Battles, beats, big dreams

Battles, beats, big dreams

Story by Debora Biasutti

Performing his own rap songs at the UW-Eau Claire Relay For Life Kickoff on Feb. 18 wasn’t the most difficult challenge Michael Doing has faced in his life. After going through colon cancer at the age of 13, Mike started to face life with a different perspective.

“Just knowing that I’m strong enough to go through a cancer, now I have the perspective that I should strive to do something big with my life,” he said.
Six years ago, living an “average” 13-year-old boy’s life, he never thought he would wake up in a hospital bed after an eight-hour-long surgery to remove a softball sized tumor from his colon.

“It was pretty much shock”

It all began during a family trip to Florida where Doing started to feel sick and unmotivated to do anything.

“I was having energy problems; I was feeling down all the time,” he said.

Once back to his hometown in Verona, Doing had a doctor’s appointment where it seemed like he had a urinary tract infection. Doing was supposed to have a minor surgery to try to fix the problem.

“From a tiny little surgery, it turned into something bigger,” Doing said. “I woke up expecting to be an hour later, but it ended up being eight hours later.”

Jessica Doing, Mike’s sister, said she was getting off a roller coaster when her parents called her saying they found out Mike had colon cancer.

“I think the worst feeling was the uncertainty of it all,” Jessica said, “Initially finding out about the cancer and then learning that he was still in surgery and that he might not make it.”

When woken up, Mike knew something was wrong with him because his dad was crying while sitting next to his hospital bed.

“My dad knew I’m kind of a laid back guy, so he didn’t think he had to talk around; he told me straight up,” Mike said.

The next few days in the hospital, Mike said he spent most of the time sleeping and recovering from the surgery. He said he wasn’t angry at the cancer; he was just surprised “in the most profound way.” While in the hospital, Mike could feel a general feeling of sadness from his family, because “no one really saw (it) coming,” he said.

“There were so many unknowns: the severity of his cancer, the progress of his surgery and the cancer itself,” Jessica said.

The week following his surgery, Mike received a visit from a representative of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who asked him if he could make one wish, what would it be. Mike could choose anything and his wish would come true once he was cured from cancer.

“I sat there thinking about it and I ended up taking my family to Hawaii for a vacation. It was awesome,” he said.

Sue Doing, Mike’s mom, said the Make-A-Wish organization paid the airfare, hotel and food for seven days, and also four ‘activities’ of Mike’s choice. They were able to go deep-sea fishing, parasailing, biking up and down Haleakala volcano and take surfing lessons.

After making his wish, Sue said that Mike became very quiet, and then started to cry.

“I was very puzzled, and when I asked him what was wrong, he said, ‘I don’t really feel worthy to have all this stuff. Other kids are way sicker than me. And, how could I ever be thankful enough?’,” she said. “Quite a beautiful attitude, really.”

Going through chemo

Once out of the hospital, Mike had to start chemotherapy, which happened every other week for nine months. Sue said when they got home, the family had a fleeting feeling of relief, but then the reality of caring for Mike on their own, “juggling” all the meds, monitoring his recovery hour by hour, hit Mike’s parents and it was a difficult time for them, she said.

“(My husband and I) had to be strong for each other, though, so we sort of took turns, falling apart at different times,” Sue said.

Luckily, Mike didn’t lose any of his hair throughout the treatment; he only felt nauseous, he said.

“(Chemotherapy) was basically a loss of energy, just kind of feeling drained all the time,” Mike said. “It became a routine to go through it, so it wasn’t as bad towards the end. I was trying to get through it, thinking, ‘almost there’.”

Jessica said that knowing her little brother was struggling on a daily basis was hard to accept. After a while, she said, the idea of Mike being a cancer patient became familiar, but was still never okay because she worried too much.

“I also felt like I didn’t know anything about chemotherapy, or colon cancer, which made the whole experience quite scary and distant,” Jessica said. “I remember trying to research the disease on the Internet, which was a bad idea because it totally fed my anxiety.”

Mike continued to go to school, even though he had to miss two weeks of it every month. During the chemo weeks, he said he would do mostly homework sent by mail from his teachers and would also hang out with his friends, who were very supportive.

“I realized my group of friends is the kind you want to be your friends, because there wasn’t any change in feelings, or respect or anything like that,” he said.

Fear of loss

For Jessica it was easy to think about the what-ifs and the chances of losing her brother during the surgery and during the time in the hospital.

“There were moments during and after the surgery when I looked at him and imagined the worst,” she said, “But eventually those feelings dissolved as he continued to show improvement.”

It was the same for Evan Spoon, Mike’s childhood friend and current roommate. Spoon wondered sometimes if Mike was going to make it, even though Spoon didn’t fully understood or know what could happen, because he was only 12 years old at the time.

“There were times while he was in the hospital that I was very concerned, especially seeing the worry my parents had as well,” Spoon said.

Although family and friends had the concern of losing him, Mike never thought cancer would defeat him.

“I didn’t want to be perceived as weak or the kid with cancer,” he said. “I just wanted to beat it and prove to myself that I’m stronger than I felt at the time.”

Cancer free

After nine months of chemotherapy, all the cancer cells in Mike’s body were gone. He said he had a feeling of relief and that he was happy to be finally done with it.

“All the things I had to do during it, it wasn’t that bad, but it was more of a hassle,” he said, “But just doing the chemo in general and being done with that, it was really awesome.”

Once done with chemo, Mike said he spent most of the time outside running and biking, trying to exercise as much as he could.

“During the chemo I lost a lot of energy, so I just didn’t feel like doing anything,” he said. “I tried to do as much as I could to try to get healthier again. I was pretty skinny and weak.”

Also, after he was cured, Mike’s wish to go to Hawaii with his family became true and the trip, he said, gave the Doing family time to spend together.

Jessica also thought the Hawaii trip was a great time they spent as a family, where they could relax.

“I remember Mike was really excited about being able to swim, because the port in his chest from chemo had recently been removed,” she said. “Up until that time, it had restricted his ability to go swimming due to the risk of infection. Seeing him so active and alive in the water was particularly inspiring.”

Rap as a hobby

After a few years since he was cured from cancer, Mike started to become interested in rap. He said he actually got into rap because of his oldest brother, who taught him the drums for nine years and “all the beats,” Mike said.

“I didn’t really start listening to rap, or trying to rap and write music until probably a year or two ago,” he said. “Then I tried to start writing and I got a MacBook with GarageBand, so I tried to write some stuff and do some beats and record it.”

Mike said he enjoys listening to artists such as Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Nas and Atmosphere. Although rap is only one of his hobbies, Mike said he enjoys writing his own music, producing his own beats and publish them on a website called ReverbNation.

Spoon said Mike has always had and developed his musical talent, often expressed through drumming and improvisation.

“(Mike’s musical talent) has shown itself clearly in his recent rap endeavors and it’s nice to see how much fun he is having with it,” Spoon said.

Sue agrees.

“I love the way he uses his music and creativity as expressions of himself,” she said.

Mike said he felt really good during his performance at the Relay For Life Kickoff. He said because there weren’t many people there, he could “feel every single person”, he said.

“It was really exciting, because I had never performed my stuff to anybody,” he said. “It felt good, because nobody was falling asleep or anything and they all applauded, so I was happy about that.”

Mike said he was invited again to participate in the Relay For Life event on April 8-9, either to rap or to tell his story as a cancer survivor, which he is excited to do.

The future

Recently declared a biochemistry major, Mike said he would like to become a doctor and either go into oncology or into research.

“This could happen to anybody; it happened to me. I should be able to face new challenges easier, because I had that experience,” he said.

Jessica thinks Mike is a very mature man and that this experience with cancer has enabled him to see and feel life differently.

“He has a profound amount of positivity and love to offer, and his attitude about all of this couldn’t be more encouraging.”

Sue agrees. She said she admires the inner strength Mike possesses, which is rare in people his age, she said.

“I think his experiences have given him an appreciation for the fragility of life and a compassion for others that will drive his career choices over the next few years.”