-making
Mike being interviewed at his graduation from Ranger School, August 21, 2015

Mike being interviewed at his graduation from Ranger School, August 21, 2015

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.

Mike - January 22, 2016

Mike - January 22, 2016

One last CrossFit workout before the big surgery, February 22, 2016

One last CrossFit workout before the big surgery, February 22, 2016

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.

The only thing that looks post-surgery here is that hair.

The only thing that looks post-surgery here is that hair.

Update: June 2017

It is June 23rd, 2017, and Mike is cancer-free.

After a medical retirement from the military, Mike is now pursuing an MBA from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

He has a strong desire to help those in similar situations as the one he faced.

We thank you all for the continuous support and prayers.

Mike featured by Vanderbilt Newsletter.

Mike featured by Vanderbilt Newsletter.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Bryan Bomar on April 06, 2018:

This is one of the greatest stories I have ever spent time reading.

Mike may God Bless you on your incredible journey, I know your father and he is one of the best Men I have ever been fortunate to know.

Thank you for you service!

Respectfully

Bryan Bomar

Dan Heinz on November 13, 2016:

Had the great pleasure to meet the Janowski family at the Army-Notre Dame game in Texas. On the way to the game a firsty was telling me about his friend Mike and the amazing challenges he was able to overcome. The firsty was in awe of Mikes mettle and he shared the riveting details involved in Mikes commitment to becoming an Army Ranger. The firsty declared "Mikes the toughest soldier I ever met".

As we tailgates before the game we socialized with many grads & new found friends. We met a group and our cadets were enthusiastically encircled. We were soon chatting with other parents and Pat Janowski introduced himself (and even bought me a beer). We spoke of the trials & tribulations our kids shared in the pursuit to enter USMA and then enter active duty. We had a great conversation and I noticed that Pat "glossed over" several "personal challenges" his son encountered in his drive to become a Ranger (I didn't feel it was appropriate, so I didn't press for clarification). As we were getting ready to enter the stadium, my cadet clarified who Pat was (who Pats son was....THE Mike).

I then made a point to convey to Pat the incredible awe our cadets have for Mike and the role model he's been for so many people. The line that resonates with me was Pat saying "as bad as it was at times, I knew there were many that would gladly trade places with me so we fought on". Mike is a special person, from an amazing foundation.

Dan & Linda Heinz

LJM on October 11, 2016:

God bless you and your brother, there are so few of your character these days, it's a blessing to hear your stories. You will be in my prayers.

Dr. David P on June 11, 2016:

Chris-

Your brother is a great human being and you should be really proud of him (as you clearly are). I had the pleasure of "meeting" him here in Nashville this past February and have to say it was (and still is) a real honor to take care of him.

all the best

DP

Daniel L. on February 23, 2016:

I wish the best for Mike. Haven't spoken to him since high school, but this is a very inspiring journey. Keep fighting the good fight!

Mark Gerner on September 21, 2015:

Thank you for chronicling your brother's story of cancer. I graduated from West Point in 1973 and suffered through two cases of tc, one in 1987, one in 1989. My second case appears to be very similar to that of your brother. It took a lot of effort and time, but I managed to go on with my Infantry assignments. It also took a lot of love and support by family and friends, and my admiration for you is very personal. You honor your brother, your parents, yourself, and in this case, you honor your nation for the support you have provided. Continue to hang with him. You know how cancer behaves, and you know the best defenses to keep it gone. Nicely done. Mark Gerner

PT on September 04, 2015:

Congratulations, Warrior!!

Michelle Worman on August 30, 2015:

Mike, Bravo! I am beyond proud of all our military men and women. As an AF Brat for a great portion of my childhood, my father-in-law in the Navy, and husband as Navy Reserve, I say my blood runs RED, WHITE and BLUE! Thank you from my entire family and Many, Many prayers to all our service members and our wonderful Country!

Chris--USMA '89 on August 28, 2015:

Congratulations. Great Courage!!! A true inspiration to all!! BEAT NAVY!

Connie Rios on August 27, 2015:

Congratulations Mike....you are a true inspiration as are you for being such a selfless brother. Thank you for sharing this incredible story.

Rick Kaster on August 26, 2015:

What a miraculous achievements this soldier has made. Not only the toughness to complete West Point and then Ranger School while fighting cancer and winning it all. Great story of what this man is made of.

Catherine on August 24, 2015:

Wow. What a story!

Beth Geiser on August 24, 2015:

An incredible young man, an incredible family, an incredible story. Thanks very much for sharing and may God continue to bless you and your family.

Susan Patterson on August 24, 2015:

I echo everything said. What an honor to live in a land defended by individuals with such an indomitable spirit. I watched Mike's interview and the comments he made about Ranger school and his fellow classmates, especially Capt. Griest. If anyone thinks a soldier of Mike's caliber who sacrificed what he did to get to the tab would lie about the females to appease some higher up YOU. MUST. BE. INSANE. This pretty much should end that discussion forever.

JAMES M. GRUNSETH on August 24, 2015:

Extremely well done!

Tom on August 23, 2015:

My God continue to bless him and protect him

Dale L on August 22, 2015:

As I finish reading your story I have tears running down my cheeks and think about how much I want to thank you for this story and thank your brother for his service to our country. Being a veteran from a family who has long served in all branches of the military (including 2 West Pointers, a brother and a nephew), I know it shows a lot of true character to serve and from your story I know that character is there in SPADES with your brother and I am sure you have it as well. Again, thanks for the story and thank your brother for serving!

Wes Haun on August 22, 2015:

Congratulations to your brother and to you for being a damned fine brother!!

Chris on August 22, 2015:

Thank you for sharing such an amazing - inspirational story.

John D on August 22, 2015:

David Nixon of Columbus said it best. God Bless our Military and Military families.

Proud Father of a USMA Grad and US Army Ranger

Cathy on August 22, 2015:

Congrats on getting through Ranger School, and I hope you stay cancer free for many years. Thank you also for taking the time to serve our country.

david24262 on August 22, 2015:

I'm proud to live in a country that produces soldiers with the indomitable spirit this officer demonstrates. God bless him!

Semper Fidelis,

David Nixon

Columbus, Ohio

Teena McGuinness on August 22, 2015:

Rangers lead the way!

pjsmith on August 22, 2015:

Mike, You are an inspiration to all of us and a number one hero in my book. Your character and determination put you hands above the rest. God bless you and keep you safe.

Congratulations on a job well done. I wouldn't be surprised to see you in a few years as one of the notable leaders in our military!!!!

Dennis McCarthy on August 21, 2015:

hooah!

Ed Walters USMA 92 Ranger 93 on August 21, 2015:

So proud of Mike. Incredible persistence. Amazing family that supports him. Hooah!

G. Jones on August 21, 2015:

Only someone who has personally witnessed the dreaded Big "C" and it's toll on the human body can truly understand what is really important in the grand scheme of things...Congrats to you and your Family, as well as those awesome young women on your graduation day...

Bonnie L on August 21, 2015:

I have tears in my eyes also reading this incredible story of your brother. He is truly amazing and thank you so much for sharing his story. Congratulations to him and his class of Ranger School Graduates.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 21, 2015:

I am stunned silent with the importance and depth of this story. I heard about Mike and the female Rangers today on the radio. Thank you for writing about your incredible brother and his superhuman determination. The Rangers have become much stronger in force because of his spirit. Congratulations to Mike, to you and your family and those female Rangers and all who made the grade in this class.

Everyone should thank a soldier today.

R. Colon on August 21, 2015:

Congratulations Ranger Janowski! You are a warrior in every sense of the word! So proud of you!

Bea W on August 21, 2015:

Inspiring and encouraging story.

Congratulations!

Grace Luthy on August 21, 2015:

OMG........my heart is filled with hope and love for this young man in the Rangers, I witnessed the NBC news cast and so proud to be an American

who is represented by these incredible soldiers! Blessings Always!

Fay Roby on August 21, 2015:

My home is Ft. Benning. Welcome Mike to the Home of the Brave. God bless you and may God bless America.

Grace Hendry on August 21, 2015:

Wow. What an amazing story. I was incredibly touched to read this and was so inspired by your brother's bravery and your support of him

joe Putnam on August 20, 2015:

V for Valor for your brother. Way to live and lead by example. Keep up the great work and spirit.

Congratulations to him and his class of Ranger School Graduates.

Sandy Richardson on August 20, 2015:

I was able to briefly meet Mike during one of my trips to West Point. He was a real respectful young man with strong christian values. My Sunday School class has been praying for him since his ordeal began. I can't wait to report the news of his health and his accomplishments. There's no stopping him now!

Doug S on August 20, 2015:

As an old Ranger (class 501-73), I salute your brother and the two young women graduating tomorrow (Hell, I salute all the grads!). Sounds like your brother had it tougher than most - I hope he is proud of what he's done, and can look forward to a long and healthy life from here on. RLTW!

Warren Beck on August 20, 2015:

I just happened to see this article. I went through RTAC with Mike last year when this all went down. The info to us was extremely limited about what happened... He was kind of there one day, gone the next. We heard rumors of the cancer, but not much else. I'm extremely glad to see he made it back and graduated! The short time I had interacting with him left the impression that he was an absolute class act. Best of luck to him in the future! RLTW.

Readmikenow on August 20, 2015:

Very Impressive. Go Rangers.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on August 20, 2015:

Great article. Voted up and shared. I've had the great pleasure of knowing many Academy grads (living nearby) and can't say enough about who they are as people. Voted up and shared.

Dorothy Clark Williford on August 20, 2015:

I am so proud of your brother, met him at my son's wedding at West Point, and I identify as I am a 15 year cancer survivor, give him my love

Natalie Richardson on August 20, 2015:

I have tears rolling down my cheeks right now as I read your words about your incredible brother, Chris. Mike is one of the BEST people I have ever known-- your words captured his selflessness, hardworking determination, thoughtfulness, and one-of-a-kind character perfectly. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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