By Greg Wickliffe
Every person has their struggles, every person has their defeats, but not every person continues to fight. There are two choices that determine one’s legacy: fight or flight. For Grand Rapids Community College baseball team’s third baseman, Nick Jansen, the choice he made was very clear.
At age 4, he picked up a baseball for the first time, and from that moment, he was in love. Jansen, 21, grew up playing baseball and honing his skills in Kentwood. Some could say that baseball is in his blood, since his father and uncle both played collegiate baseball. Jansen attended East Kentwood High School and continued to grow as a player. He then chose to attend GRCC and has been an important player for the Raiders baseball team.
“He’s a very versatile player,” said Mike Cupples, head baseball coach. “He’s one of the leaders on our team, and he gives us 100 percent every time he’s out there.”
Everything was going as planned for Jansen until one day when his life changed forever.
Jansen noticed a lump on one of his testicles in December of 2011. He ignored it until two months later, when the lump still remained. On Feb. 13, 2012, his birthday, he was diagnosed with embryonal carcinoma, a form of testicular cancer most common in males between the ages of 17 and 28. Two days later, Jansen had surgery to remove one of his testicles.
“I didn’t really have time to think,” Jansen said. “It just happened. I was kind of scared, but I knew I had to take it one day at a time and take what I could get.”
Upon his diagnosis, his family had to also prepare for the battle.
“It was scary,” said his mother, Marie Jansen. “You never think anything like this would ever happen to anyone if your family. We knew that we had to do everything we could to help him through it so that he could beat the cancer. I tried to keep a positive attitude about it, and we knew that God would take care of him.”
Jansen said he relied on the strength of his family and his faith in God to help him through his situation.
“It brought me closer to God,” he said. “I knew that I could put my struggle on him and he would help me through it.”
After the surgery, Jansen was told there was a 45 percent chance that the cancer would return. Four months later, it did. In May of 2012, Jansen had to undergo nine weeks of chemotherapy and missed the entire 2012 baseball season.
“I was angry in the beginning,” Jansen said. “I questioned why it had to happen to me, but I had to just take what I could get. It was awful missing the season.”
Jansen had to break the news to his teammates two weeks before they were to begin playing in Florida. Cupples gathered the team around and Jansen told them the situation. The team was in shock but gave him nothing but support after hearing the news.
“They were as struck by it as I was,” he said. “We were a family, and they all took it as hard as I did.”
The chemotherapy consisted of three-week stages. The first week started on a Monday and went through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., in which Jansen was hooked up to IVs the entire time.
“That week took a lot of energy out of me,” Jansen said.
The next two weeks, he went in only on Mondays, and they injected him with a syringe that contained his medicine. After those two weeks were up, he restarted the stages and went in Monday to Friday.
There were tough times Jansen had to undergo during his treatment.
“There was a night when I ran my fingers through my hair because I had an itch on my head, and then I saw my hand and there was a clump of hair in it,” Jansen said. “I was pretty angry that it had to happen to me, but luckily, I don’t have an irregular shaped head and actually look decent bald.”
Throughout his treatment, his family was there every day right by his side. His parents attended every meeting and every CAT scan. If one parent had to miss, the other parent made sure they were there for him.
“When I found out, my first thoughts were how much his life was going to change,” said his father, Eric Jansen. “My priorities changed big time, and a lot of the things I thought were important weren’t anymore. I made sure I told him to just take it one day at a time and just get through each day.”
Not only were his parents there to help him during his battle. His family, church and friends all rallied around him. Just as in most sports, it was a team effort. Jansen continued to work out during chemotherapy. He lifted weights and ran with his cousins to strengthen his body.
“Working out was one of the main things that helped me beat it so easily,” Jansen said. “It helped me get rid of the stress.”
His mother had some concerns about him working out.
“I didn’t want him to push it too hard or go backwards because he was working so hard,” Marie said. “He’s so amazingly strong and a very positive person.”
His church family and his teammates would visit him as well as pray for him.
“He had a lot of people that made sure he got out a lot, and they made sure he was never alone,” Eric said.
Jansen completed chemotherapy last July and was declared cancer free.
“He showed us that he can persevere, and even in the midst of the toughest fight he’s had in his life, he found a way to overcome the odds,” Eric said. “He showed us that he was a strong person and he had strong faith. I could talk for hours about him.”
“I don’t think people know how mentally tough he really is,” Cupples said of Jansen. “A lot of guys don’t go through what he’s been through in a lifetime, and he’s been through it and he’s only 21.”
The family says that they are now stronger than ever. With the love and support from his family, his friends and God, Jansen continues to thrive on and off of the diamond.
“Our family carried us through this, and there’s no doubt about it,” Jansen said.
With a 3.0 GPA, Jansen plans to earn a degree in Criminal Justice. He also plans to continue playing the game he fell in love with when he was a kid.
“Baseball is my one true love, and I had to make sure I played again,” Jansen said. “I knew I would be all right all along. I think this was definitely a blessing in disguise.”
He continues to stay healthy and still takes each challenge one step at a time. He goes to the doctor to get blood drawn and tests done. His doctors have told him that he should continue to stay cancer free.
“I think about everything that happened every day,” he said. “There’s always that thought in the back of my mind. I try not to worry about it coming back, but if it does then I will just beat it again.”