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My Livestrong Story – Mike Jankowski

October 6, 2009

MikeJankowski_LivestrongProfileIn the summer 2003 I had just turned 31.  A few weeks later I changed doctors and went for a routine physical.  All was well and good until the doc asked me about why my lymph nodes seemed swollen.  “They do that when I’m tired, have all my life.” I replied.  He kept on with the exam, until he was checking to see if I had a hernia.  Good news, no hernia, bad news there was some type of lump in the area of my lymph nodes in my right groin.

We decided the best course of action was some imagery, which of course showed a small mass.  Next we took blood, which showed elevated B and T cell counts.  Already things weren’t looking good, but I kept thinking it would be ok.  I went back to chart the rate of growth of the mass, and it was growing rather quickly.  At this point I had to prepare myself for the fact I had all the signs of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  After more tests, it was decided I needed to have the mass removed.

Of course my insurance company fought me all the way, saying it was cheaper to wait and see than be proactive, but finally they relented.  By this time it was winter, but I finally had a surgery date in early January.  During this time I was unemployed due to another medical issue, and living with my parents.  They were supportive through everything, taking me to the doctors, etc.  But all this time I was wondering why me?

I looked at the facts.  No cancer in my family.  I’ve been in above average or great pysical condition since I was a child.  Running track and cross country since junior high, playing basketball since elementary school, swimming every chance I got, rowing all over the lake we had a house on in the Adirondacks.  In my junior year of high school I got my first racing bike.Mike_J_Cyclocross2

The next several years I spent racing the likes of Hincapie, Monahan, McCormack, Julich, Vollers, Armstrong et al.  When I left elite racing I joined the Army, becoming a squad leader and explosives expert in Special Forces.  Yet I kept wondering where had my body gone wrong?  When did it let this intruder in?  The only clue was I had a severe case on Mononucleosis in my senior year in high school, which helped predispose me to NHL.

Surgery came and went, and it was the most pain I’ve ever felt.  My stomach muscles had to be stretched 5 inches, so you can imagine what fun it was to breathe or move, let alone sneeze or cough.  After my internal and external stitches healed, I did what I’ve always done: got on my bike.  It was hooked up to a trainer in the basement, since it was 15 degrees and snowy outside.  Soon it became my routine.  Fight the insurnce company, take medecine, sleep, then ride in the basement.

I had a goal.  I was going to race in the inaugural Johnny Cake Lane (I’m not kidding, the road is really named that.) Series in Coxsackie, NY in March.  I wanted to finish, and not be last.  I had gained quite a bit of weight from surgery and the subsequent medecines, and some days were bettr thanothers, but I forced myself through the soreness and nausea.  I finally rode outside a week before the race, and race day arrived.

I did finish the race.  I even finished 5th from last, over 12 minutes down on the winner after 42 miles.  It didn’t matter.  In my mind, I was on the road to winning the war.  No matter how bad I felt, I kept training.  A mont and a half later I won a 1 mile prologue on Easter weekend by over 6 seconds in my category.  Imagine my surprise when I was called to the podium for 5th overall including the pros at the end of the awards!

Since my diagnosis I’ve raced hundreds of times, sometimes doing well, sometimes not.  Before my bout with NHL, I used to get upset at myself for not winning or placing well.  Other times I’d be so frustrated bcause I felt awful on a training ride.  Now I don’t mind.  Any ride is better than a ride into surgery to remove something that hopefully hasn’t spread.  Any day is better than laying in bed shivering and wanting to cry because you can’t even walk without someone helping you.  Any moment is better than the moment you’re told you have cancer.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 2:26 pm

    Wow, that’s quite a story Mike. Glad you’re still with us and in recovery!

    Didn’t realize what a hammerhead you were, either. See you soon.

  2. Tracey Dunn permalink
    April 30, 2010 1:59 am

    You had me at “hello”…LOL…always loved you, always will. Godspeed, grasshopper. Karma rules. I’ll never forget you.

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