Mike Jacobs: Don't stop doing what you love

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJune 4, 2013 

Editor's note: This story was originally published June 4, 2013

Mike Jacobs has a message for those who are battling a serious illness.

"Do not stop doing what you love," he said.

For him, that is fishing.

"If I did not have fishing, I might just be sitting around a room moping and that is no way to get better. It's no way to live," he said.

Mike, 20, was diagnosed with colon cancer right before Thanksgiving last year and is still undergoing treatment. He will fly to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston later this week to check on his progress.

His father, Tom Jacobs, a Columbus podiatrist with Columbus Foot Care Associates, said Mike has stayed "extraordinarily active" despite the illness.

Mike's mother, Wendy Jacobs, teaches algebra at St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School. He has three brothers: Chris, who is older, and Kevin and John, who are younger.

Mike was the 2011 Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Player of the Year for soccer.

After graduation from St. Anne-Pacelli, he went to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, where he was enrolled in pre-business.

It was his third semester, the fall of 2012, that he began to suffer from chronic stomach pain. He said food was not passing through properly.

There was vomiting and a lack of appetite. From September to November, he lost 30 pounds.

Mike said doctors thought it was irritable bowel syndrome, which they treated. Nothing changed. He came home and visited well-known gastroenterologist Mark Fortson, who did a colonoscopy and discovered a tumor and five polyps.

"It was a pretty large mass," Fortson said.

Fortson said Mike's weight loss and some bleeding concerned him. Still, he thought the problem might be Crohn's disease.

"Mike was 19," Fortson said. "He's the youngest person I have ever found with colon cancer. It's not common."

Five days after the colonoscopy, an operation lasting more than four hours was performed at St. Francis Hospital by surgeon Bill Taylor. Half of Mike's colon, about two feet, was removed.

"People can live fine with that," Fortson said.

In Mike's case, the cancer was classified as Stage 3, meaning it had spread from the area of the tumor. "It was in my stomach and the lining of my abdomen," Mike said.

Chemotherapy has since been a part of his life. He is under treatment at the John B. Amos Cancer Center, where his physician is oncologist Andrew Pippas.

"I feel lucky that we found out about it when we did," Mike said,

He said the diagnosis made him "grow up fast."

Fortson agreed with Mike about early detection, saying people should not hesitate to get tested when ill.

The cancer Mike has is rare. It is called signet-ring cell cancer, and Mike said only about one percent of cancer patients have it. His father called the cancer "aggressive."

Mike said it took a while for it to sink in that he was seriously ill.

When it did, he decided he would not let cancer keep him from his favorite activities, but he can't eat greasy or spicy foods.

His grandfather got him started on fly fishing near Lake Tahoe when he was just a small boy, but bass fishing is his real love and he competes in the sport.

"I've been fishing as long as I can remember. It's so much more than just sticking some bait on a hook," he said. "There is a technique to be good at fishing. It's a puzzle that includes water temperature, wind, sun, lots of stuff."

Mike said he enjoys just sitting on a bank to fish but has a friend who lets him borrow a boat.

"I'm still waiting for Dad to get me one," Mike laughed.

Mike said fishing brings him peace. He usually sits with his earphones on and listens to music.

"I can just think," he said. "I appreciate all that is around me."

What is the biggest change in the way he approaches life? "I don't take anything for granted," he said.

Mike has received support from many people. Professional bass fisherman Bobby Padgett, of LaGrange, Ga., has taken him fishing, and when Bassmaster held its 2013 Elite Series West Point Lake Battle in early May at West Point Lake, Mike was treated like a VIP, getting an up-close view of the top fishermen at work.

"It was awesome," he said.

"It was a real behind-the-scenes look at the tournament," his father said.

Mike has also gotten a part-time position at Realtree in Columbus where he edits video. A video was made of Mike by Realtree when he went on his first turkey hunting trip.

"The guys have been great to me," Mike said. "I just love the outdoors."

Knowing how much fishing means to Mike, a friend of the family, local songwriter Bernadette Coker, teamed with Chip Martin, of Nashville, to write a song for him called "Fishin' For a Reason (Mikey's Song)."

"He is a brave young man," Coker said.

The song, recorded by Rusty Van Sickle, of Nashville, says, "I'm gonna catch some peace with my fishin' line. Won't let the battle enter into my mind. Just need a normal day and a little break from fishin' for a reason."

"Mike is fishing for more than fish. He is out there trying to get a better understanding of what is happening," Mike's father said.

In the song, the singer says he "can't complain because I'm still here. Hopin' things become clearer and clearer."

Mike hopes to go back to Georgia Southern in the fall and take part in a bass fishing tournament in October to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

"I'm hoping for the best," he said.

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