Lt. Col. Street: Overcoming cancer through connectedness, resiliency

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller

With every step he took, the severity of his diagnosis surrounded him. The room was big and filled with people hooked up to tubes, funneling poisonous chemicals through their veins to kill the destructive disease plaguing their bodies. He sat down in a chair, waiting silently alongside his wife for his nurse to begin what would be the first of 12 long rounds of chemotherapy.

Lt. Col. Michael Street, 92nd Operations Group deputy group commander, began his journey fighting stage four rectal cancer after being diagnosed in April 2016. 

Street was only 38 years old at the time of his cancer diagnosis with a survival rate of 12% within the first five years of being diagnosed.

“If you look it up on the American Cancer Society website, the survival rate in 2016 was at 12%; now it’s 14% for the next five years,” Street said. “That was a lot of information to process through. Statistically I was not going to be around in five years. My children were still so young.”

Since the beginning of his Air Force career, Street found solace and comfort in his wife of 18 years, someone who supported him and went through several permanent changes of station with him.

“My wife and I got married shortly after I graduated from the Air Force Academy,” Street said. “She’s been with me through it all and she does an amazing job at flexing and dealing with deployments and running our family. She’s just awesome.”

In addition to the support of his wife, after his diagnosis, Street gained support from several Spokane community members and Airmen from Fairchild.

“I have a great support system here, to include our church and the base,” Street said. “When I got sick there were lots of people who were willing to help. Units on base were constantly wanting to know how to help, bringing me meals, mowing my grass…it was moving.”

There was definitely a moment of disbelief at first,” said Kyle Schwahn, Street’s closest friend and Indian Trail Church pastor. “I thought to myself, ‘Can this really be happening?’ Especially at his age, it just seemed to catch all of us off guard.”

The diagnosis of the cancer for someone so young came as a shock to Street and his oncologist as well. 

“I came to a pretty quick realization that I don’t know why I have stage four cancer. If you look at the statistics, I shouldn’t have it,” Street said.

Despite the fact that statistically he wasn’t supposed to survive past five years, along with the rarity of his diagnosis, he turned to his faith to stay resilient and fight on. 

“There was a temptation to ask, ‘Why me, God, why did you do this?’” Street said. “It then occurred to me that yes, I have stage four cancer, but it is what it is. Instead of being sad that I had it, I should try and live a fulfilling life.” 

A week after his official diagnosis of stage four cancer, Street experienced his first round of chemotherapy.

“That day, for whatever reason was particularly rough,” Street said. “The chemo suite is a big room with a bunch of infusion chairs where we’re [other patients] all looking at each other,” Street said. “For the first one, my wife came in with me and they went over everything. We sat down, looked around, and what we saw was a room full of people clinging onto life.”

Despite the emotional and physical toll it took on Street’s body, one thing remained easy and consistent throughout his entire journey: showing up.

“The easiest thing was kind of something you wouldn’t expect,” Street said. “For chemotherapy, I didn’t have to do anything, all I had to do was just show up and the nurses would hook up all of my IVs and push my chemotherapy through. For me, there was never a question as to whether or not I would show up. It doesn’t matter if being here was for one month or four years, I needed to keep going for my family.”

Street went into remission in December 2016 after a long surgery that entailed removing all of the tumors that had plagued his body, just eight short months after his initial diagnosis. 

“Hearing I was in remission was an awesome blessing,” Street said. “I didn’t expect to wake up from the surgery so opening my eyes for the first time, I didn’t know I was in remission yet, but I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, I guess it wasn’t time for me to go.’” 

Street remained the same person throughout his journey, never faltering or failing despite the several challenges his body went through emotionally and physically.

 “This type of thing has a way of chipping off the veneer. You can’t keep up certain images for very long and when a tragedy like this strikes,” Schwahn said. “Mike proved himself to be that strong, faithful, man, and friend through that time, so in essence, he didn’t change.”

Regardless of the fact that all known tumors were removed from his body and he was in remission, considering his diagnosis being stage four, Street’s doctors never intend to pronounce him “cancer free.” With that being said, that does not deter Street from continuing to live his life proudly. 

“I think for a lot of the people, a touch with death changes their outlook and they need to realign their priorities. They realize they’ve been wasting too much time at work and they need to concentrate on their families,” Street said. “None of that really changed for me. My priorities are still the same as before I got sick. My priorities have always been spending more time with my family and I think that is the right mindset.”

For those going through similar situations, Street suggests finding support from loved ones. 

“Part of my story is having my church be there for me out of their own free will. People would ask me all of the time how I was feeling and what they could do for me,” Street said. “Life needs to be more about going day to day with our loved ones around us.”