By Andrew Schnebel
Morningside Sports Information Intern
Three of the worst words that anybody wants to hear in their lifetime are, “You have cancer.”
For 21-year-old Austin Granatowicz, those words came a lot sooner than he ever expected. Granatowicz, a Morningside College junior from Firth, Nebraska, was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) on Sept. 25, 2012. He is currently working on majors in biology and chemistry at Morningside. Along with that, he is a linebacker for the Mustangs’ football team.
Granatowicz discovered he had CML after blood tests were done because of injuries he suffered last fall that weren’t healing properly. CML is an uncommon type of cancer of the white blood cells that leads to an abnormal growth of white blood cells that multiply uncontrollably and crowd out all the other types of necessary blood cells. The doctor told him he had to give up playing football in order to get treatment.
Granatowicz began his treatments last year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He was originally prescribed oral chemotherapy to reduce his blood count levels so he could start regular treatments of Tasigna, a chemotherapy drug that targets a specific protein within cancer cells and stops the cells from growing.
At the point of being diagnosed, 100 percent of Granatowicz’s blood cells contained the protein causing his CML. Today, less than one percent of his blood cells contain the protein. He progressed much faster than expected and was cleared for football in the fall.
“It feels great to be back out there,” Granatowicz said. “Occasionally if I work out too hard, I can get lightheaded, but other than that I feel I’m back to where I was at before.”
Getting back on the football field wasn’t Granatowicz’s only goal. He wants to raise awareness to the disease and help others who are battling.
This past summer, Granatowicz did some volunteer work at two camps, Camp Hope in Kansas and Camp CoHoLo, located near Gretna, Neb., at the Eastern Nebraska 4-H Center. CoHoLo is an acronym for courage, hope and love. Both camps provided children who are in treatment or remission a chance to experience a summer camp and allowed them to be with other children who were going through the same thing.
“It was great to spend time with them and let them experience a summer camp where they didn’t have to feel different,” Granatowicz said.
Along with volunteering, Granatowicz and his family have been working hard at raising money for cancer awareness. The Morningside College Athletic Department has designated its Oct. 26 football game against Briar Cliff as “Lets Pack the House and Together Beat Cancer.” The event will honor Granatowicz as well as raise awareness and money that will go to the American Cancer Society.
Morningside has been selling orange wrist bands, t-shirts, and hats along with raffle tickets for prizes including two tickets to this year’s University of Nebraska vs. University of Iowa football game, two tickets to an upcoming Brad Paisley concert in Omaha, an autographed football signed by Chuck Pagano, the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts who was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia last fall, and autographed footballs signed by the Morningside and Briar Cliff football teams. All proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.
The Sioux City Chick-fil-A restaurants on Sergeant Road and Southern Hills Mall will hold a Spirit Night on Thursday, Oct. 24, between 5 and 8 p.m., where a portion of their sales will be donated to the American Cancer Society in honor of Granatowicz.
In addition to the fund raising efforts, Morningside has invited Siouxland children who are fighting cancer and their families to attend the Morningside/Briar Cliff game free of charge.
A representative from the American Cancer Society will be in attendance at the football game to speak at halftime. Fans in attendance are encouraged to wear orange, the color associated with leukemia awareness.
Details about the Oct. 26 event as well as an on-line store for purchasing the orange hats and t-shirts can be found on a website Granatowicz created, www.55wontbebeat.com .
“This is a great thing that Morningside is doing to help create awareness and help raise money for a good cause,” Granatowicz said.
Granatowicz said that CML is chronic and there is no sure cure for it yet, but it can be controlled to the extent that a person can still live a normal life.
Granatowicz has shown he is a strong person and that not even cancer can keep him off the football field.