Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a two-part series that talks about Class of 2013 Notre Dame graduate Jacob Milani and his battle against testicular cancer. The first part discussed Jacob’s early beginnings as a Notre Dame student-athlete and an Ohio State University student, and the second focuses on Jacob’s battles and perseverance over the last four months.
In the game of life, we all aspire to be that All-American type personality that can seemingly represent everything with class and do anything in a distinguished manner.
Throughout the duration of his grade school, high school and college careers, Jacob Milani was that All-American kid. A 4.0 grade-point-average in high school, which allowed Milani to collect class valedictorian honors in 2013, as well as a three-sport athlete who had collected four All-SOC I accolades between baseball, basketball, and football. Those accomplishments, in addition to serving as the school’s president in the Spanish Club and Key Club, show that the proof is in the pudding.
And over the first three years and eight months of his college career, it didn’t look like anything — not even a seven-class courseload in the final semester of his undergraduate career — would slow Jacob Milani down. That, however, was expected by his coaches, teachers, and peers, who expected Milani to do nothing but excel at Ohio State — including Drew Mader, who said that he “knew that Milani would succeed at Ohio State.”
“He always left it out there for you,” Mader said. “That’s the great thing about him. It’s hard to teach that type of attitude and spirit. Jacob responds to failure as a learning curve, learns from his mistakes, and he makes sure that those mistakes do not happen again.”
Unfortunately, life was about to throw Jacob Milani a breaking curveball to end all breaking curveballs.
In April of his senior year, Milani, who only needed to pass his finals en route to obtaining his bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences, was given shocking news. He not only had testicular cancer, but testicular cancer in the Stage III form.
“Jacob was hit with a speed bump,” Mader said. “It’s hard to say and it’s hard to speak about. You never want to see anybody, let alone a young kid that has so much ahead of him, have cancer.”
With a serious diagnosis facing him, Milani could’ve folded up camp, or chosen to continue his education at a time that was certainly more convenient with the toughest tests of his college career — his finals — and the toughest test of his young life — testicular cancer — staring the 22-year old right in the face.
For just a little bit, Milani and his family struggled with the news as the news worsened from the possibly that the Ohio State undergraduate candidate had cancer, to the ultimate diagnosis that Milani had cancer in the stage three form on April 26.
But like the time when he recovered from an torn ACL as a junior to become an All-SOC athlete in football and baseball the very next season, Milani didn’t quit pushing.
“Sure enough, I find out that I have something abnormal come up,” Milani said. “It was scary to find out, but I knew that it was nothing that I couldn’t handle. I’ve always been a fighter. I didn’t approach this any differently than any other mountains that I’ve had to climb in my life. You just take the same attitude, regardless of how serious it is.”
Milani, however, knew that he was also fortunate in more ways than one. Since the cancer wasn’t officially diagnosed until the back end of April, Jacob’s treatments weren’t scheduled to start until after his finals had been completed — which meant that, if Milani passed his finals, he could graduate on time with no interruptions to his undergraduate coursework.
“I was fortunate enough to where the only thing that I really had left was finals,” Milani said. “That’s still a rough week, regardless, but I didn’t find out for sure until it was time to start studying for finals.”
The second, and more important point, lied in where Jacob’s cancer originated at.
Testicular cancer, while still a form of one of the most significant medical conditions to deal with in the world, has arguably the highest survival rate of all cancers. According to the Testicular Cancer Society, the overall survival rate “is greater than 95 percent. If diagnosed early, while the cancer is confined to the testicle, the survival rate is 99 percent. If the cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes, the survival rate is 96 percent, and even if there are distant metastases, the survival rate is over 70 percent.”
“The doctors told me, ‘If you have to pick one, this is the one to pick,’” Milani said of testicular cancer. “It’s completely curable by chemotherapy. In most cases, the survival rate is upwards of 95 percent.”
But even before Jacob received the optimistic diagnosis, Milani knew that he had no other choice but to push forward.
“Life doesn’t wait for you to mope about your circumstances,” Milani said. “I knew that I just had to keep going.”
So that’s exactly what Jacob did.
After a grueling week of finals, Jacob had to undergo radical inguinal orchiectomy on May 5, which is a surgery that removes the testicle — or in very rare cases — both testicles with cancer, according to Cancer.Net. The surgery, according to the same website, removes the entire testicle along with the spermatic cord. Jacob had his right testicle removed during the grueling surgery.
Despite that, nothing was going to keep Jacob Milani from living out his dream. On May 7, Milani — who once dreamed of playing college football for the Scarlet and Gray — was able to participate in commencement ceremonies at Ohio State University and walk out of the famed Ohio Stadium with his degree in pharmaceutical sciences, along with 11,733 additional graduates.
“I had surgery two days before graduation, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from walking that day,” Milani said. “It was a little painful, but we still managed to get through it. I wasn’t going to let any adverse situation take that day away from me. I was going to have that day for my family.”
Milani was part of the largest graduating class in the history of the school — and he had overcome overwhelming obstacles in doing so.
“I really found myself when I went away for college,” Milani said of his college experience. “I definitely did that. It was pretty surreal to be sitting in Ohio Stadium that day, in the Horseshoe, and obtaining that diploma, especially with everything that I had been going through up to that point. I definitely felt vindicated.”
Since his surgery, Milani has made several trips to the Ohio State University Hospital for chemotherapy treatments over the course of the summer. And according to his bloodwork, the treatments have paid off. Milani says that his bloodwork indicates that his tumor markers have been reduced back to normal levels. He goes back to Columbus for CT scans on Monday, and will officially determine whether he is cancer-free or if any further measures need to be done in order to treat the cancer the following day.
Over the course of his life, Jacob Milani has accomplished quite a bit in his 22 years of living. He’s been named valedictorian of his high school class. He’s been an All-SOC athlete in multiple sports and overcame a knee injury to be named All-SOC I in two sports his senior season. And Jacob’s an official graduate of one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
To top it all off, Milani is on his way to winning another battle — a battle that’s been bigger than any of the baseball, basketball, or football games that he ever participated in and a situation that’s tougher than — due to his never-say-die mentality.
“The upside of (Jacob having cancer) is the fact that he is a strong-willed kid,” Mader said. “He’s got great knowledge of what he needs to do to beat this, and if anybody can, then I know that he can, without a doubt, tackle this roadblock and be successful.”
“I was never the fastest or the strongest person when I was playing sports,” Milani said. “That’s the easiest thing for me to go back and compare things to (when fighting cancer). In basketball, for instance, I played because of the effort. I wasn’t a great shooter, and I wasn’t a great ballhandler, but you knew what you were going to get from me. You were going to get 110 percent and you were going to get somebody who was going to scrap and fight for every loose ball in order to put the team over the top. That’s just the same approach that I’ve had with everything in life.”
So even though cancer has arguably given Jacob Milani the toughest battle of his young life, cancer has also gifted Jacob Milani with a gift that he treasures — the gift of giving hope and inspiration to others.
“Anytime that I’ve been faced with some sort of adversity, I’ve had to buckle down,” Milani said. “You learn a lot more about a person not when they’re enjoying success, but when they’re experiencing adversity. That’s when you see somebody’s true character come out. I’ve always wanted to be somebody that’s inspired people, and as much as I would have preferred to not have cancer, it’s given me a platform to show people the attitude that I’m taking toward (testicular cancer). If it helps just one person that’s going through something trying, and gives them the strength to overcome their obstacles, that would mean everything to me.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7