“The James is an expert in cancer. It’s what they do.” – Sam Mierzejewski
Sam Mierzejewski has never been one to back down from a challenge. As a member of the Upper Arlington Division of Police from 1995-2008, he put that mindset to the test every day.
A born leader and passionate about fitness, Mierzejewski had an unbelievable work ethic that was recognized by his peers. These qualities allowed him to quickly move up the police ranks, and be promoted to Sergeant in 2005. Working the job of his dreams, Mierzejewski thought his life seemed perfect, unaware that his biggest challenge was soon to come.
In February 2008, after a long night of patrol duty, he could tell something was a little off.
“I had slowly been getting a really “’crisp’” headache, and my eyes had been crossing,” Mierzejewski explains. “I know it sounds strange, but when you work third shift for so long you get little health problems that crop up, but they usually go away. I wasn’t too worried about it.”
He attempted to sleep off this unusual feeling when he returned home, but when he woke up, the headache had intensified. Mierzejewski and his wife and high school sweetheart, Laura, knew it was time to get a professional opinion.
After two critical care hospital visits, a misdiagnosis, and worsening symptoms, the Mierzejewskis’ rushed to The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. Within 24 hours, Mierzejewski had received brain surgery and an answer: cancer.
He was diagnosed with stage II astrocytoma of the brain stem. Although he and his family had a diagnosis, this was just the beginning of their journey on the road to recovery.
Mierzejewski had to overcome countless obstacles due to the brain tumor and treatment associated with recovery, relearning basic skills such as walking, talking and even folding towels. But, he never gave up, and his faith and perseverance were witnessed by everyone around him.
"When I think of Sam, I think of perseverance," says former colleague and dear friend, Brian Daron. "To go from being knocked down to where he is today was so difficult. I think a lot of people would have given up. I admire his dedication to this day. He wants to be involved in fighting this evil."
Today, Mierzejewski has been cancer-free for 10 years. He and his wife often reflect on their experience at The James, forever grateful for the care and treatment they received during their time of need.
“What I loved about the doctors at The James was that, they never gave Sam a prognosis,” Laura Mierzejewski says. “They never said, ‘You’ve got two years left to live’. They never said anything like that. They just said, ‘We are going to fight this. Every brain tumor is different, every patient is different,’ and I loved that. It gave us hope.”
While Mierzejewski has adjusted to his “new normal” and life outside the police force—he now conducts investigations in corporate security at Cardinal Health—his UADP family is still with him.
Last fall the division participated in “No Shave November” with proceeds benefitting brain cancer research at The James and hosted the inaugural Sam’s Grey Matters Golf Classic at Westchester Golf Course in 2018. To date, these events have raised more than $20,000.
“I would love to have this tournament help find a cure for or eradicate cancer. That someone in the biotech tower will be able to say ‘Hey, I found a breakthrough.’ The only way we can find a cure is to fund the people who are looking for a cure.”
Mierzejewski was 43 years old when he was diagnosed. Today, Mierzejewski’s children are a freshman in college and a junior in college. He is ten years in remission. As for the future, he hopes to use his experience to inspire and help others.
“My long-term goal is to hopefully start a foundation to raise money not only for brain cancer but for other cancers as well,” he says.
To learn more about Mierzejewski and to donate to his cause, visit here.