This Army officer beat cancer twice while going through Ranger School
Army 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski, a Ranger School graduate and cancer survivor, told recent Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course graduates and future Ranger students at Fort Benning, Ga., to attack every second of the Ranger course, Oct. 2, 2015. Courtesy photo by Danielle Wallingsford Kirkland
FORT BENNING, Ga., October 20, 2015 — Speaking to a room-full of infantry lieutenants at the 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment Headquarters here Oct. 2, Army 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski sought to motivate recent Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course graduates with his story of resilience as they prepared to begin the Ranger course in a couple of days.
Last year, Janowski graduated from Ranger School and beat cancer twice in the process.
"Hopefully, I can give you a new perspective today," Janowski said.
Janowski told the lieutenants that he began Ranger School on July 21, 2014, but during the Ranger Training Assessment Course he began to have medical concerns.
"I didn't want to go to the hospital, because I didn't want to lose my Ranger slot. I was too naive, too stubborn. So I went to Ranger School anyway," he said.
Janowski didn't tell the course medics about his medical concerns. Instead, he confided in a fellow student who happened to be a Special Forces medic.
"After a few days, he pulled me to the side and was like, 'It's not getting better and I've had this idea of what it might be, but I didn't want to scare you. I think it's cancer. You should go to the medics,'" Janowski said.
That night, Janowski went to the medics and was rushed to the hospital, where he learned that he had stage-one testicular cancer.
He underwent surgery and returned to the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, or IBOLC, the next day, where he said he wanted to return to Ranger School.
Janowski waited two weeks to find out if the surgery worked.
"During those two weeks I was extremely fearful, not knowing the road ahead, and those are some of the feelings you are going to feel when you're at Ranger School," he said. "You're going to be afraid. You're not going to know what's next. You're not going to know if you're going to recycle. My fight with cancer was the best training I got for Ranger School."
At the end of the two weeks, Janowski learned that the surgery worked, and he was cancer free. He returned to the Ranger course Sept. 5, just five weeks after his surgery.
"Everyone in this room, I guarantee, is better physically than I am," he said. "I'm not very big, not very strong and not very fast, but I went through Ranger School five weeks after [having] cancer and made it through [Ranger Assessment Phase] week."
Janowski told the lieutenants that if they want their Ranger tabs bad enough, they will get them.
"RAP week is too easy. Ranger School is too easy. You don't have to be a physical stud to get through. It's literally all mental," he said. Janowski made it through RAP week and then took a blood test to make sure the cancer had not returned.
"During my eight-hour pass, I got pulled aside and they [told] me the cancer is back," he recalled, noting the disease had spread to his lungs and abdomen and had become stage four.
Janowski was medically dropped from the Ranger course again and he began to question whether or not he would survive.
"So, now I've wasted a bunch of time. I just got the hell beat out of me for no reason and I'm still losing. Trying to pick myself up after that was impossible," he said. Janowski went to his hometown for medical leave and spent three months going through chemotherapy.
"It was five hours a day of just sitting in a chair, getting poison pumped into your body. It doesn't hurt in the moment, but those days as it goes on and on it just beats you down," he said.
During his treatment, Janowski said he lost all of his hair and watched himself physically deteriorate.
"Near the end of it I was at the bottom of the stairs trying to get up and I couldn't stand up. I couldn't walk up the stairs. And there were moments when I was in Mountain Phase when I was sitting there at 3 a.m. on a long walk, looking up to the top of the mountain and thinking there's no way I'm getting up this mountain. Then I thought back to those days, where I sat at the bottom of the stairs," he said.
He told the lieutenants they will have moments in Ranger School when they feel like they can't possibly complete the task at hand.
"I can tell you from my experience, the body will go forever. Your mind will shut off before your body does," he said.
Janowski said every Ranger student should push themselves beyond their limits.
"Trust me, your body will not fail you. You're going to feel like you have nothing left in the tank, but I've seen what it's like to be on the edge of death when the chemo completely broke me down to where I couldn't stand on my own two feet without somebody helping me -- and the body still had more to give," he said.
When Janowski finished his chemotherapy treatments, he began looking for alternative ways to serve his country. He thought he would be medically discharged, but he realized that he truly wanted to complete the Ranger course.
Determined to Complete Ranger School
"I didn't want to be older and telling my kids how to get through tough times and then look back at my own track record and realize that I let Ranger School get away, to realize that the cancer beat me," he said.
Janowski returned to the 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment and began IBOLC.
"I came back two weeks after chemo and suffered through IBOLC," he said. "Guys were trying to get me to do hill sprints and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was pathetic. Doing 10 push-ups was awful."
Despite the difficulty, Janowski made it through IBOLC and prepared to return to Ranger School for the third time.
But on June 10, 11 days before the course was to begin, he received a phone call from his doctor, who said the cancer had returned.
"At this point, I've done surgery. I've done chemo. There's nothing you can do for me. It's just a time bomb. I'm going to die at some point," he said.
Janowski said he went to his apartment that day and wept.
"I just sat there on the ground crying, so broken there was nothing anyone could have done for me," he said.
Luckily, that test had a false positive. Janowski was still cancer-free and he went to Ranger School as planned, June 21.
Janowski said his battle with cancer taught him to "attack," because when you're diagnosed with cancer there is no alternative.
"So, I'll go into chemo and I'll sit in the chair all day. I'll do whatever it takes. I'll attack all day," he said.
Janowski said soldiers should have that attack mentality when they enter the Ranger course.
"When you go to your PT test on Monday, don't ever tell yourself it's only 49 push-ups. Hell no, get out there and be like 'I'm going to do 1,000 push-ups," he said. "I'm going to make this Ranger instructor count to a thousand because I know he is going to make my life hell for 62 days. Do not ever play defensive. Attack every second of Ranger School. Always maintain that aggressiveness, and you're going to crush it."