Still swinging - Part ISuperior’s Bozinski remains in competitive baseball despite losing left foot to cancer
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
This is the first story of a two-part series about Superior native Adam Bozinski’s year-long struggle with cancer. From his original diagnosis through the amputation of his left foot and the disappointing reoccurrence of the disease, Bozinski has remained strong in his faith and his determination to continue playing the sport he loves — baseball.
Baseball has always been part of Adam Bozinski’s life. On Saturday, he will be in Milwaukee with the Western Technical College baseball team to play a doubleheader. Between travel, schoolwork and athletics, it’s sure to be a busy weekend.
But on Sunday, the 23-year-old will put aside a few moments for reflection. April 26 marks the one-year anniversary since his lost his left foot to cancer.
A 2004 graduate of Superior High School, Bozinski’s passion for baseball was evident even when he wore Spartan blue.
“Adam was probably as intense a competitor as I’ve had,” SHS coach Don Dembroski said. “He worked out a lot before his senior year and he was a vocal player at both games and practices.”
Bozinski was an outfielder in high school and pitched occasionally until he was limited by arm problems. He gave his best effort in games and practices alike and looked for every opportunity to improve.
“I remember him bugging me to start open gyms in December of his senior year, and I had to talk him into waiting until at least January,” Dembroski said.
Even after the spring season ended, Bozinski kept baseball in his daily routine. Dembroski remembers Bozinski once tried to form a second VFW team in the summer because he was worried there wouldn’t be enough teams for all his classmates who wanted to play.
“He loved baseball as much, if not more than any other player I’ve coached,” Dembroski said.
After high school, Bozinski wanted to keep playing baseball, but he wasn’t sure where.
In the 2006-07 season, he played for University of Wisconsin-Superior coach Eddy Morgan. Bozinski enjoyed the season but decided to move on to Western Technical College in La Crosse the next year to get more playing time.
In the fall of 2007, Bozinski was in La Crosse working out when he felt a strange sensation in his left foot, a shooting pain that returned often. Shortly afterward, Bozinski noticed a small bump had formed on the bottom of his foot. He assumed it was just a cyst and didn’t give it much thought.
The mass continued to grow, however. Bozinski said it reached the point where it was like half a tennis ball protruding from the sole of his foot.
“I ended up pretty much walking on the side of my foot for a while there just because of the pain,” Bozinski said.
By Christmas break, the growth had not gotten better, and Bozinski’s parents insisted he go to the doctor to have it checked. A small sample was taken from the tumor, and Bozinski learned it was a sarcoma.
“There is no history of cancer in the family that I’m aware of,” Bozinski said. “I mean nothing with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings. So it was pretty out of the blue.”
From the initial sample, doctors believed the sarcoma was likely grade one, meaning the cancer was less likely to spread and could be treated with a simple surgery. But when a larger sample was taken to confirm, the sarcoma was reclassified as grade three — the highest, most aggressive grade.
Once he had been diagnosed, Bozinski faced a new burden — deciding upon a course of treatment.
With the advances in medical technology, amputations can usually be avoided. Among methods to treat a sarcoma are radiation therapy, amputation and a less extreme surgical procedure followed by reconstruction of the foot using skin grafts and a muscle flap.
Bozinski’s doctors at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth gave him all the options, and although a different procedure may have saved his foot, he opted for amputation.
“My options other then amputation didn’t sound appealing,” Bozinski said. “They basically said, if radiation worked, that it would be comparable to having a diabetic foot and that it could eventually lead to amputation. The ‘flap’ idea would have required them to take a muscle out of, I believe, the back of my shoulder and done some sort of reconstruction of the foot. But I wouldn’t have had feeling there.”
As Bozinski prayed and struggled to make a decision, thoughts of returning to the baseball diamond tickled in the back of his mind.
“Dr. Anne Normand at SMDC basically told me that the flap or amputation was my best chance at playing baseball again,” Bozinski said. “This was always a goal, and one that my mother never once doubted.”
Amputation was not only Bozinski’s best option for playing baseball again, it was also his best hope to get rid of the cancer. Being competitive by nature, Bozinski wanted to “one-up” the disease and keep it from spreading.
For him it was the difference between remaining on a lazy river of uncertainty or scaling a mountain — the climb might be difficult, but at least there is a top, a visible end. He wanted to close the ordeal, get back on the field and return to his normal life.
On April 26, Bozinski was in the hospital for his amputation.
“Going in that morning (for surgery), I really didn’t have any fears about it,” Bozinski said. “I really felt God would take care of me.”
After the procedure, Bozinski refused to feel sorry for himself or dwell on the loss of his left foot. “From that point forward it became a challenge,” he said. “I didn’t have a negative thought in my mind.”
Following the amputation, Bozinski underwent three rounds of chemotherapy. He’d received piles of literature to prepare himself for what to expect, but Bozinski said he didn’t read a page. He preferred to face the experience blind. “I basically tried to be young and dumb about it,” Bozinski said.
Four to five days every few months, he went to the hospital for an infusion of two different drugs. His first session was not as bad as he had imagined, and the second was a breeze. When he went in for his final treatment, though, Bozinski said it was a struggle mentally.
“I’m a guy who likes to go to the beach, to play baseball,” Bozinski said. “I’m not someone who does well cooped up in the hospital.”
By his third round of chemo, the drugs had taken a toll on Bozinski. He had no hair, had lost a lot of weight and lacked his usual energy. People who knew him began to suggest he start coaching baseball instead of playing.
Bozinski knew the words were meant kindly, but he saw a challenge in them. He was determined to return to baseball, and not as a coach.
“When you have cancer, people seem to expect you to sit on a couch the rest of your life,” Bozinski said. “My whole attitude toward the cancer was not to let it shape who I was.”
NOTE: Part 2 of this story will be in Wednesday’s paper.