On the morning of the Cologuard Classic’s first round at Omni Tucson National, Mike Mancini hit the ceremonial opening tee shot. A stage 4 cancer survivor, Mike’s journey to this point introduced him to a special friend who helped shape the man he is now.
Mike was 42 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer. A part-time certified personal trainer and fitness instructor, he was healthy and fit when he got severe abdominal cramping at lunch one day. He went to the hospital, and after getting a CT scan, was sent home with some medication after being told it was just constipation.
The pain came back five days later, so Mike went back to the hospital. He was told the same thing.
A few days later, it happened again. As a result, Mike had an emergency colonoscopy and that’s when they discovered the tumor in his sigmoid colon and took a biopsy.
Three days later, as Mike was being wheeled into surgery, the surgeon told him, “We got the pathology results back and you have cancer.”
“I really didn’t have time to process it,” Mike said. “My father was right next to me and he kind of broke down a little bit. I was kind of in shock. I didn’t really react. I was like, ‘All right, let’s get this thing out of there. Let’s take it all out.’”
As Mike went through aggressive chemotherapy, his body changed. From being in the gym seven days a week and lifting 80-pound dumbbells, he was now lifting five-pound dumbbells. But his life changes went beyond just the physical part. Mike lost his full-time job in corporate America of 20 years. And without a wife or kids, he was at home alone fighting the disease.
“I went from interacting with people all day every day to being isolated,” Mike said. “I was lucky enough to find an organization like ‘Fight Colorectal Cancer’ and found other people like me who were young. They weren’t just fighting the disease, but they were living and thriving. It gave me hope that I could make a comeback from this.”
One of the people Mike met was Carole Motycka. The two became instant friends after meeting in Washington, D.C., while advocating for Fight Colorectal Cancer.
“She was in Ohio at the time and I was born and raised in Connecticut,” Mike said. “We kindled a quick friendship and we were going back and forth visiting each other and then decided to go full steam into a relationship – both of us stage 4 cancer survivors.
“I think we give other people who are single and going through this hope that you can find love out there. There are people who will embrace you and help you fight your cause. She’s made me a better person in a lot of different ways, not just fighting cancer, but just as a man.”
Carole was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016. After having shoulder pain while on a hike, she went to the emergency room to discover that her labs were elevated. After looking closer, it wasn’t just a sore shoulder – it was colon cancer.
“I was initially given six months to live. If I did aggressive chemo, I could probably get 12 months,” Carole said. “It was looking very grim, but I advocated for myself. I learned. I read. I listened. I consulted. I ended up going through 12 rounds of chemo and 19 surgeries.
“And then I had a liver transplant two-and-a-half years ago. I was the first person in the nation to get a liver transplant after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, because it’s not heard of. I had a living donor who stepped up and gave me a portion of his liver and now here I am doing just fine. I’m cancer free and ready to get back out and start doing life again.”
When Carole talks about Mike, she lights up.
“We’re not just a team here in this space, but we’re a team in life,” Carole said. “Mike is amazing. He’s generous. He loves the whirlwind that is me. I’m like a Tasmanian Devil, spinning around. And Mike is in the background cleaning up the mess and taking care of me. He loves me big.
“I just love being in his presence and being with him because he exemplifies what I hope to be. I take him as a huge example of how I want to lead my life.”
Mike and Carole’s journey together fighting colorectal cancer brought them to this year’s Cologuard Classic, where Mike played in the Wednesday Pro-Am with Cologuard ambassador and PGA TOUR Champions player Jerry Kelly.
“When you see a guy who’s so strong – you know, prime of his life – get taken down by something like this, get a stage 4 diagnosis and then come back as strong as he has, it’s a tough disease,” Jerry said. “But look at what he’s come out and done. He’s out here for everybody else. He’s not taking his diagnosis laying down, but he’s also helping other people because of his diagnosis and what he’s going through. That just says a lot to me about the kind of person he is, and his wife Carole is so great. They’re keeping themselves young and fun and happy and they’re going to get through this the best they can.”
Mike, who grew up playing golf and watching golf on TV, idolized the players whom he’d be walking the fairways with at Omni Tucson National.
“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Mike said.
And when he struck the opening tee shot on Friday morning, it went straight down the middle.